Most of the discussion I hear regarding affordable housing is so foreign to my personal experience here in inland New England that I realize that I have very little to offer in the way of helpful input. People in this region can spend ridiculous amounts of money on housing if they choose, but many people use the Springfield Strategy or its variants: the Holyoke Strategy, the Chicopee Strategy, or even the Ware/Warren Strategy if they want more of the feel of Appalachia in their life.
As far as the poor are concerned, the aforementioned cities are nowhere near their peak populations and housing options exist in what appear to be ever growing numbers. One Springfield developer in particular, Gordon Pulsipher, has already created a handful of entire neighborhoods of gorgeous apartment buildings by combining tax credits for both historic preservation and affordable housing. In doing so he has given the city these streetscapes which look for all the world like affluent locations in Manhattan or Brooklyn. As an aside I sometimes wonder if he has a secret plan to corner the market on these places and when the “affordable” restrictions time out he’ll be left with thousands and thousands of units of market rate housing at a time when, in this fantasy of mine, walkable urbanism becomes all the rage in western New England.
That one example aside, problems regarding housing for the poor in this region strike me as being very similar to the claim that Springfield is a food desert; being poor stinks. Everything is more difficult when you’re poor because it is definitionally having fewer resources to bring to bear to do things. With that firmly understood I would say that this region is one in which being poor makes finding housing less onerous than in many other regions of the country.
With that far too extensive preface out of the way, I was struck this summer by a weirdly inverted situation regarding the passing of housing from one economic and social class to another. Often I have heard in the conversation of affordable housing that one should not build housing for the poor intentionally. The more natural process is to construct housing for the middle and upper classes, who have the resources to create demand, and allow those homes, apartments, and condominiums to slowly work their way down to the poor once their style and condition are less suited to those with more resources.
I live in a townhouse which began its life as a domicile for the upper class; the deed to my home includes an easement (I believe is the term) which allows my servants to access Union Street from the rear of my property by passing through the back of the townhouses at 82 and 84 Maple Street. My house became a rooming house in the early 20th century, a single family home again in the 70’s, and was a law office from 1980-2008.
What I saw in Cold Spring, New York was altogether different; this was housing for the working classes, the moiling and toiling factory workers of the West Point Foundry. Today these are smallish unassuming houses, some of which are valued at over a half a million dollars. These are homes on small lots which were built out of necessity with minimal artistry or pretense:
The property taxes on these homes are over $7,000 a year with Zillow estimated mortgage payments of $2,000 a month.
I have no idea what this means, if indeed it means anything. I suppose it might teach a little humility; who knows what things in the built environment and beyond future generations might view as of great worth?