LENOX — Help (and housing) wanted! ASAP!
Many, if not most, local businesses, especially in the hospitality industry, are begging for workers as a blockbuster summer tourism season already is in full swing.
Reasons typically cited for the staffing shortage include ongoing child care issues affecting working parents, lingering fear of COVID risks in the workplace as vaccination hesitation and resistance continue, and a cushion of unemployment benefits that makes minimum wage jobs unappealing.
There’s another major obstacle in the Berkshires, especially in prosperous towns outside the two cities: the lack of subsidized mixed-income and workforce housing for area businesses and large employers such as General Dynamics, Wayfair and Miraval that’s affordable in a tourism-oriented area where home prices have been soaring and rentals are scarce.
Now comes a preliminary proposal from a highly regarded developer, Pennrose LLC, for 13 buildings with five units apiece, and a community center “clubhouse” with a management office.
The 65-unit, mixed-income, rental housing “village” would be on 8.5 acres of the 68-acre Brushwood Farms property in Lenox, centrally located in a mixed-use area along Route 7/20 (Pittsfield Road) on the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority bus line, close to health care professionals, a fitness center and retailers, but not directly adjacent to a residential area.
The company, which developed the Village at Nauset Green complex in Eastham on the Cape, entered a purchase and sale agreement this week with Dr. James R. Hashim, trustee of the family-owned Brushwood property. The cost of the land acquisition, near the Courtyard at Marriott and across from Lenox Commons, is undisclosed.
At a well-received briefing for the town’s Affordable Housing Trust on Thursday, Pennrose Regional Vice President Charlie Adams pointed out that “we’re just approaching the starting line” but offered a general overview of the plan for workforce and affordable units.
The site is on a plateau atop a hill southeast of the Marriott, avoiding wetlands and preserving adjacent areas for potential development.
Pennrose envisions creation of “a welcoming residential community centered on sustainability and connection to our natural environment, reflecting the historic nature of local Berkshire architecture, providing accessible and attractive rental housing options for Lenox families of all incomes.”
Other project highlights:
• The mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments in two- and three-story buildings would cater to singles, young families and seniors looking to downsize, with pricing, based on area median income, ranging from an estimated $700 to $800 monthly for a one-bedroom to $1,200 for a three-bedroom. One-year leases could be renewed automatically.
Adams pointed out that “this is such an important project to the town,” since only 7.2 percent of housing in Lenox (178 units) is in the affordable category. The state wants communities to reach a 10 percent goal. He projected that 75 percent of the town’s residents would be eligible for units allocated by lottery, with a first-year preference for locals.
• Financing would include federal and state tax credits, other state funding programs, local Community Preservation Act support and multiple other sources. The estimated cost would be well above $20 million, not including the purchase of the land.
• The preliminary site plan includes donation to the town from the Hashims for land conservation and open space, including trails open to the public, for a majority of the 68-acre property.
• After meetings with town boards and committees, if all goes well, the goal would be to complete the permitting for the project by the end of this year, then put together financing, complete the design and potentially break ground by December 2022 “at the very earliest,” Adams said.
“We have a social responsibility to our families and our neighbors,” Olga Weiss, a member of the Affordable Housing Trust, declared after the preliminary project presentation. “It is 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 trying to get out of their homes or coming into the community and just starting out,” said Marybeth Mitts, chairwoman of the Affordable Housing Trust and a Select Board member.
Judging from the applause by town officials and a few residents attending the meeting, this mixed-income development may get a warm welcome in town.
Construction of workforce and subsidized housing is always a heavy lift in any community, since, for no good reason, “affordable housing” is an off-putting concept for some residents. The Pennrose proposal is off to a promising start.