Michael Giles: Groundbreaking work

  • A rendering of the East Gables housing development in Amherst. SUBMITTED IMAGE

Thursday, March 31, 2022
Groundbreaking work

I hope that, when our time in this Valley passes, we are remembered for how well we cared for all members of our small town society. But as we work toward that lofty ideal, let’s pause for a moment to celebrate the ground that is being broken this week at the East Gables development on Route 9.

Not only is the Valley Community Development constructing a large affordable housing complex, but they are simultaneously righting wrongs from the past while stepping bravely into the future. As intractable as our current homelessness crisis may seem, it has its roots in recent degradations in housing and health care.

While East Gables can not address all facets of the issue, it does begin to reconstruct the missing bottom rung of the housing ladder: single-room occupancy (SRO) housing.

Watch a movie that takes place prior to the 1950s and you’ll be reminded of how common boarding houses used to be. Unfortunately, those buildings started getting torn down in the 1970s, replaced by condos and apartments. By the end of the 1980s, 90% of Boston’s rooming houses had quietly disappeared and Northampton and Amherst followed suit.

That effectively removed the first rung in the housing ladder, leaving thousands of people without affordable housing options. So it is exciting news that the Valley CDC is working to reverse that trend by creating a 28-unit building in Amherst. Taking it one step further, East Gables is being built to the German Passive House standard, one of the most rigorous energy efficiency building standards in the world.

We often get mired in argument and debate here in Amherst but I hope that we can all feel incredibly proud of this life-changing work that is being undertaken with our town’s support. It is a small step in a wonderfully hopeful direction, made possible by countless hours of work by dedicated members of our community. And it’s a reminder that we really can take tangible action to reimagine our society and to do our small part to nudge the world in a more loving, sustainable direction.

Michael Giles