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Greater Springfield Housing Report Releases Second Study

HADLEY — The second report of a multi-phase project studying Pioneer Valley housing issues was released yesterday by the UMass Donahue Institute, Way Finders, the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, and the Metropolitan Springfield Housing Study Advisory Committee.

Phase 2 analyzed regional segregation and the important relationship between place and opportunity in area communities. The research also further examined the central role of affordable, accessible, quality housing in upward mobility and quality of life in the Greater Springfield region.

“Our analysis shows a regional housing market that is being increasingly inaccessible to people at various levels of income,” said Mark Melnik, director of Economic & Public Policy Research at the UMass Donahue Institute. “This was made worse by the pandemic and has important implications in terms of access to employment, services, and other critical amenities associated with place.”

Report highlights include:

• Affordability issues disproportionately impact the region when compared to the state. The Pioneer Valley has 10% of Massachusetts’ rental units but 15% of the state’s rent-income mismatch (when rental prices are higher than renters’ ability to afford them). Based on a calculation of income mismatch for rental housing, the region currently needs at least 17,000 more rental units at or below $500 a month. This is possible with federal and state funds flowing into the Pioneer Valley to help with recovery.

• The COVID-19 pandemic, along with being a public-health crisis that hit families and networks of frontline workers with elderly, immunocompromised, smoking, and diabetic members hardest, also dramatically worsened economic conditions for low-wage, service and marginal workers primarily through layoffs. Many of the workers who were laid off are people of color and women, who frequently bear the economic brunt of both layoffs and the markedly increased care needs of both children and ill family members.

• Housing prices were gradually rising before the pandemic, then rose dramatically (for both sales and rentals) during the pandemic due to limited housing stock and low-interest rates.

• Access to clean air, public transportation, high-scoring schools, nearby jobs, networks of people who are not in poverty, and high employer engagement (by hiring local residents) are some of the measurable critical amenities that make the specific place people live important to their chances in life. Economic and racial segregation in the Pioneer Valley could be addressed by a regional, coordinated, and intentional approach to housing production and supporting programs.

• Segregation exists both historically and in the present day in the Pioneer Valley. Housing costs, deficits, and regulations are reinforcing and continuing to perpetuate segregation across area communities. The approach of working regionally on cost and availability of housing were the primary solutions suggested to begin to change these trends.

• Rural, suburban, and urban areas face different pressing issues in housing development. Rural areas have high costs of adding infrastructure that isn’t yet present, while suburban areas often have restrictive zoning or other reasons limiting buildable lots, including neighbor resistance and being somewhat built out. Urban areas face high redevelopment costs for lots with existing structures and are sometimes more built out (fewer available lots with nothing on them). Thoughtful rural and urban development needs further political and monetary support to match demand and create possibilities where they are currently arising too slowly to cope with the natural growth and upkeep of the region.

Click here to read the full report.

“This Phase 2 study provides a richly detailed portrait of housing needs for communities large and small across our region, and a starting point for action,” said Keith Fairey, president and CEO of Way Finders and leader of the Metropolitan Springfield Housing Advisory Group. “With this data, we have a clear understanding of regional, cross-sector collaboration needed to make progress on these issues, and build a more accessible, affordable, and inclusive region for all our residents.”

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