Rural Affairs Director Anne Gobi (left) and Sen. Joanne Comerford (right) speak at the Massachusetts Select Board Association’s eighth annual Rural and Western Massachusetts Conference in Northampton on April 27.

The Massachusetts Select Board Association held its eighth annual Rural and Western Massachusetts Conference in Northampton on April 27.

Rural Affairs Director Anne Gobi opened with a keynote presentation reviewing rural priorities in the governor’s budget, the Municipal Empowerment Act, and the administration’s economic development plan and bond bill.

Gobi acknowledged the advocacy efforts of attendees and their dedication to addressing the unique challenges facing rural communities.

“In your world, it’s not just one note you’re dealing with,” she said. “It’s constant … and you have to make symphonies!”

Gobi’s colleague, Rural Programs Manager Mallory Sullivan, gave an overview of development opportunities available to rural cities and towns through the Community One Stop for Growth portal. She highlighted successful projects from previous years, including the demolition of aging and hazardous buildings in Erving and the creation of a community wood bank for low-income residents in Buckland.

She reminded attendees about the June 5 deadline for the current application period.

During the second session, Sen. Joanne Comerford, MMA Legislative Analyst Adrienne Núñez, and Franklin Regional Council of Governments Executive Director Linda Dunlavy gave updates on a number of rural legislative and budget priorities, such as funding for a state disaster relief program, public health, water and sewer infrastructure, and affordable housing.

“We know that Massachusetts wants housing, and that we have to grow to survive and do it smartly,” said Comerford. “We can make it better … and have to make it better, for western communities.”

In the third and final session of the day, representatives from several regional organizations discussed creative strategies for advancing affordable housing.

June Wolfe, housing director at Construct Berkshire, discussed the unique factors that have driven the housing crisis in western Massachusetts, including aging housing stock and “millennial valley” — or the disproportionately low population of young people.

Keith Fairey, executive director of Way Finders, and Gina Govoni, executive director of the Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority and Rural Development Inc., discussed case studies from successful rural housing projects in South Hadley and Greenfield.

Fairey urged attendees to take advantage of current local and state-level momentum on housing solutions, including the governor’s proposed Affordable Homes Act, and to continue advocating for their communities.

“The time is now,” he said, “and the solutions are known.”

The MSA event was co-sponsored by several regional organizations, including the Rural Policy Advisory Commission, Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, Franklin Regional Council of Governments, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, and Small Town Administrators of Massachusetts.

MSA President and Williamstown Select Board Member Andy Hogeland opened the conference with a reflection on the progress made on rural representation and equity since the MSA’s first rural conference was held, which was made possible by the advocacy efforts of those in attendance.

“All of the progress we’ve made … didn’t exist eight years ago,” he said. “All that we’ve done is because of all that you’ve done.”

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