News from Way Finders | September 2021
A Message from Keith Fairey, President & CEO
Understanding the need, investing in opportunity 
 
The pandemic has challenged every one of us to think differently about all aspects of life. For some, such reflections have resulted in a career change, a move to a new place, or greater engagements in the community. At Way Finders, we’ve reexamined how we work in, for, and with the community. Initially, when in-person interaction was disrupted by pandemic lockdowns, we needed to find new ways to serve our clients. While we have done much to adapt to the ongoing pandemic, we are also working proactively to plan for what’s ahead: We are in the midst of a strategic planning process that is challenging us to better understand both the need and opportunity in our community. Specifically, we are thinking about the capacity we require to support our clients—and considering the ways we can help create the greatest impact as we work to bring about an equitable recovery. 
 
The need 

The Greater Springfield Housing Study, which took a big data approach, helped us clearly identify the current housing issues in the region. Among the most pressing needs? A lack of housing opportunities for renters and homeowners, which results in a growing gap of housing supply and increased rents and home prices. This issue is compounded by unusually low vacancy rates—less than 5% of rentals and just above 1% of ownership housing—which create an economic dynamic that yields high prices and also causes both overcrowding and housing insecurity for low- and moderate-income families. Informed by these circumstances, Way Finders must invest in solutions that bring better results for our community. To identify such solutions, we are earnestly engaging with:
  • Stakeholders—by seeking relevant guidance, feedback, and input from community and institutional leaders 
  • Staff and board—by determining what they need to better serve our clients and community 
  • Clients and residents—by listening deeply (to this often overlooked source) for their real insights and direction about what is needed in our communities 
  • Landlords—by exploring what we can do together to create greater housing stability. 

Through all this information gathering, we hope to understand: Which desires, hopes, dreams, and needs are articulated? What can help families and the region thrive, both economically and socially? That is where we will focus our efforts.  

The opportunity 

At the same time, there is now a generational opportunity to begin reversing the trends of disinvestment and neglect that have adversely affected communities of color and low-income families for so long. We can do so by investing in people, communities, and systems. Coming out of the pandemic, federal and state leaders have recognized this need to invest across housing, infrastructure, public health and human services, education, and more. At the time of this writing, our leaders in Washington are trying to bring forth a set of potentially transformational resources, although it is too soon to tell what will ultimately transpire. Of the funds that are already available to the Commonwealth—$5.3 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act—the state legislature must decide how to effectively appropriate and invest them. In laying out an investment thesis that will create a durable recovery, I believe we must: 
  • Center racial and economic equity in housing and workforce investments, to ensure that those who have been impacted the most receive a share of the investment that is proportionate to their need  
  • Target long-term neighborhood stabilization, by directing resources toward production of new affordable rental and homeownership housing alongside the rehabilitation of existing properties 
  • Rehabilitate and preserve our old and rapidly deteriorating rental and homeownership housing—which includes the continuum of housing types, from owner-occupied and public housing to unsubsidized and unregulated, but affordable, housing stock (aka Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing) 
  • Eliminate historical and systemic inequities, such as the lack of legal representation for tenants in housing court and the homeownership gap between white households and households of color. 

In the coming weeks, we look forward to identifying the specific ways to achieve these impacts, with the input we gather from our community, staff, and stakeholders. I believe that if we focus on achieving these returns on our investments, and hold ourselves collectively accountable in the process, we can both reverse damaging trends of the past and create the conditions where more families and communities prosper. 
Our Place, Our Home
Spotlight on First-time Homebuyers Carlos and Sasha Nunez
“We purchased our first home in November of 2020,” says Carlos Nunez, of the 1950s home he shares with his wife Sasha and their three children. “It’s a half-acre. In Springfield, that’s big. Most people’s yards are about the size of my front yard.”

“It feels good to know that this is our place, our home,” says Sasha. “It feels like we’re investing more into our family and we can make this space our own.”

Busy Sparking and Activating Connections in Holyoke
Anna Cruz and the Holyoke CB&E Team
What makes the difference between a “no” and a “maybe” in terms of getting residents involved in community building work? Ask Community Engagement Coordinator Anna Cruz: Activating residents of Holyoke is at the heart of her work with the Way Finders Community Building and Engagement team, which has been busy this summer.

Staff Spotlight: Luis Rivera
Maintenance Technician
Spending 30 minutes during a summer workday with Maintenance Technician Luis Rivera? They pass in a flash. Luis, who celebrated his eighth anniversary with the Way Finders Property & Asset Management team on September 3, is constantly on the move. And today there’s an extra thing on his mind: finding white roses.

“Today is my wife’s birthday,” says Luis, of Chicopee. “She said if I’m going to get flowers, she’d like white roses, like at our wedding.” 
 
Luis, who joined Way Finders at his wife’s urging and previously worked as a contractor with Baystate Health, is up to the challenge. The words of advice he most lives by? “Do what’s right, not what’s easy.”

“I try to give 110 when I work for Way Finders,” Luis says. “They treat me well, so I’m going to do it right back.”

In speaking of his role, other aspects of his work ethic shine through: Be the first one in and the last one out. Do your homework. Check the sources of your info. Know the code. Build relationships with contractors. Be open to guidance. If there’s a crisis, don’t panic—take control. If you see something that’s not right, speak up.

Celebrating the completion of Library Commons in Holyoke!  
Bright + airy. Spacious + inviting. Historic + modern. Accessible + walkable.  
There is so much to celebrate about Library Commons in Holyoke! Comprised of three rehabilitated historical buildings and one newly constructed building (193-203 Chestnut Street and 210 Elm Street), the mixed-use development proudly furthers the revitalization of downtown Holyoke. Library Commons blends 38 residences (two- and three-bedroom apartments) with community facilities, support services, cultural space, and onsite parking—within walking distance of the Holyoke Public Library, public transportation, stores, and more. Way Finders has plans to develop additional affordable housing in this same neighborhood for years to come; this is just phase one.

If you feel inspired by these stories, you can help! 
Philanthropic gifts of all sizes allow Way Finders to support clients such as Carlos and Sasha—and the residents of Holyoke who are activated by Anna Cruz and the Holyoke Community Building and Engagement team to work for positive change in their neighborhoods.

You can make a one-time or monthly donation online at wayfinders.org/donate.

Or give via mail: Way Finders, Resource Development, 1780 Main Street, Springfield, MA 01103. 

Questions? Please contact supportus@wayfinders.org.