Williamstown approves $2.6 million for affordable housing

On Nov. 12, the Williamstown Selectmen voted unanimously to commit $2.6 million to an affordable housing project. The money will go toward developing affordable housing on land donated by the College in June.

The land is an almost-four acre parcel near Proprietors Field and behind the Torrence M. Hunt tennis courts on Church Street. The project was in part organized by the Williamstown non-profit Higher Ground. This organization was launched by the College’s Muslim Chaplin Bilal Ansari after Tropical Storm Irene devastated one of Williamstown’s only affordable housing areas, the Spruces Mobile Home.

The College’s donation of land was essential to rebuilding affordable housing in Williamstown efficiently and quickly. Ansari stressed the importance of the College’s land donation, saying “If Williams College did not donate their land … there would be no thoughtful or heartfelt options for the 225 poor retirement community [members] displaced by Irene to stay in the town they served and love.”

The project will include 40 units of housing on the donated land and is also being funded by a $6.13 million donation from a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Grant (“Williamstown Selectmen commit $2.6M to affordable housing project with unanimous vote,” The North Adams Transcript, Nov. 13). This grant was awarded to both the town and Morgan Management, the owners of the Spruces. The Spruces was a 55-and-older housing park, so the new development project will look to fill this void with affordable housing for the elderly.

“As president of Higher Ground, I am thankful that our Selectmen of Williamstown have made the decision to give $2.6 million towards the building of senior affordable housing next to Proprietors Field,” Ansari said. “As a member of the Affordable Housing Committee, I recognize that this was politically expedient given the time restrictions on the execution of these FEMA funds, which makes it absolutely impossible to build anywhere else in town in two years for this poor retirement community.”

The Selectmen also talked over three warrant articles for a potential town meeting scheduled for Dec. 10. If approved, the articles would essentially give the town permission to take over operation of the Spruces until it is closed. Their approval would also help to create a fund for closing expenses and facilitate the ownership of the 114-acre Spruces property by the town.

“The Selectmen of Williamstown chose to pull the recommendation of the Affordable Housing Committee from the Conservation Commission table, which was to be considered for town vote,” Ansari said. “This recommendation would have released 10 acres of 100 plus acres of conservation land on Stratton Road for replacement housing to preserve their active and beautiful community. As a homeowner in Williamstown, the Spruces land will net the town of Williamstown 114 more acres of conservation land. So giving $2.6 million dollars from FEMA funds for prime real estate is absolutely a no brainer.”