Podcast (top-left-corner): Play in new window | Download
Top Left Corner: That’s right. This is the top left corner Episode 180. I’m your host, Jay Velázquez, and I do thank you for tuning in this Monday, May 8th, 2023, for what is bound to be a great show. This is part of our election coverage election for select board here in Williamstown, Massachusetts. We’ve actually kind of gotten Williamstown a short shrift when it comes to election coverage. But I guess, guess we have to change that. And this is part of that. We have a conversation with incumbent Andy Hogeland, who is going to spend a few moments, I guess about 45 minutes or so, discussing why you should give your vote to him for another term on the select board.
Top Left Corner: Also in the show notes, we have a short bio for Mr. Hogeland and photo if you need to know what he looks like. The bio is going to be a fairly condensed bio. I asked him to talk about his background in the show during the interview, and it’s pretty extensive. So I guess read, listen and decide for yourself. We have only one other interview and that’ll be coming up. And I guess what’s going to be part B of this episode with Stephanie Boyd, who declined to send an image or a bio, so I can’t show you what she looks like. But you can definitely Google her and I’m sure you’ll find a picture of her all over the place. We’ll be speaking with her next. I tried to ask the same basic questions and try to cover the same basic material for both candidates to make it as fair as possible. Obviously, it’s going to stray a little bit here and there, but we does what we can. The other two candidates, Paul Harsh, did not get in touch with me at all, did not respond to requests for an interview. And Andi Bryant responded to let me know that she was not running — this is when she wasn’t running — and was not interested in discussing things generally.
Now she is running but did not get ahold of me to to have this interview. She’s got about a five minute statement on Willinet and you can check that out if you like. But right now, let’s get to our conversation with Andy Hogeland right here on the Top Left Corner.
2023 Annual Town Meeting Warrant
Don’t forget — Elections are only half the fun! The Town will meet at Mount Greylock Regional School, 1781 Cold Spring Road, on Tuesday, May 16, 2023 at 7:00 p.m. to decide on a bunch of issues. Which issues? Why, they’re listed in this PDF of the Warrant we’ve so thoughtfully provided!2023-Annual-Town-Meeting-Warrant-1
BIO: ANDY HOGELAND
My name is Andy Hogeland, and I’m running for re-election to the Select Board. I have lived here with my wife Anne since 1994, and our three daughters attended WES and graduated from Mount Greylock. I practiced law for over 30 years, and have substantial experience serving in our town government. I have served on the Select Board for several years, including twice as Chair, and before that as Chair of the Finance Committee. I’ve chaired three committees where you can see the results: planning the new police station, making the Spruces a community resource, and chairing the high school building committee for its first five years.
I am a member of state-wide organizations where I advocate for our interests in Boston. I am President of the Massachusetts Select Board Association (MSA), and am a member of the Governor’s Local Government Advisory Commission (LGAC). We meet regularly with the Lieutenant Governor and Cabinet officials. In these roles, I speak up for the needs we share with other towns such as more funding for our schools and local road projects. If re-elected to the Select Board, I can continue my advocacy on Beacon Hill.
I am the Chair of the Affordable Housing Trust, and a former board member of the local Habitat for Humanity. I believe that finding ways to make housing more affordable is one of our top priorities.
For more information, please visit my website at andyhogeland.com
ROUGH TRANSCRIPT of the INTERVIEW with ANDY HOGELAND
Andy Hogeland: Thank you for having me. And thank you for your interest.
Top Left Corner: Well, it is sort of a new era, I guess, for the town. And it is, I think, incumbent. It is It behooves people who who care about what’s going on here, who have op inions about what’s going on to to pay attention during this this season. Because I think that the next sort of phase of the town’s development is is really going to kick into high gear, not just for the new blood that may come onto the into the process, but also this is really the first sort of almost post-pandemic year. And I think that I can detect that there’s a lot more activity even now early in the season than I’ve seen in a couple of years. Why don’t you do this even though we’ve spoken before and and you’ve probably given me a rundown of your past before, just if you wouldn’t mind saying a little bit about how you came to this position. You know, what what interested you and what makes you think it’s worth pursuing another term?
Andy Hogeland: Sure. Of course. My wife Anne, and I moved to Williamstown in 1994, and I’ve been doing public service work here for, you know, almost half of that time over the years. And I think I kind of got that from my parents. They were both involved in local public service. It was kind of part of what was in the house, and it appeals to me. It’s a way to work on local problems with people we know. And if you actually work on a problem, you can see the result. It’s not like, you know, state or national politics where you can bang your head against the wall for long periods of time. It’s a it’s my version of think globally, act locally. So it’s kind of a nice match for me. I started in town government here on the Conservation Commission and the Planning Board, and since that time have been on the Finance Committee, including as chairman, Select Board, as chairman a couple of times, and a lot of special purpose committees on the high school building committee, the committee to make the SPRUCES a good resource for everybody and for finding the police station. So sort of a variety of things that interest me and I hope are productive for the town. And one of the one of the current parent efforts is we are reviewing the charter and co-chair, along with my colleague Jeff Johnson, undertaking the first comprehensive review of the charter since 1956. So kind of overdue, some would say, Wow, it’s for me, just interesting work to see how you can make government work every day. And the charter review makes you step several steps back and say, well, how should this government be structured in the first place?
