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Housing scarcity in west region pronounced

Officials, nonprofit leaders speak to housing crisis affecting families: Affordability, quantity do not meet demand


Staff Writer

Kristen Tillona-Baker was presented with a problem this year when three separate families needed help finding housing they could afford in West County.

Tillona-Baker is the executive director of the Mary Lyon Foundation, a nonprofit that helps students, families and educators in the Mohawk Trail Regional School District through a variety of programs. Often when families have issues, the public schools come to the foundation for help. Tillona-Baker works individually with families to provide help with their problems.

For example, one family’s apartment flooded, resulting in the landlord having to renovate the apartment and displacing the family. While the family is now staying with relatives, they do not have a longterm plan for housing.

“West County is very difficult to find housing in general because the lack of production there has been extreme,” said Gina Govoni, executive director of Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevel-


Kristen Tillona-Baker, executive director of the Mary Lyon Foundation in Buckland, says “people think young people do not want to move to West County, but people aren’t moving here because it’s unaf fordable.”



opment Authority, based in Turners Falls. “Overall, there is a real affordability challenge in Massachusetts.”

Another family reached out to the Mary Lyon Foundation when they could no longer afford their housing in West County. They moved across the county to Orange, sending their children to a different school district, to find rental housing within their budget.

“I suggest people move to Greenfield, but they don’t want to leave the district. They love the area,” Tillona-Baker said.

A third family Tillona-Baker helped struggled with domestic abuse and needed to move. She searched for housing online, but was unable to find any apartments the family could afford. The family is now staying with friends, but Tillona-Baker said there needs to be longterm solutions for these housing issues.

“People think young people do not want to move to West County,” she said, “but people aren’t moving here because it’s unaffordable.”

Govoni explained the lack of housing is making Franklin County lose families.

“Oftentimes we see people from this area choosing to leave Franklin County because they can no longer find housing here,” she said.

Marc Guillaume, a landlord who rents 40 units in Franklin County, explained that each rental listing, on Craigslist or other social media platforms, may receive up to 80 inquiries and 10 applications in three days. Average landlords check ability to pay, criminal backgrounds and the credit history for each applicant.

“We try to make accommodations when we can, but if there is a qualified applicant that has ability to pay, we will choose them first,” said Guillaume, who is also secretary of the Landlord Business Association, a group of more than 150 local landlords.

“These families are in immediate need, often make minimum wage and do not have savings,” Tillona-Baker said. With these problems, they often do not pass a landlord’s application process.

Guillaume explained the cost of rental housing continues to go up yearly. Rent currently costs about $1,090 for a single-bedroom apartment, according to Section 8 vouchers for Franklin County, which Guillaume said landlords use to set their prices. Rent would need to double— to about $2,000 for a singlebedroom apartment — to offset the price of privately constructing new rental housing, according to Guillaume.

“Rent burden is higher here than in places in eastern Massachusetts. Incomes in Franklin County are lower, creating a bigger gap between housing and wages,” Govoni said. “This statistic is for all of Franklin County, but it’s true in West County as well.”

Govoni said people facing a housing crisis who have an income under 50% of the median income can apply for help through the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) by contacting the Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority at 413-863-9781 or Bella Levavi can be reached at or 413-930-4579.

Gina Govoni, executive director of the Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority in Turners Falls, says the lack of housing is making Franklin County lose families.


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