With $14 million in hand, CDCSB project helps town meet state affordable housing goals

March 22, 2021

Written by Terry Cowgill, The Berkshire Edge

Link to original article

GREAT BARRINGTON — A newly funded housing project will help Great Barrington get closer to state goals for affordable housing and address a critical need for southern Berkshire County and the region, officials say.

The Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire (CDCSB), a nonprofit economic development group based in Great Barrington last week received millions in funding for an affordable housing complex on South Main Street.

The state Department of Housing and Economic Development announced that CDCSB and project co-sponsor Way Finders, Inc. were awarded approximately $14 million toward the funding of Windrush Commons, a new $19 million, 49-unit affordable housing complex at 910 South Main Street in Great Barrington.

An architectural rendering of Windrush Commons. Image courtesy Elton and Hampton Architects
Having secured the bulk of the funding, CDCSB Executive Director Allison Marchese told The Edge her organization hopes to close on the property by August, “if not sooner,” and commence construction shortly thereafter, with an estimated completion date of early 2023. Most of the apartments will be duplex-style.

“It’s a big undertaking,” Marchese said. “But it’s a huge plus for the town.”

Marchese and others have pointed to an affordable housing crisis that is acutely felt by working people in the region. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the problem worse, in part because higher demand for housing from people moving into the region from the cities has driven up the costs of buying and renting.

“The housing crisis is still upon us, though the pandemic exacerbated the problem,” Marchese explained. “We have emergency rental assistance and eviction moratoriums, but there’s still just not enough. There’s no end in sight.”

Click here to see what constitutes “affordable,” according to Chapter 40B, the state’s affordable housing law created in 1969 that allows developers to skirt local zoning bylaws in order to increase the stock of affordable housing in municipalities that haven’t met the 10-percent state goal.

In some cases, failure to meet the goal can expose a town to a so-called hostile 40B application, in which a developer can run roughshod over municipal master plans and the wishes of residents and town officials alike — all in the name of increasing the affordable housing stock.

Town Planner and Assistant Town Manager Chris Rembold has said that, as of the 2010 census (the latest for which reliable numbers were available), Great Barrington’s share of affordable housing was about 7.5 percent. Since that time, however, the town has added a significant number of affordable housing units. Rembold told The Edge this week that he does not yet have an updated percentage.

But there have been several successfully completed affordable housing projects in town in the last 10 years. CDCSB alone has completed Hillside Avenue, which includes 10 affordable rental units, and partnered with Construct Inc. on the Forest Springs project, which includes 12 affordable units on Route 23 about a mile east of Belcher Square.

Another major CDCSB Great Barrington venture has been the Bentley Apartments, off of Bridge Street. The project will provide 45 new affordable apartments for families with incomes of up to approximately $53,000, just east of downtown on the eastern bank of the Housatonic River.

“So there’s another 80–90 units still to come,” Rembold explained in 2019. “That should put us at or above the 10 percent threshold, so we may have a safe harbor where we can’t be vulnerable to a 40b application.”

Marchese said the Berkshire Housing Development Corporation, which is the management agent for the Bentley Apartments, has received 150 applications for the 45 units and expects to begin leasing in May.

The 100 Bridge Street location is the former site of the New England Log Homes factory, which used chemicals to treat wood for log cabins and homes. Contaminated soil had to be moved and capped in order to make a portion of the site ready for construction.

The Bentley apartments have not been without controversy. Some environmental advocates have insisted that the site is not safe for human habitation and could pose a threat to the water supply for the town of Sheffield, whose public water supply originates, in part, from a well field zone on the 100 Bridge Street property. The CDCSB and its experts have denied those assertions. Click here to learn more.

In addition to Way Finders, the development team for Windrush Commons includes Elton and Hampton Architects; civil engineering by White Engineering; Berkshire Housing Development Corporation as the management agent; and Allegrone Construction of Lenox. Greylock Federal Credit Union will serve as the Federal Home Loan member bank.

The 910 Main Street site, south of the Big Y Plaza and across the street from Bostwick Gardens, is located in Great Barrington’s Smart Growth Overlay District, which Marchese said was designed for this kind of development: “high-density affordable housing within walking distance of shopping, health services, public transportation, and downtown attractions.”

“This award of funds comes at a critical time for Great Barrington. With very few housing units on the market, and a zero-percent rental vacancy rate, home prices and rents are out of reach for most households,” said Rembold.

Marchese also explained the name given to the 910 Main Street property. The town is named after Great Barrington, a village in the Cotswold district of Gloucestershire, England, which lies on the north bank of the River Windrush.

Marchese had high praise for the town government, which supported the Windrush project from the start and has been supportive of CDCSB’s projects in general. The town also forgave approximately $300,000 in back taxes owed by New England Log Homes after the CDCSB acquired the polluted Bridge Street property in 2007.

Former longtime CDCSB Executive Director Tim Geller was replaced by Marchese last year and the organization has added new members to its board of directors, including legendary Great Barrington businessman Richard Stanley, who helped found the CDCSB in the early 1990s.

“The projects the CDCSB develops, including Bentley Apartments and Windrush Commons, enable us to address the housing crisis in the Berkshires,” said James Harwood, president of the corporation’s board. “The positive impact on residents who will call these new apartments home is immense. It changes people’s lives.”

“They’re a wonderfully remarkable and proactive group of people,” Marchese said of her board.