Top Left Corner: You know, that’s that’s an issue that I think I’m going to have to follow because, yeah, most people don’t don’t think too, too much about the importance of of the charter and the fact that it is the, you know, the bedrock document and revisiting that. We’ll have to talk more about that. I want to hear I want to hear about that just just for now. How long is that expected to take?
Andy Hogeland: We started in September and the goal is to have it ready for town meeting in 2024. So a year from now.
Top Left Corner: Wow.
Andy Hogeland: So we’ve been we’ve been on schedule plowing through, you know, 3 or 5 issues every month. And these include issues like why do we have a strong town manager form of government? So our town meeting be open or representative? What board should be appointed or not appointed? Should we have two town meetings a year or just one? Should we have a recall provision? So a lot of sort of fundamental structural questions, many of which I think will be resolved by saying things are fine, but there are going to be some where we think we can maybe try something different. So stay tuned. Come back a year from now, we’ll do another story.
Top Left Corner: That’s Well, I’ll tell you, I mean, it’s it’s a big deal. Will the does the public have any input in this? I mean, obviously, you’re going to be talking about this during select board meetings. Are there any issues that you think are. So important that you would want the town to weigh in.
Andy Hogeland: Uh, we’re going to want to kind of weigh in on everything as we go along and also at the end. These are not Selectboard meetings. The Selectboard formed a charter review committee. So this is a separate group of seven people who have a lot of experience in in town government. And so our task is to spend the time from last September through next May putting together proposals as to what we think should change. So, okay, all of our meetings are open to the public. They’re all on Zoom. We are getting to the point where we’re going to plan to have some particular public forums, I guess, in the fall to say, here’s here’s our thoughts on ten or 15 or 20 issues. What do you think? Public. Wow. And then we’ll take that input back into consideration and come up with recommendations for town meeting, especially for your listeners, is that we put together a survey which went out with all of the tax bills, real estate tax bills, all landowners got it. I also went through a bunch of other addresses and came up with about 600 tenants which got mailed The survey and the survey is also online at the at the town’s webpage because that gives us, I think over around 3000 people we’ve asked their opinion of. So the results are still coming in, but we like to be able to plow through that data probably in a month or two from now.
Top Left Corner: Yeah, it sounds like some of the these items are are. Are instruments of town government that really do affect a change could really affect how things run. So I’m excited to learn more about that. Let’s let me ask a question. Since you are an incumbent and you’ve been through some you’ve sailed through some fairly choppy waters, municipal waters, during some some rough patches, there was the issue of the police department, the chief of police there was the town manager. Sort of friction. Why don’t you give us a sense of some of the things that you’ve learned, some of the nuggets of wisdom that you’ve picked up during those those those, you know, fairly fractious periods?
Andy Hogeland: Yeah. Well, I of downplayed them the nuggets. But I’ll tell you what I got two things come to mind. The first thing is eternally always the value of listening to people. When the police trauma first came to light in the middle of 2020, I guess it was it was a surprise to everybody. People were very upset with what they heard. And so a lot of the work for that first six or so months was listening to the concerns of the community, understanding what they wanted, listening to the police department to understand their view of things. And I think if you spend enough time trying to learn what’s on people’s minds and be committed to working collaboratively toward some good solution, that’s sort of one way that I always like to go. And the second lesson I think, is patience. There was a lot of outcry at the beginning for immediate action on a variety of things, and we kind of put our heads down to do the homework and do the investigation that needed to be done. The I organized that. The investigation gave us a better sense of what happened and what actually didn’t happen in many cases and helped us decide what should be the consequences. We then kind of buckled down again and went through several difficult personnel decisions. And I think the result is we’re coming out on the far end, far better off than we were before we went in.
Andy Hogeland: I think the confidence in the police department has been well restored. I really give a huge amount of credit to Chief Mike Ziemba for all the work he’s doing. I think we’re lucky to have the right person in the right position. At the time we needed someone to step in, so that’s been great. About a week or so ago, there was a celebration at the log about a partnership program which he initiated to develop better relationships with the community. And it was just really I can’t tell you how gratifying it was to me to see what had happened over the prior year in terms of people coming together, coming up with solutions for how the police can interact differently, what kind of wellness programs they needed, how they should do better outreach in the community. So it was a tough sailing for most of the year, but I think in the intervening almost two years, things have changed rapidly and I think much, much for the better. So yeah, so back to your questions. I think listening well and being patient and deliberative in terms of making sure you think things through and not not doing things that are a knee jerk reaction, I think no one’s ever accused me of being jerky on my knees too much in terms of doing things off the cuff. I think thoughtful, well-researched approach kind of is kind of how I built.
Top Left Corner: Would you say that the right level of transparency was was maintained throughout the processes?
Andy Hogeland: Uh, I would. It would have been nice to have been able to have been more transparent. But, you know, the, the challenge was and this was something we wrestled with is what can we say? What can’t we say was the crisis was brought about by litigation. Right. And in litigation, when you are a party to a case, you need to be careful what you say about the case because anything you say can be twisted or moved or used against you or used for you. So we’re trying to be careful of that. And also the people who were being accused both ways have privacy rights. So we couldn’t be open and carefree about what we said. We had to be careful and people would have preferred to have learned more sooner. But again, we took the deliberative approach and did a very comprehensive investigation. And I think that investigation left, I think no less. I can think of some no questions unanswered. So transparency came, I think, at the right time. It would have been nice to have done it more quickly. But given the constraints of litigation and privacy and personnel actions, you got to go through a minefield.
