Our 4th Berkshire District State Representative Smitty Pignatelli shared with us a recent letter he wrote regarding the CommonWeath builder program. As we’ve said all along, there has to be multiple tactics to help solve our housing crisis and we can use all of the tools we can get. In his words, “The COVID-19 pandemic took an unprecedented toll on communities, families and the economy – specifically regarding the housing market. In rural areas like Berkshire County, prospective homebuyers became all too familiar with increasing prices, skyrocketed out of proportion by out-of-towners willing to pay in cash. People who want to live here cannot afford to, contributing to a perpetual economic downturn that will have a detrimental impact on all Berkshire towns. As we look ahead to a post-pandemic world, the Commonwealth and our county find themselves in the midst of a housing crisis – costly housing, a lack of affordable units and decreasing opportunities for individuals and families to accumulate wealth.
As a firm believer that creating a path to homeownership is the most effective way for individuals and families to build equity and combat the cycle of generational poverty, I was thrilled at the Baker administration’s announcement of the CommonWealth Builder program. The investment in affordable housing construction, the commitment to assist first-time homebuyers and the prioritization of bridging the racial wealth gap undoubtedly meet the greatest challenges of the moment.
However, I was discouraged to learn that these funds would only be accessible to the twenty-six Gateway communities and the greater Boston area, especially when so many other communities — including the twenty communities that I represent — are suffering from the current state of the housing market. While a focus on racial equity in undoubtedly critical as we look to rebuild, the sole focus on Gateway communities is shortsighted and will force many more towns and municipalities to bear the brunt of unaffordable and inaccessible housing alone. I recently sent a letter to the administration asking to open the first-time homeownership program to all of the Commonwealth.
The communities that the CommonWealth builder program will directly assist were designated by the federal government via census tract data. The administration made the decision to add Gateway cities to the program, but it is my hope that my colleagues and I in the legislature can work to make this program accessible to all communities. Expanding homeownership opportunities is critical to the wellbeing of the entire Commonwealth and is an important first step in the process of economic development. If we can incentivize people to (affordably) purchase a home, establish roots in the community, send their kids to local schools and help strengthen the workforce, these towns will be given a chance to flourish. We cannot afford to leave smaller, rural towns behind in this conversation.
According to recent market data, the average sale price of homes in all of Berkshire County has increased by 20% since the pandemic. The County has become one of the hot spots for New Yorkers and Bostonians to relocate to with the surge in remote working capabilities. We are less than a three-hour drive to both major cities when the homeowner has to commute to their office. This has created a demand on the limited amount of quality housing available in the county. Cash offers are being accepted over those requiring any type of financing— never mind maximum financing— or requiring grant funding approval therefore debilitating the first-time buyer’s ability to compete. This is true county wide, as the hopes of the local residents who have lived in the community for years attaining wealth through homeownership are becoming more of a dream every day.
Berkshire County communities deserve an equal chance to survive and thrive when it comes to housing. Let’s invest in building affordable housing and more importantly, help people make homebuying a reality. The well-being of our towns, our County and our communities depend on the long-term vision that we act on now.
Representative Smitty Pignatelli
4th Berkshire District