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The Berkshires is plagued with chronic housing issues. A new report aims to address those problems

pam merlet and mary jane white walk up stairs in showing

Pam Merlet, left, and her Realtor, Mary Jane White, tour a condominium in Pittsfield. High prices and low inventory have made it difficult for buyers to find single-family homes in the Berkshires.

PITTSFIELD — Over the past 10 years, only 1,501 new housing units have been built in Berkshire County — a meager 2 percent increase in new dwellings where local residents can reside. That number includes single-family homes, multifamily residences, apartments and condominiums.

That statistic is included in a new report, “A Housing Vision for the Berkshires,” compiled by 1Berkshire and the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission that was released on Wednesday.

The 38-page document lays out a regional strategy to lead more intentional efforts to solve the lack of affordable housing options for Berkshire residents, a long-standing issue that has been exacerbated the last two years as the COVID-19 pandemic has driven up housing costs for both renters and homebuyers.

“It was starting to accelerate, but obviously the pandemic itself has really changed that conversation dramatically and made it even more dire in some elements,” 1Berkshire President and CEO Jonathan Butler said.

The report contains 60 recommended strategies to help spur more development, while expanding representation in the process to include more diverse communities and populations who have not historically been properly engaged in the process of identifying solutions to housing challenges.

“Through the implementation of these strategies, we hope housing options will become more readily available and affordable for all, including populations under the greatest current pressure,” said Thomas Matuszko, the BRPC ‘s executive director.

It took about 18 months to compile the regional strategy, which includes the support of a broad working group of Berkshire housing practitioners, including Eileen Peltier, the president and CEO of Berkshire Housing Development Corp. in Pittsfield.

“We really wanted to get all those different players in the housing arena, whether they work directly with housing organizations on a daily basis or other parts of economic development or businesses that interacted with housing,” Butler said. “We really tried to synthesize a set of priorities that we could all agree on.”

Tom Matuszko Photo

Thomas Matuszko, the executive director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, has led his agency's involvement in compiling a new 38-page report with 1Berkshire that lays out a regional strategy to deal with the county's chronic housing issues.

The report is intended to act as the first phase of a plan to address the systemic challenges in housing development in the Berkshires. Lack of housing was found to be a recurrent theme when 1Berkshire compiled Berkshire Blueprint 2.0, the updated version of the organization’s overall strategy for the Berkshires, in 2019. It found that large supply gaps existed for quality, affordable and proximal housing for those seeking to live and work in the region.

The coalition that compiled the report has also received $150,000 in American Rescue Plan funding from the Berkshire’s state legislative delegation to continue working on the county’s lack of affordable housing options.

The report can be viewed or downloaded at 1berkshire.com/housing-vision/.

Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6224.

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