Top Left Corner: Now, it sounds like it. It sounds like there’s a lot that a lot of eggshells that you have to try not to step on on the on the way to getting through it. So I guess there are a number of things that are on the public’s mind. As I mentioned, in in our digital green room before the show started, there are three major issues that I’m going to be talking about because there are issues I’m going to be that I’m concerned with here in town and I’m going to be following in The Greylock Glass, and I’m sort of making sure that I ask the same questions, basically, of of all the candidates. And the first one is the issue of of land use going forward, of zoning, of lot sizes of multiple units on. On one parcel. There’s a lot of back and forth about that. There’s some misunderstandings about what has been proposed this. Is has caused some real hard feelings in certain quarters. Can you give me your take on this issue and where you think the town needs to go, what direction the town needs to go through if we’re to find a good a good, happy medium here?
Andy Hogeland: Uh, I think that anybody who wants to look at these issues needs to anchor in to kind of fundamental facts, which is we don’t have much available land in Williamstown. It looks rural, but a lot of that land is tied up because it’s owned by the state or it’s subject to different kind of restrictions or conservation restrictions. So it looks like a beautiful open space, which indeed it is, but a lot of it’s not available. So there’s a there’s a shortage of of land for any kind of development. And the second fact is, I think we need to do more all the time on making more housing available for people, housing which is affordable for all ranges of people. I think mistakenly think affordable housing means subsidized housing or really low income housing. I think we need housing which is affordable at a range of income levels. So between a shortage of land and a need for probably more land for housing. That’s the dilemma that we’re into. I’ve done, I think, a fair amount of work on making housing affordable. I was one of the directors of the local Habitat for Humanity chapter for four years until about a year ago. We spent a lot of time doing fundraising and permitting work on the two houses being built at the corner of Cole and Maple. So the result of that work is there’s going to be two families. One’s already there, the other there probably within the end of the year. Two families now own houses in Williamstown, which otherwise would not have happened. While I was also there, I negotiated with the Turner House for Veterans, which was a charity going out of business, negotiated an arrangement with them where we would get about half of their remaining assets and we would use it for housing projects for veterans that needed home repairs or mortgage assistance.
Andy Hogeland: And so there is now a Habitat for Humanity Veterans Home Program. And I’d say anybody who knows a veteran who needs home repairs, home assistance, please contact the northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity chapter to see if they can help you. So that’s been that’s one way to try to do housing. The other avenues on housing are I’m working on as part of the Williamstown Affordable Housing Trust. I’m chairman of that now the trust before my time purchased vacant lots and helped fund the construction of by habitat over those two houses at Cole and Maple. There is another project going to start, I hope, next year on Summer Street. And they also have housing programs which don’t require that kind of big capital investment. And these are mortgage assistance program. These give grants to prospective homeowners of Williamstown who are income qualified and help them with things like down payment or closing costs. So a lot of people at that income level can make the leap from paying a monthly rent to a monthly mortgage. But they don’t have the $15,000 or so to do down payments and closing costs. And that’s where the trust has stepped in. They had a parallel. And actually 21 families in Williamstown now have bought their first home because of this program. There’s a parallel program for emergency rental and mortgages, rental assistance, which has helped. And it’s up to 18 income qualified residents hurt by the pandemic maintain their rental apartments. So these are examples of where you can take funding and sprinkle the benefits out among a lot of Williamstown families. So I’m pretty happy with those.
Top Left Corner: Now, what specifically about the idea of reducing the frontage requirements and the ability to buy right build multi or multiple multi unit structures on one one parcel? What do you think the effects are going to be of that if that goes through? And and do you support that?
Andy Hogeland: Uh, I support all of them, but I think that the practical impact of them is really varied. You know, changing the allowable lot sizes in the general business district just means initially on a map, every lot can be smaller. But the problem is we’re talking about a built environment where the lots are occupied by houses and driveways and garages. So I think the the the changes that will be affected by changing the allowable lot size are going to be pretty marginal. Not to they’re fine, but they’re not. I think they’re very impactful. I think the the two proposed articles which might have more impact would be to allow either a three family house or a four family house to be built wherever you can build a single family house as long as your setbacks are right. And that probably does open up more opportunities for the creation of more housing. So it helps to solve that problem. So I’m in favor of that. I’m conscious that the bigger these multifamily structures are, the less automatically comfortable some of the neighbors might be. But I think these things can be designed tastefully. The setbacks are still going to be required. So I think it’s an experiment we should undertake because as I said for a while, we need more housing and this is a way to get it. And the last the last one which you didn’t ask about, just make sure it gets covered, is a proposal to allow manufactured homes formerly known as mobile homes to be put anywhere. You can put a single family house, I think, to create housing. That’s helpful. But I think that the neighborhood push back on that is probably going to be the subject of more discussion.
