AUDIO: A housing discussion with Patrick White

The recently re-elected Stockbridge Select Board member on housing ideas, healthy discussion, and maintaining a "well-rounded community."

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With available and affordable housing remaining a top regional and national issue, last week I had a wide-ranging conversation with Patrick White, a member of the Stockbridge Select Board. White was recently re-elected overwhelmingly to his second three-year term on the board, where he has made housing proposals central.

More than half of the homes in Stockbridge are owned by part-time and seasonal residents, contributing to both escalating prices and limited housing supply for working families. The challenges created are similar to those faced by neighboring communities like Great Barrington, where high prices have impacted, for example, the ability of businesses to attract and retain the service-industry workers who power the region’s tourism-based economy.

In Stockbridge, White says that’s led to a declining number of students in local schools, dwindling volunteers for the fire department and other municipal roles, and concern about maintaining what he describes as “a well-rounded community.”

In his first term, with an eye on both lower-income seniors and local-workforce needs, White advanced a proposal to cut real-estate taxes for full-time homeowners, sparking a heated debate over both the idea’s fairness and efficacy — and whether it was “divisive.”

Called a “residential tax exemption,” it allows a community to exempt anywhere from 10 percent to 35 percent of a property’s assessed value from real-estate taxation if the owner is present for at least 183 days a year. It has been adopted by 16 Massachusetts communities since the legislature authorized it in 1979. They include housing-challenged resort communities like Nantucket and several Cape Cod towns, but none in western Massachusetts. The proposal wasn’t successful.

My conversation with White took place on July 13, a few days before Stockbridge held the first of two planned community meetings about its changing demographics and its housing needs. We spoke at length about the impact of housing-affordability challenges and his vision for a thoughtful, collaborative, inclusive and productive discussion about policy ideas he thinks can help Stockbridge move forward.

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