Rinaldo Del Gallo III: Be realistic about affordable housing

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PITTSFIELD — With respect to the Oct. 12 editorial "Chipping away on affordable housing," The Eagle said of the unveiling of a new affordable housing unit in Great Barrington "that there is a massive waiting list for this housing in Berkshire County is a cause for concern." While lauding the project as "a cause for celebration" The Eagle observes that the project is for seniors and that affordable senior housing is "relatively uncontroversial." Controversy might be a great formula for a click-bait YouTube channel, but it is the bane of providing public support for affordable housing that it needs to flourish, often with a 2/3 majority requirements.

We could walk away with an obvious lesson, that affordable housing for low-income seniors and veterans is both something that the Berkshires desperately need and really want. The lesson could have been that providing a place to live for our seniors and our war heroes is a relatively uncontroversial among the populace and is what we should be focusing on because we as a society should be protecting these vulnerable populations. Instead, the Eagle gives tepid kudos for the Great Barrington protect and then the public is given a morality lesson on how benighted they are for fearing housing aimed at single-mothers or Section 8 housing tenants which are euphemistically referred to as "populations of young people." The problem is that those who are likely to attend a town meeting and vote on an affordable housing project, right or wrong, have deep seated opposition to these populations unlikely to be changed by persuasion: please do not shoot the messenger.

Whether or not there is empirical evidence that these affordable housing projects aimed at single-mothers or Section 8 tenants really bring a criminal element could be hotly debated. But I have no desire to hop into that controversy and offer no opinion on the matter. My thoughts on housing aimed at single-mothers and Section 8 housing or "populations of young people" is also of no moment. What is of paramount concern however is that Berkshire communities steadfastly eschew these projects at town meetings, where such projects often lose by considerable amounts below the required margins. On the other hand, the elderly and war veterans by all accounts cause very few problems and that's why helping them is a viable proposition at town meetings.

Occasionally, we need to speak directly. Politics really is about the art of the possible. The people that are on a moral soap box about the evils of focusing on new affordable housing projects on seniors and the elderly are hampering such desperately needed projects. There is a project in Lenox that failed in a large part for these very reasons and similar concerns were raised in Adams. Moreover, apart from all the deleterious sanctimony which prevents progress towards affordable housing, people that know how to get things done are being silenced at town meetings and in local media by misguided people that think they know better but are only offering a recipe that has failed in the past and will likely fail in the future.

I know a thing or two about getting local legislation passed because I have done so much of it in the past, in communities throughout Berkshire County. Everybody has a right to express their opinion. But as a corollary, some expressed opinions or entrenched stands have negative real world consequences. The reality is that when affordable housing is actually created for seniors or war veterans that generally increases the supply of housing, which drives down price for everyone, even for these "populations of young people." The law of supply and demand is really as sure as the law of gravity. Moreover, there is an ironic underlying current of ageism in the force-fed morality lesson: Why bother to house the Berkshires' huge senior population who are actually here and need assistance, when we can attract more desirable young people that are not currently here with the affordable housing that could have gone to seniors?

We need more affordable housing in the Berkshires for seniors and veterans and it would be helpful if the people getting in the way would move out of the way, stop the sanctimony, and make way for those capable of building consensus and support. Let us not make the perfect the enemy of the good.

Rinaldo Del Gallo, III is an occasional Eagle contributor.

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