Top Left Corner: Sure. Sure. Well, I think it has been said by by some folks that they’re basically just glorified campers. Now, I have spoken with people who have quite a bit of experience with manufactured homes, and some of them basically have the same design. They have capes, they have bungalows, they have ranches. And the difference is that they’re assembled, they’re shipped in in chunks and pieces, and they’re put together on the, you know, on site. And they can have foundations, which is a misunderstanding. They can be placed on foundations. They don’t have to be on a slab. And some of them look, you know, indistinguishable from a stick built. Well, I mean, they are stick built, but they’re stick built in the factory. They’re indistinguishable from something that was that was erected, you know, on site. So I agree that there’s there’s a way that you can do it. And and I’m sure that. Most people have an understanding that we need. More housing that is, you know, accessible, I guess the biggest. The biggest fears that I’ve had because I do a lot of driving around. I’ve taken to doing Uber driving to pay for the GreylockGlass.com and the last year, six months or so. So I do a lot of driving and I do a lot of driving and places like the outskirts of Albany and Troy and Hartford and Boston and a lot of other places, Springfield. And I see a lot of farmland being turned into apartment farms. These are structures that look basically like houses. They don’t they’re not ugly. They’re just they’re just sort of popping up out of the ground with no actual sort of out of context. There’s no trees, there’s no, you know, landscaping. They’re just fields of these little two and three bedroom duplex and triplex houses that are apartments and farmland is being chewed up pretty quickly by some of these. I have been told that, in fact, that that can’t happen here in Williamstown, that farmland is not at stake in this in this change. Should it go through? Would you say that that’s accurate? Are we not worried about farmland being being turned into little, little McMansion fields?
Andy Hogeland: I wouldn’t phrase it as an absolute statement about nothing’s at risk or it’s all at risk. I think every lot in town, wherever it is, has a different constraint on it. Some farmland is it’s for farming and it’s preserved that way and you can’t do much else on it. Other farmland isn’t preserved. You can do other things on it. And there are fields out there that looks like a farm to you, but it actually may be someone’s big old backyard. So I think if we’re worried about where homes might be built, you’ve really got to do a more a deeper dive than just say, oh, it’s a big area. Must be a lot of houses or absolutely no houses can be there. I think also going back to your original part of your question on the on the manufactured home aspect is they 50 years ago they had a bad reputation. I don’t know why it came up that way, but we need to acknowledge that they were not deemed to be popular in some communities. I think people need a voting machine to do some research. Look at the things you’re looking at now. Open your eyes. Take a look what’s being made today. Look at what it looks like today and rethink the thoughts that maybe might have been made or true or not, 50 years ago. These things are different today. Take a look at them. And I think the other concern is people are looking at like, what are you talking about? Where these are large multi unit properties being chewed up. We’ve got ten, 20, 30, 40, 50. That’s not what this bylaw does. If unless I got it wrong. This file says you can put one of these wherever you could put a house. So you’re still subject to limitations on space? I think because of the past prejudice against that type of architecture. You’re going to have some of that coming through. Can’t argue with that. But I think all I can ask is people take a look at today’s version of these structures and see if you feel the same way.
Top Left Corner: Yeah. Yeah, I suppose the the fact of the matter is, you know, you’re right. We have a lot of land that’s tied up and others it’s has agricultural preservations or forest, you know, it’s under conservation restrictions. Some of it, as you said, is owned by the state. So yeah, there is I think that we’re still going to have the rural feel more or less the the thing that I hope is that because because these sort of local food movement was just a little bit behind the eight ball starting in the, you know, mid 90 seconds, early two, thousands long after farming had become unviable for a number of families. I feel like there’s a lot of folks who would love to be farming here, would love to have a stall on Saturday morning at the at the farmer’s market. We’d love to be able to have CSAs where they deliver food, you know, to local residents. It would be a shame if we lost. If we lost an opportunity for that sector to grow right, when people are most interested in it. And so I’m hoping that that, that that doesn’t happen.
Top Left Corner: Um, now. The question that I could talk about housing forever. I used to be a tax assessor and I could go on and on about various questions. But the fear that I have, too, is that. With so many people looking at the Berkshires as a great place to relocate, I don’t see any reason why without some form, without something to compel developers to make a certain amount of the housing affordable, I can’t see that new construction is necessarily going to be. Along the lines of affordability, you know, at least not affordability by by the by the standards that most people in the bottom 80% consider affordable. You know, we’ve got plenty of homes that are available that pop up on the market for, you know, a million plus. But I’m thinking about the homes that a family of four might be able to afford on a fairly, you know, lower middle class income. Do you have any concerns that the construction that’s coming down the pike, if and when it gets here, is just going to create homes for other more wealthy people?
Andy Hogeland: Well, I guess I go back to your premise about there’s not a way to force people to to build affordable housing as part of a project. That’s actually how we got most of our affordable housing in town is because you can force that there’s a state statute called 40 B, which essentially says that if you’re going to commit a certain percent of your units to affordable housing, which income qualified, affordable housing, you can bypass most zoning requirements. That’s how cable mills phase one came to being with 13 units in it. That’s how Highland Woods came into being with its 40 units. I think the 380 Cole Avenue is all affordable units. It’s about the same number. And they are able to do all that because 40 B lets developers build housing as long as a certain number or in some cases all of them are said as affordable. And in cable mills, they’re they have a phase three proposal which is going through the hoops now and it’s going to be 54 units and because of 40 B and the state regs, half of those are going to be designated to be affordable units for people at various levels of area median income. So that is how we do things. Well, it is the thrust is working on not working on, but supporting on Green River Road, which would be 16 units, four of which have to be affordable. And so there is there is a tool available to do that. Right? Right. They they take a developer. That’s what we’re usually missing. And what’s hard to find is a developer. If you can find a developer and give them some guarantee of land or financial support, people can make it happen. But putting a project together is not an easy thing to do. I like other programs where you’re basically helping first time homeowners or tenants, you know, find a way to have housing here without going through the expense of building one. But let me.
