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MHP does tours, regional trust roundtables in Lenox, Amherst, Westford

Posted on October 3, 2018

In Lenox, participants toured a site and had a discussion at Town Hall.


Continuing its efforts to help communities understand the value and effectiveness of local affordable housing trusts, MHP recently organized tours and regional discussions in Lenox, Amherst and Westford.

"The purpose of these events is to get people out into the community so they can see locally-initiated affordable housing developments or potential sites," said Shelly Goehring, MHP's affordable housing trust expert. "Then we gather together for a discussion, share experiences and talk about what makes for an effective local trust."

On Tuesday, Sept. 25, trust members, planners and other local leaders from Williamstown, Lenox, Great Barrington and the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission braved the wind and pouring rain to visit Sawmill Brook, a municipally-owned 20-acre site. The town is working with MHP‘s Community Assistance staff to draft a request for proposal (RFP) for developers to submit potential affordable housing development project plans to fill the site.

After the tour, participants gathered at the Lenox Town Hall, where they ate pizza and joined in a discussion about promoting affordable housing, dealing with community resistance and how Municipal Affordable Housing Trusts (MAHT) can help communities address their housing needs. Lenox Town Planner Gwen Miller explained what Lenox has been doing to support affordable housing. MAHT member Marybeth Mitts gave additional background on Lenox’s efforts.

In addition, Williamstown talked about its efforts to boost homeownership and shared progress on its partnership with Habitat for Humanity, a relationship mentioned at last year’s Berkshire roundtable in Williamstown.     

On Wednesday, Sept. 26, MHP held a similar event in Amherst. The event began with a tour of Olympia Oaks, a 42-unit affordable housing development built on 13.5 acres of a 27-acre town-owned site. Following the tour, participants talked about the local housing trust and annual forums the trust holds to promote specific initiatives and engage the community on housing needs. The trust is planning to hold a forum in November, where it is hoping to build support for the reuse of a town school into as many as 30 units of affordable housing.

On Monday, Oct. 1, MHP traveled to Westford for a Merrimack Valley roundtable. Thirteen people from 10 communities attended. The event began with a tour of Westford's Stony Brook II, the second phase of an impressive town-initiated development that involved the rezoning of a town-owned 166-acre former sand pit into an overlay district that now houses a middle school, athletic fields, walking trails and 51 affordable apartments.

The group then moved to the Stony Brook Middle School for a discussion, which included a “Trust 101” presentation for members of newly-formed trusts, and representatives from towns thinking of starting a trust.

In Westford, participants saw how a 166-acre town site was turned into housing, a school and athletic fields.

About MHP’s trust efforts: The local tours and community discussions is part of an ongoing effort by MHP to help communities understand affordable housing, adopt tools like affordable housing trusts and learn from each other about the best ways to increase affordable housing in their communities. MHP’s efforts date back to when the state legislature passed the Municipal Affordable Housing Trust Law in 2005, simplifying the process of establishing a local housing trust fund. Since then, 98 communities have adopted Municipal Affordable Housing Trusts, raising the overall total of communities with local trusts to 109.

Through the years, MHP has produced guidebooks explaining how to adopt and run effective affordable housing trusts, as well as publishing and supporting training materials on how to use Community Preservation Act funds for housing. MHP's CPA and trust work are related because CPA funds are the largest source of funds for local housing trusts. Three useful resources are the CPA guidebook, the MAHT guidebook and the MAHT operations manual.

Thanks to a multi-year grant from the Kuehn Foundation, MHP has expanded its trust outreach the past three years, updating its guidebooks and increasing its efforts to help communities set up and run effective affordable housing trusts. Last year, MHP's Shelly Goehring participated in trust trainings, tours and direct assistance that reached local officials and volunteers in 34 communities across Massachusetts.

For more information about MHP's work with local housing trusts, email Shelly Goehring at sgoehring@mhp.net or Katie Bosse at kbosse@mhp.net.