The Affordable Housing Committee will hold listening sessions on the town garage and Photech sites.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Affordable Housing Committee on Tuesday looked at a recent survey of current and former residents of the Spruces Mobile Home Park and found ample evidence to support its longstanding assertion that the need for subsidized housing in town is critical.
Susan Puddester of the non-profit Higher Ground meet with the panel to go over the numbers in the survey
. One of the key findings in the report involved the income of the respondents.
Of the 64 respondents profiled in the survey, 50 (78 percent) reported annual household incomes of less than $30,000. All but three respondents (95 percent) said their household income was less than $50,000.
"The standard for housing that's affordable is people spend no more than 30 to 35 percent of their household income on housing and utilities," Chairwoman Catherine Yamamoto said. "Thirty percent of $50,000 is $15,000.
"When you think this is a population that can spend no more than $1,000 a month on their housing — at the very upper end of the population, and when the market rate for a one-bedroom apartment in the area is in the neighborhood of $700, you can see they have a hard time affording even a one-bedroom apartment in the area."
"It's tough," she said. "People who make a little over $2,000 a month have about $600 [for housing and utilities]."
The difficulty of finding adequate, affordable homes in town for the Spruces population was further born out in the geographic profile of former "Sprucians."
Higher Ground mailed its survey to 185 current and former residents of the park. Of the 103 forms that came back, 64 respondents expressed an interest in either staying in or returning to Williamstown. Of that group of 64, 37 still live in the Spruces; just five live in other Williamstown locations.
"If you don't live in the Spruces, you probably don't live in Williamstown," Puddester said.
The committee added Higher Ground's survey to a growing mountain of evidence of the town's need for subsidized housing. On Tuesday, the panel touched on some of the other data it has collected over the years, including a housing needs assessment compiled by John Ryan earlier this year and a recent work-force survey.
"Two years ago, we polled the major employers in town [and found that] clearly the majority of hourly workers do not live in town," Yamamoto said. "That's true of the college, that's true at Williamstown Commons, that's true at the landscaping companies. I talked to one landscaping company owner, and he said not one of his employees lives in Williamstown. ... It's true of our municipal employees, the hourly people.
And the changing face of Williamstown's population could have serious repercussions.
"If they can't afford to live in Williamstown, we're not going to have a lot of people turning out for 911 calls late at night, and Williamstown will have to go to a professional fire department," AHC member Cheryl Shanks said. "We have structured town services to rely on the goodwill and help of a demographic that's disappearing."
Susan Puddester provided the results of a survey.
• 64 survey respondents profiled
• All expressed interest in living in Williamstown*
• 37 currently live in Spruces
• 50 have income below $30,000
Garage site on Water Street: Sept. 30
Photech site on Cole Avenue: Oct. 10
To address that demographic -— among others — the Affordable Housing Committee continued Tuesday to move forward on several different fronts.
First of all, it announced two public hearings to gather information that will help inform the committee's expected requests for proposals to develop two town-owned brownfield sites: the old town garage site on Water Street and the former PhoTech mill property on Cole Avenue.
Both public listening sessions will be held at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at Williamstown Elementary School and will be facillitated by consultants hired by the committee to help it develop its reguests for proposals.
The garage site (59 Water St.) will be the focus of the listening session on Monday, Sept. 30; PhoTech will be discussed on Thursday, Oct. 10.
While it continues to press for a town project, the committee voted unanimously to lend its support to a private project being developed by Higher Ground and three other non-profits on land being donated by Williams College.
Finally, with the town potentially facing a decision this fall about whether to accept possession of the 114 acres at the Spruces, the committee weighed in on that decision, asking the Selectmen what level of conservation protection it intends to assign the land and recommending the land be held in a status that allows for future development — if and when the flooding problems at the site can be remediated.
"If that remediation is done and there's a way to bring up a certain part of the property to a certain level, we should consider it," committee member Bilal Ansari said. "But we wont' be able to imagine it if we sign off and say all 114 acres are in conservation.
"I've witnessed how land goes into conservation, and it's a sneeze. There's not a blink, not a question and it's done. There's no, 'Go to the Selectmen and give them a list of questions.' It's not a trial."
Ansari was not the first town board member this week to suggest keeping the door open to future development at the Spruces if the town acquires the property. But such a step would be difficult to attain under the terms of the federal Hazard Mitigation Grant that is facilitating that acquistion.
The grant as currently negotiated between the town, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, calls for that land to be placed into a "FEMA Model Deed Restriction" with no new structures permitted.
Update, Sept. 19, 2013, 10:18 p.m.: In response to a query about facts in the breakout box, we have changed "want to live" to "expressed an interest in living" in Williamstown. The survey asked for interest or potential interest in living in Williamstown
; 64 affirmed interest of varying degrees as was stated in the article. The referred to page of the survey can be found here.