Top Left Corner: Ask you this. How is the how is the the range of affordability calculated that’s based on on housing stock locally, is it not?
Andy Hogeland: It’s based on area median income.
Top Left Corner: Area median income. So when we’re talking about when we’re talking about the cable mills, I mean, I’m at their Web store right now. They’re saying flats from the high 400,000 seconds, lofts from the low 500,000 townhomes from the mid 600,000. That doesn’t sound like affordable housing to me at all.
Andy Hogeland: Well, those units aren’t the affordable housing units. If you go deeper into the process and after the call, I can direct you to where to find the. There are 13 units in the first phase which are set aside for affordable buyers, affordable housing buyers, and those prices are down in the under 200 range. I think I’ll have to check the number, but they were constructed in a way that they had to be affordable first as rental units. Now they can be on the market as purchase units, but the affordability restrictions remain in effect. So they’re not the prices that you just quoted me. They’re much less than that. And I’m sorry, I can’t bring to mind the exact number, but that’s fine.
Top Left Corner: I’m just I’ve just heard from people also about the the Cole Street, the new Cole Street development, how you know, I think that they were saying that a one bedroom bedroom is around $1,000 and they’re paying for their heat and hot water as well. So, I mean, that’s that’s still pretty pricey. I mean, I’m just saying, one of the things that people say, the reason that we need affordable housing in part is because we don’t have the people to work in some of the jobs that are hard to fill because they pay her on minimum wage. You see what I’m saying? We’ve got these these tons of service jobs. No one is filling them because no one can afford to live around here. But coming up with a one bedroom apartment for 1000 $1,200 with heat and hot water, that’s not included. You can’t you can’t make minimum wage and afford those two things. Those two are not compatible. So I guess.
Andy Hogeland: That’s a challenge because there’s a fundamental reality that to build an apartment or pay an apartment or pay off a mortgage costs a certain amount of money. And the the tenants you’re talking about, even $1,000 are not paying the full cost of the whole thing. Right? There are subsidies or state grants and stuff that make up the difference between to get the rents lower and lower. Just it keeps running into development costs and the limitations of grants and funding to offset those development costs.
Top Left Corner: Um, well, I guess, I mean, that’s true. I mean, there’s I mean, my father was a homebuilder, so I know what it costs. I worked with him for a number of years. I know what it takes to to build housing. And I know that it’s it’s not getting any cheaper for the builders, for the developers.
Andy Hogeland: And by by way of comparison, I do a lot of state level stuff on this, which I do when I get to at some point. And you know, people are quoting Western mass development costs are about $500,000 per unit. Right. So, you know, unless you get substantial funding from some source. It’s hard to get the rents down to $1,000 a month for that.
Top Left Corner: Yeah. The next question that I’ve got next topic, I guess, is, is the issue of it’s partially related, but there’s there’s more to it is senior housing. A lot of people don’t know that the Highland woods. It’s not. Um, it’s not a government agency really, that runs it. It’s not the housing authority. Like, for example, in Shelburne Falls. In Shelburne Falls. That property, the senior housing there, is owned and operated by the housing authority. The housing authority must recognize a. A tenants association at Highland Woods at Proprietors Field. These are these are privately owned. There is no opportunity. For the seniors and some disabled living there to form a union, a tenants union and tenants organization and advocate for their for themselves. Um, this is a problem because so many people applauded when Highland Woods was constructed. Notrillionealizing that in some ways it’s, it’s it’s not desirable when you are a person who wants to have some say in your living, you know, for example, they’re able to change because once you’ve been there for a year, it turns to a month to month rental agreement, a month to month agreement that can be changed. You know, every 30 days. And the tenants there sign the the rental agreement saying that they accept that, you know, so in other words, they can say we don’t like.
Top Left Corner: We don’t like lawn furniture, we don’t like plants, we don’t like bird feeders. We don’t like. And month to month, these seniors and there’s a lot of them living in these units, these seniors have to put up with arbitrary and sometimes capricious rulings. And and I have heard from a few of them that they’re afraid to even open up their mouth for fear of retaliation. What what are we going to do going forward when the in the future, in the next 20 years, the population of Williamstown is expected to gray even further to make sure that seniors have a place to live that is not just affordable, but also protects their dignity, that acknowledges their lifelong contributions. I’m very the things that I’m hearing about what’s going on there just disgust me. There’s supposed to be a smoke free property, yet they built a smoking shelter on the property next to which you have to walk by. I mean, it’s just it’s a sham from what I understand. So. Can you can you comment about about the. About how seniors are going to figure into the town planning going forward. The town, for example, the 15 year plan. I mean, what what what kind of protections? What kind of. Respect are we going to be giving seniors in going forward?
