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December 19, 2022

This fall, for the first time in my 25 years of working in housing, housing was a top-tier issue for all the state’s gubernatorial candidates. Everyone was talking about it! 

Because finding housing you can afford is a challenge faced by everyone, regardless of income, from Gateway Cities to rural communities, from Pittsfield to Provincetown. And this challenge has greater repercussions for the economy and future of the state. Housing sways the thoughts of businesses, new hires, and college grads—whether to stay or go, to say yes or no. And the cost of housing keeps many living at the edge of their breaking points, in fear of any unexpected expense or loss of income. 

At Way Finders, we know we can’t solve the housing crisis on our own. One town can’t solve these issues on its own. These are state-wide challenges that call for broad, intentional collaboration: To increase the supply of housing—rental, ownership, multifamily, permanently affordable rental units. To preserve and rehab housing. To increase access for renters and homeowners. And to create solutions rooted in understanding of how vital housing is to the wellness of people and places.

I am honored and excited to help lead the state’s efforts to take action on housing, as I co-chair the gubernatorial transition committee to advance affordable, abundant housing—this is one of my top Way Finders’ moments of 2022. Read on to see some other highlights of our work this year. Sending you all my best wishes for a happy 2023!

Keith Fairey, President & CEO 

More highlights from 2022

Way Finders’ City of Homes: a pilot program ready to take flight!
To close out 2022, we received a $2 million grant from the MassMutual Foundation for our City of Homes initiative to acquire and rehab blighted single-family homes, such as those in city receivership, in Springfield’s North End and Mason Square neighborhoods. The homes will then be sold to qualified families through a lottery process, with the goals of helping families build generational wealth and reinvigorating entire neighborhoods. 

We’ve already started to identify properties that will be a good fit for the program, which is supported also by $500,000 from the state through the city of Springfield and $300,000 from Baystate Health. We hope to rehab 15-20 homes via City of Homes and, bigger picture, to inspire other cities and towns to pursue this approach, too.

New guiding vision, mission, and goals: 2022-2024 Strategic Plan
In February 2022, we shared our new strategic plan. It articulates what we want: to work together to build and advocate for a thriving and equitable region. And to do so, we will work with urgency and purpose to support housing and economic mobility at the individual, community, and systemic levels. The overarching goal of our Strategic Plan? To realize a demonstrable impact on the region’s people and communities, and on the systems and structures that shape our lives.  

Insight from the second housing study
In March 2022, we released the second Springfield and Pioneer Valley Housing Report, produced in partnership with the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute. The information it contains is invaluable, as it helps inform the work of law makers, budget makers, housing advocates, and housing developers—in pursuit of the systemic changes our region needs.

Whereas phase one of the housing study surfaced baseline data (demographic, economic, housing production), phase two analyzed regional segregation and the important relationship between place and opportunity for upward mobility in our communities. It also measured the impacts of COVID on housing, the gaps between housing costs and household incomes, and our area’s disproportionate need for low-cost housing. Of note: Our region’s urgent need for housing at all income levels—affordable housing through market-rate housing. Including the addition of at least 17,000 new rental units at or below $500 a month, which could help make a more attainable housing market for all residents.  

Bringing a third affordable housing development to Amherst 
In March 2022, Way Finders was chosen by the Town of Amherst to develop and manage approximately 70 units of mixed-income housing on two sites: the former East Street School and 2.6 acres on Route 9 (Belchertown Road). These developments will join two existing Way Finders’ properties in town, Butternut Farm and Olympia Oaks. We are thrilled to expand our impact and provide more housing for families in Amherst. The projects are to be ready for residents in 2026.

Secured funding for Library Commons Phase II
Our plans to further the revitalization of the Churchill neighborhood in Holyoke, via 41 units of affordable housing, were greatly bolstered this year. In April 2022, our project was one of 15 to receive an affordable housing award from the Baker-Polito Administration. And in November 2022, we received a $900,000 grant from MassDevelopment to help restore the 1888 Queen Anne-style Victorian building known as “The Essex.” It, plus three new townhome-style buildings, are to be complete by 2025. 

As we’ve seen with our first project in this area—Library Commons, which opened in fall 2021 and features 38 units—when you fill vacant spaces with housing, you create community and opportunity. Our tenants are offered clean, safe, energy-efficient housing. And our staff offers onsite management and residential programming on digital literacy, job readiness, financial self-sufficiency and more. 

A return to some in-person work and celebrations
Way Finders’ staff shouted, clapped, danced, and sang our way down Main Street in September for the Springfield Puerto Rican Parade, which was held in person for the first time since 2019. We got to bask in the celebration of Puerto Rican culture and contributions to our community. And we even got a few shouts from the crowd of “Thank you, Way Finders, for helping me with housing!” 

Our staff also welcomed the return of in-person educational workshops for the public—kicked off by September’s First-Time Homebuyer Workshop, which was held for the first time at our new Springfield Housing Center. 

Way Finders on the JumboTron!
A video we created in celebration of the work of our Community Building and Engagement team, supported by our generous donors and the Massachusetts Community Investment Tax Credit (CITC) program, was selected as one of three CITC Impact Video Award winners by the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations (MACDC). Our video aired Saturday, October 29, at Worcester’s Polar Park during the 2022 MACDC Convention.

The origin story of this proud moment? For as long as we have run our Resident Leadership Program, one refrain has come up again and again from participants: “I wish it had been offered fully in Spanish!” Not just Spanish translation, which we offered already. But fully in Spanish—to ensure that level of comfort and understanding that only comes from removing a language barrier. And to communicate to Spanish-speaking residents that we recognize and believe in their potential. And this past year, we brought this dream to life! Watch the video.