It has been interesting to read the debate about creating affordable housing in Williamstown to replace some of what was lost at The Spruces during Hurricane Irene. The contortions of those opposed to using the Lowry or Burbank properties are amusing to watch. I don’t think The Spruces was ever considered an "asset" to most Williamstown residents. The Spruces was better kept than most trailer parks, but still, a trailer park doesn’t fit the image they attempt to portray.
The folks who are self-congratulatory point to eight affordable units having been developed in St. Raphael’s Church (eight, I mean how many more poor people should Williamstown allow?) In fact, between the mercurial pace of FEMA (proving that it has been just as inept under Obama as it was under Bush), and the lack of any real push by the rest of the town to help its neighbors who were affected by this disaster, only a small portion of the 225 plus units in The Spruces will be replaced. Now while some of the residents could have afforded to live elsewhere, maybe even elsewhere in Williamstown, the majority probably wound up in subsidized housing in other communities because there is precious little of that in Williamstown either.
So once this debate is finally settled, and the new housing is finally created, one can expect that maybe 20 percent of the formerly affordable units will be replaced. Unlike Stockbridge which built some very nice affordable units next to its sewer treatment plant (showing that community what it really thought of its lower income neighbors), Williamstown apparently does not have any undesirable parcels under its control to offer up, or else this argument would not be occurring.
Maybe the town should buy an undeveloped parcel in Pownal or North Adams and build the housing there. I am sure those communities would welcome decent housing built and occupied by decent folks -- regardless of their economic condition. That way no million dollar views would need to be cluttered by folks that don’t seem to hold full residency in the community anyway -- because after all, they are unlucky enough to not be as affluent as those who value a field over ensuring their neighbors are housed.
I mean where will folks recreate? What will the condo development on Stratton Road do with the parking spaces they dedicated to this field? Why not a cluster development to allow for intensive development of a portion of these sites -- or will the mere presence of an affordable and modest neighborhood destroy the area (but the presence of another million dollar home or three would probably not).
At the end of the day, actions speak louder than words -- 225 affordable units will have been lost and I doubt 50 will have been replaced and as time goes on, fewer of the residents will ever move back to a community they lived in for years. This is how exclusive communities stay exclusive. A real model to be proud of, I suppose.