Andy Hogeland: Well, it sounds like somebody’s complaining to you about Highland Woods or Ferris Field. I haven’t heard those complaints, so I can’t comment on them. So let’s catch up later on if you want, because, you know, I’ve not heard anything like that. So I’d have to get some information to find out how to assess it better. But on your broader question about seniors, anything before I leave that part of it is there there are different housing models in each of them comes with different housing benefits and detriments. We do have a housing authority, which probably also has rules and a tenants association. We have.
Top Left Corner: But it has. It has. It has. No, no, it doesn’t have any effect over the Highland Woods or the proprietors field. I didn’t say it did. There’s. Well, you’re saying there’s a tenants union. There’s no tenants union in William. In Williamstown.
Andy Hogeland: Well, in the Williamstown Housing Authority, not private field. There’s a tennis representative on the board of directors. So they’re represented there. That’s one different that’s a model of how housing works there. The model at Highland Woods Proprietors Field is different because it’s private, as you pointed out. And the model at any kind of other private thing is tenants. They’re kind of subject to a lease or at will. So there are different ways of providing. Houses come with different pluses and minuses on them. In terms of your broader question about seniors, you know, Highland Woods was designed for seniors. That’s kind of the target population to make sure that there’s a place for them. And that’s that’s allowed. And I think we should be happy that that was able to be built based on cooperation of a lot of people. The other thing which I would like your listeners to know about is on this year’s warrant for town meeting, there is an article on this which I initiated and drafted which would provide greater property tax relief to seniors. We have a property tax relief program here which was put in place decades ago. So it’s really outdated and it gives some very limited property tax relief to people over 70 with limited income and limited assets. The proposal, which is on the warrant, would be to lower the eligibility age to 65, increase the limits on assets and on income, and then make all of that tied to automatic increases in the CPI. So this is a way to try to get some relief to to those seniors.
Top Left Corner: I mean, that sounds great. That sounds super. I mean, I don’t know. I don’t know what the ratio of of seniors who own seniors who rent. I do know that I know a number of people who they place their property in their children’s name long before 65, you know, as a way of protecting it. I think that’s a great thing for those seniors who do own property. Do you have any number of, say, units that this is that this is going to affect in Williamstown, how many potential people this is going to? Impact.
Andy Hogeland: It’s a little bit hard now, under the current strictures of the program, there’s only six people take advantage of it. And this is what the. So the question is, how many more will you get if you lower the age and increase the limits? There is a national survey. The name of which I forget, but there’s a housing needs assessment on the. Affordable Housing Trust website, which contains acres of data, and that says that there are about 76. People in town over the age of 65 who are at or below the poverty level, which is about the level we’re talking about. So that would be another 70 people based on age, but an income. But it doesn’t say anything about what the assets are and doesn’t say whether they actually own a house or not. So the universe seems like it would be fewer than 70 people. But you know what? That’s what the state would let us do. So that’s what I’m proposing we do. That’s the best we can do under the. Wait a.
Top Left Corner: Minute. Wait a minute. I’m sorry. So you’re saying that there’s 76 people at or below the poverty level? Over 65 over 65? I mean, that could be largely accounted for by proprietors Field and Highland Woods. I mean, that could, you know, or and.
Andy Hogeland: Why I’m saying it’s an outside number because it doesn’t tell you because we don’t have data on whether which of those people own a home and which those people have more assets than. Sure.
Top Left Corner: So when you. So you authored this this. This initiative. Yes. And we know that there are six people currently who fall under the they own a house and they’re over 65, but we don’t know.
Top Left Corner: Over 70. But so so we don’t know then how many people between 65 and 70 own a home and would be affected by these. This this change.
Andy Hogeland: Right. But but because we we do have these estimates or numbers on how many people are 65 below poverty level. We know that it can’t be more than that number. Right. Because that number will go down. If you don’t own a home, it will go down if you have more assets than you’re allowed to have.
Top Left Corner: Okay. So but it could also be three people. Right. I mean, it could be three additional people. Who are own a home and our 65 to 70 and who meet the income criteria.
Andy Hogeland: It could be none. It could be three. It could be 50 or 60. Right. And another thing I would caution is. Uh, it’s not clear to me that everybody who’s eligible for any of these kinds of programs actually apply and take advantage of them.
Andy Hogeland: We might have low income seniors who don’t know about it, don’t want to take a handout from the government. So I think all we can do is the best we can, and that’s why people agree with this measure. I agree. It’d be nice to do a lot more, but for this particular avenue, these are the I’m pushing for the lowest age and the higher limits I’m allowed to push for sure.
Top Left Corner: It just it will be interesting to know. And as far as handouts go, I think that most seniors, when they get to that point and if they’re faced with having to stay in their home or sell it so they can pay the their entire life savings to, you know, facility, I think that chances are that the term handout isn’t really going to be isn’t going to apply. Um, you know, the.
Andy Hogeland: Different attitudes about that. I’m just saying, you know, we can’t assume that everybody who’s eligible is actually taking it for whatever reason.
Top Left Corner: I mean, we, you know, we know that there are people who don’t who qualify for SNAP benefits, who don’t don’t sign up for them, too. I mean, there’s plenty of reasons that people don’t don’t do that. And sometimes it’s because they don’t know that they could that they do qualify. So I guess, you know, I don’t I don’t want to say too, too long on the topic of seniors, but I have seen senior centers. I’ve lived in different parts of the country, different parts of the state. I’ve seen a lot of actually senior centers. And there are there are everything from just a little a little shack, a little little cottage that has a couple of tables and a chess board to really impressive facilities with latest state of the art exercise equipment, yoga classes, um, you know, various, you know, continuing education classes. Um, I think that our given, given the senior population that we have here in Williamstown and given the. The fact that it’s going to grow. I feel like the senior center that we have. Could be a bit more a bit more full featured. I mean, for example, it could have.
