LENOX – Help (and housing) wanted! AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!
Many, if not most, local businesses, especially in the hospitality industry, are begging for workers as a successful summer tourist season is already in full swing.
Commonly cited reasons for the staff shortage include persistent childcare issues affecting working parents, persistent fear of COVID risks in the workplace as hesitation and resistance to vaccination continues, and an unemployment benefit cushion that makes minimum wage jobs unattractive.
There is another major obstacle in the Berkshires, especially in the prosperous towns outside the two cities: the lack of subsidized housing for mixed income and labor for businesses in the area and large employers such as General Dynamics, Wayfair and Miraval, which are affordable in a region with a tourist vocation where house prices have skyrocketed and rentals are scarce.
Now comes a preliminary proposal from a reputable developer, Pennrose LLC, for 13 buildings of five units each and a “clubhouse” community center with a management office.
The 65-unit mixed-income rental “village” would be on 8.5 acres of the 68-acre Brushwood Farms property in Lenox, located in a mixed-use area along Highway 7/20 (Pittsfield Road) on the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority bus line, close to healthcare professionals, a fitness center and shopping, but not directly adjacent to a residential area.
The company, which developed the Village at Nauset Green complex in Eastham on the Cape, this week entered into a buy and sell agreement with Dr James R. Hashim, trustee of the Brushwood family property. The cost of acquiring the land, near the Courtyard at Marriott and across from Lenox Commons, is not disclosed.
In a well-received briefing for the city’s Affordable Housing Trust on Thursday, Pennrose Regional Vice President Charlie Adams stressed that “we are just approaching the starting line” but offered a general overview of the plan. for labor and affordable units.
The site sits on a hilltop plateau southeast of the Marriott, avoiding wetlands and preserving adjacent areas for potential development.
Pennrose envisions the creation of a ‘welcoming residential community centered on sustainability and connection to our natural surroundings, reflecting the historic nature of local Berkshire architecture, providing accessible and attractive rental housing options for Lenox families of all income “.
Other highlights of the project:
• The mix of one, two and three bedroom apartments in two and three story apartment buildings would appeal to singles, young families and seniors looking to downsize, with prices, based on median income in the area, ranging from about $ 700 to $ 800 per month for a one-bedroom to $ 1,200 for a three-bedroom. One-year leases can be renewed automatically.
Adams pointed out that “this is such an important project for the city” since only 7.2 percent of housing in Lenox (178 units) is in the affordable category. The state wants communities to meet a 10 percent goal. It predicted that 75 percent of the city’s residents would be eligible for units awarded by lottery, with first-year preference for residents.
• Funding would include federal and state tax credits, other state funding programs, local support from the Community Preservation Act, and multiple other sources. The estimated cost would be well over $ 20 million, not including the purchase of the land.
• The preliminary site plan includes a donation to the City of the Hashim for conservation of land and open space, including trails open to the public, for the majority of the 68-acre property.
• After the meetings with city councils and committees, if all goes well, the goal would be to complete the authorization of the project by the end of this year, then put the funding in place, finish the design. and possibly start by December 2022 “very early,” Adams said.
“We have a social responsibility to our families and our neighbors,” said Olga Weiss, member of the Affordable Housing Trust, after the preliminary presentation of the project. “It’s exciting to think that we could come up with something like this.” She also praised the land conservation aspect of the plan.
“This will serve a lot of people who are trying to get out of their homes or come into the community and are starting out,” said Marybeth Mitts, president of the Affordable Housing Trust and member of the board.
Judging by the applause from city officials and a few residents present at the meeting, this mixed-income development could be well received in the city.
Building labor and subsidized housing is always a difficult task in any community because, for no good reason, “affordable housing” is an off-putting concept for some residents. The Pennrose proposal is off to a promising start.