It’s a Wrap: 1st Annual Berkshire Housing Summit Comes to a Close

The inaugural Berkshire County Housing Summit was held at the Colonial Theater last Thursday, September 20th with over 150 REALTORS, city and town officials, housing non-profit executives, real estate professionals and members of the public in attendance.  2018 Board President, Cortney Dupont, opened the Summit by welcoming all in attendance and introducing Billy Keane, Government Affairs Chair.

Keane spoke about the REALTOR stance on some housing legislation:  opposition of real estate transfer taxes, opposition of mandatory energy scoring and support of housing production.  He stated, “At our very core, REALTORS are advocates for private property rights within our town’s zoning, and believe smart zoning is very important.”  He wrapped up by discussing his personal work with the MassDOT to bring rail service from NYC to the Berkshires, believing that it is close to reality and a stepping stone on the path toward the Berkshire’s economic growth.  Keane thanked Senator Adam Hinds for taking a lead on the project and welcomed Keynote Speaker Jay Ash, MA Secretary of Housing and Economic Development to the stage.  Ash addressed the audience with humor and grace as he spoke of Republicans and Democrats working together to provide funding for a $500,000 life sciences bill, $1 billion economic development bill and $1.8 billion housing bill – the Housing Development Incentive Program.

The Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP) provides Gateway Cities (municipalities with a population between 35,000 and 250,000 and a median household income below the state average and an average educational achievement of bachelor’s degree or above that is below the state average) with tools to develop market rate housing while increasing residential growth, expanding diversity of housing stock, supporting economic development, and promoting neighborhood stabilization in designated areas.   Pittsfield was recognized as a Gateway City in 2012.  HDIP provides two tax incentives to developers who create new construction or provide substantial rehab of properties for lease or sale as multi-unit residential housing:

  • A local option real estate tax exemption on all or part of the increased property value resulting from improvements (the increment), and
  • State tax credits for Qualified Project Expenditures (QPEs) that are awarded through a rolling application process

In his closing remarks, Ash applauded those in attendance and expressed his good wish for our cities; market rate housing for downtown.  He concluded that market rate housing in downtown has a positive effect on the economy, and said, “Next thing you know, you have a burgeoning community.”

Senator Adam Hinds moderated a Strength of Homeownership = Strength of Economy panel discussion with guest panelists:  Joe Thompson, Founding Director of MASS MoCA; Pittsfield Mayor, Linda Tyer; Tim Burke, Managing Director of Mill Town Capital and Tim Geller, Executive Director of Community Development Corporation.  Also addressing the audience were Representatives Tricia Farley-Bouvier and John Barrett.

Board CEO, Sandy Carroll, presented intriguing facts about homeownership amid changing demographics, and current inventory and association trends.  A copy of the materials provided can be found here.  Anne Meczywor, 2018 MAR President-Elect, presented two housing awards:  the Berkshire Housing Hero and the Neighborhood Beautification Award to George Whaling and James McGrath, respectively.

The Berkshire Housing Hero award was created to recognize someone working to make Berkshire’s housing diverse, affordable, available, sustainable, safe, and/or healthy.  An excerpt from Whaling’s nomination states, “George and his management team, Teton Management have for years been proponents of creating and managing high quality rental housing in the City of Pittsfield.  With his foresight, vision, and ceaseless optimism regarding Pittsfield’s ability to grow economically and culturally in the future, George has invested millions of dollars into the infrastructure of various building and locations throughout the city.  In a time when affordable quality housing is fairly difficult to come by, having a local developer like George accept the risk necessary to invest in our community is a huge boon, and one which we shouldn’t take for granted.”

The Berkshire Beautification Award is given to a Berkshire County homeowner, individual or group who has been involved in significantly restoring a home, building or area to contribute to the betterment of a neighborhood.  Honorees are selected from all regions of the Berkshires for both residential and commercial renovations and/or improvements.  Normally, this award is given to those making smaller, property improvements that are not part of their job, but Jim has such a legacy of improvement, and the association was pleased to honor his commitment.  As his nomination stated, “Jim’s passion for the city open spaces has transformed some of our most blighted neighborhood parks, restored beautiful open space for lower income neighborhoods, embraced alternative solutions for managing clean energy, and made rivers, splashpads and dog parks accessible to our community.  He’s garnered support from area organizations and made the beautification of our community a priority.

The evening wrapped up with a House Party on the main stage of the Colonial Theater.  View the gallery of photos.