Andy Hogeland: I disagree because I could be it could be a lot more full feature, not just a bit. I think I think it’s it’s it’s an okay, fine facility. I think we could well use something which is much better than that.
Top Left Corner: Okay. Yeah. I always have to be careful how radical I sound, I guess. But, you know, the. The fact is. Seniors could have. I mean, we could start with things as simple as outdoor. There’s some really cool outdoor exercise equipment that’s it’s a permanent fixture. It helps in stretching, step by step exercises, balanced exercises. You can look it up. There’s some really cool outdoor exercise equipment that there’s room for. There’s room for over there. Certainly right now there is a common room, but there are never any tables and chairs out. So if you go there, there’s like there’s no. You know, unless there’s something going on, you’re not going to be comfortable, you’re not going to feel welcome going in there. I mean, it’s like it’s not like it’s the place that just, you know, people go and hang out. Now, there are you know, there are coffees and breakfasts and, you know, occasional things and speakers, but in terms of a place that you would hang out. I’m not seeing it. I’m just not seeing it. What can we do going forward to maybe take a look at what would improve that situation? Would you be in favor of doing at least a minimal sort of survey of of what features we could add?
Andy Hogeland: Yeah, I think there’s been starting a couple of years ago. There are growing conversations like the ones that you just had about can we do better for senior centers or even just a broader scale community center? Because we have a youth center, which is a really nice facility, but and the senior center, which is, I would say not quite as nice of a facility. So I think it’s a it’s a very good time to well, actually, it’s a bad time to ask a question, but it’s a good question to ask about what can we do to have better facilities. And the timing issue is, of course, we’re paying for a police station and a high school and a fire station. So, you know, coming up with capital funds for things like this, it’s a matter of timing. And I think this particular year is a bad time to pay for anything. But I think and but you know what? These things take years to put together. So starting that process now of analyzing what do we need, what do we want, where would it go? How would we pay for it? Starting those conversations now and I’m all in.
Top Left Corner: That’s good to hear because I turn 55in a couple of months and AARP has been hammering me lately with the the don’t forget you’re going to be eligible now. So I of course, I’m thinking about my own senior my own sunset years there. Um, the last thing I really want to talk about here and I know we’ve gotten a little bit longer than I intended was. The issue of the climate and climate readiness. There are.
Top Left Corner: There is some work being done to assess the readiness. I know that the Berkshire Planning Commission is is doing some work in that area. I’m wondering, though, if we are taking the situation as serious and if we’re looking at as many angles as we should be thinking about, for example, all the people who are living in coastal areas, New York, Boston, who are moving are moving this way. I mean, they have said, I’ve met multiple couples who said after Hurricane Sandy, that was their decision to move to the Berkshires. And I think that if we have another couple of more hurricanes, for example, you’re going to be seeing a lot more influx this way. What is your assessment or just sort of your thoughts on Williamstown’s readiness for the various changes that are going to be coming down the pike due to climate change?
Andy Hogeland: Um, I feel pretty good about them. But the problem is, it’s. It’s such a huge threat which could arrive in various ways. It’s hard to know if we’re doing the right thing. So the town is doing things they’ve done. If you’ve read this a it’s called a municipal vulnerability assessment. They kind of go through all of the ways climate change might affect us. A lot of it’s geared towards roads and sewers and how those things need to be either constructed better or in a different location or culverts and bridges need work. So it’s really a public works view of how climate change would affect us. But it was a comprehensive plan that finished up not that long ago. So I’d encourage you and your listeners to take a look at that to see what the town has for ideas on it. I’m a select board member far from the coast. I can’t really opine too much on what coastal communities should or shouldn’t do. If you’re worried about people leaving coastal cities to move here, that gets us back to the housing discussion again. Where are they going to go and are they going to take all the high end houses and price everybody else out of the market?
Top Left Corner: Yeah, I’m aware of the the vulnerability assessment. And I think it’s it’s woefully inadequate. I really do. I think it does not address so very many of the things of the sort of direct and indirect pile on effects of climate change. I mean, you know, it doesn’t address things like what is going to happen to our local food systems. I mean, what we know right now is that the West Coast and the Midwest have been struggling to produce in the last decade. They’re being hit by droughts just as we are. Of course, they’re hitting a lot harder. They are being hit by torrential rains in the Midwest that are wiping out hundreds of square miles of corn, soybeans, other crops. And it’s driving up food prices. And I think that the pandemic showed us that we can have empty shelves in as little as two months. Right. So we’re not even talking about massive sort of things on a geologic scale as climate change, where we are already having we’ve got a shortage of nursing staff of medical personnel. Climate change is definitely going to drive those numbers even to a more stressed point. We’re talking about things like cooling centers. The heat is going to be going up and up and up. Air conditioning costs are going to be going because the electricity went up 60% last year. It’s going to go up 30% this year. A lot of people are going to choose not to run their air conditioners because they can’t afford it. And those are things like seniors. And right now, there is not a single cooling center, official cooling center other than the police department in Williamstown. So there’s all kinds of things that are. Not even being conceived of that. And I’m just throwing these things out there off the top of my head. Um, I just. I’m wondering if. If maybe we need to do better to look at some of the effects that are not just the size of our culverts, because to me, that is a 90 that is a 20th century way of looking at a real 21st century disaster coming down the pike.
