At a meeting today in Chicopee ,top federal and state housing officials praised a newly released plan for expanding access to housing in a large area of western Massachusetts.
The report by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission is the first effort to create a regional housing plan that covers 43 diverse western Massachusetts communities including impoverished urban centers, well-off suburbs, and rural sparsely populated towns.
The decision to attempt such a far-reaching regional housing plan is recognition that housing is a major driver of the economy, according to PVPC Executive Director Tim Brennan.
The report’s findings are not surprising. It says a weak housing market is holding back revitalization in the cities of Springfield, Holyoke and Chicopee. The need for large single-family homes is decreasing because a majority of households are now made up of one or two people. Housing costs throughout the region exceed the ability of many people to pay. No community is immune from the problem of homelessness.
The report details more than 50 housing development strategies that principal author Jayne Armington said go beyond “safe suggestions.”
Recommendations include doing away with zoning that restricts multi-family housing, funding programs to create market-rate housing in urban centers, and encouraging employer- assisted housing programs.
Barbara Fields, the administrator of the New England region for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said she appreciated the plan’s comprehensiveness.
HUD awarded a $4 million grant to help develop the regional housing plan. A committee of municipal officials and housing specialists led by staff at the PVPC spent two-and-a-half years producing the report.
Massachusetts Housing and Community Development Secretary Aaron Gornstein said the plan is in sync with the housing goals of the Patrick Administration. Gov. Patrick announced a goal last year of building 10,000 multi-family housing units annually. Gornstein said building permits for more than 6,000 units were issued through the end of September, 65 percent ahead of last year.
The PVPC’s housing report does not set any target numbers of new housing construction.
Government officials and housing advocates participated in a forum in Chicopee to discuss how to begin implementing the plan.