Andy Hogeland: Well, I think the answer to the question, can we do better? The answer to that question is always yes. In almost any context. So, yeah, of course. And I agree. That’s why I said I think the vulnerability assessment is really based on a public works approach to things, which is a part of the story, but absolutely not the whole story. So you give the example of food uncertainty. That’s why we need to be preserving farmland around here and supporting the farmers so that they can grow crops. And that’s why so much of the farmland is preserved. You know, the rural lands just bought ten acres of farmland to keep it as farmland. You know, people seem to be ready to support that because it wasn’t it was particularly suitable for housing anyway, at least not for affordable housing, which is my primary concern. So yeah, I think the town has to do things on an array of issues. The MVP covers some of them, but I agree, not all of them.
Top Left Corner: Yeah, I guess what what gets to me is that Williamstown is so perfectly situated to to mitigate and to plan for. Climate change in ways that that other communities just don’t have the luxury. I mean, we have a fairly good supply of water. We have a you know, we have we still have seasons, four of them at least for now. We have a lot of arable land. We have good quality, good quality land. And we have very an unusually thoughtful population and a population that is willing to work together to get over to get over various crises. I just I want to make sure that we don’t drop the ball. You know, we’re not a coastal community so we don’t have to worry about, you know, the seas, the sea coming and swallowing us up. There’s just all those other indirect things that can, you know, they can add up. Okay, well.
Andy Hogeland: Let’s not let’s not forget things that we are doing. I mean, there have been a couple of rounds of solar panel programs. The town has co sponsored. We just agreed to pay about $1.4 million extra for the fire department so that there could be solar panels on the roof there. There’s a lot of solar panels out at the landfill. So, you know, we’ve been doing parts for a long time. There’s electrical charging stations which are hadn’t been, you know, years ago. Right.
Andy Hogeland: So, no, I think, you know, I, I give us credit for doing what we’re doing. And if you if you want to say, yeah, we should do more, well, of course, you know, we can always do more, but let’s not let’s not pass by the things that people have done and how we’ve actually invested money in things like the solar program, the Charger program and that kind of thing.
Top Left Corner: Oh, for sure. For absolute sure. I tend to I tend to lean toward the doom and gloom and that’s, you know, not always conducive to to recognizing what we’ve what we should celebrate. So I will I’ll work on that. I’ll work on being a bit more of a a bit more of a banner that sort of waves for, for the good stuff because there’s plenty of it. I would like.
Andy Hogeland: Just, you know, there’s plenty of both. Yeah, that’s a reason to be worried and there’s a reason to be proud of what’s happened.
Top Left Corner: Well, let me give you a chance to sort of wrap up. I know I sort of drove this bus here, but I would like to give you an opportunity to let people know why, you know, why should they give you another term? I think personally, you’re you’re a brave man for for wanting to do it. I don’t know how you manage it. It’s a it’s a tough job. But why should the voters send you to that back to that seat for another term?
Andy Hogeland: Guess it kind of goes back to the beginning. I kind of believe in this kind of work. And I feel as though I have worked for this town for a while and the results have been productive. So it matches my personality. I’m interested in the topics, you know, some wisdom I got from someone long time ago was if you want to know what you want to do, try to figure out how do you spend your time? And I spend my time going back to, you know, town hall issues on a regular basis. I feel as though the amount of work I’ve done over the course of a lot of years gives me a lot of more experience than anybody else who’s running. And my particular interest is housing, which I think is one of the biggest issues for for us. I believe in local government. So I’m doing this charter review committee. I wrote the guide to the Select Board, which is available on the website. I did a lot of work on the air audit. I spent hours editing the manual, which I know is not exciting to anybody, but it’s something we needed to do in order to, um, you know, turn the page. When we have this, we have a shared manager arrangement with Adams North Adams. I made sure that the contract had in it they’d be working on diversity, equity and inclusiveness work.
Andy Hogeland: So all that and the other part that we haven’t touched on, which I think is important for people to understand because it’s invisible to them, is that for the last five years being a select board member has allowed me to be take on roles in two statewide organizations, which means I can advocate for our interest in Boston. This year I’m president of the Massachusetts Select Board Association. Like the name says it all, it’s the Association of Select Boards. And for several years I’ve been a member of the Governor’s Local Government Advisory Commission. And again, the name says it all. It’s a commission that advise the governor and local government governor on local government issues. And so for these, we meet with the lieutenant governor and cabinet officials for most months of the year, and I’ve used these positions to speak up for rural towns like Williamstown and for towns like us, like throughout the state. And these include topics like asking for more rural school aid because we are not funded adequately for that. So that’s where Mount Greylock I want. More transportation funding for regional schools like Mount Greylock. More funding for local road projects in this Chapter 90 program, which needs needs fixing. Part of the problem with that program is the formula is really biased towards communities with large populations and large jobs. So over the course of time that formula has been disadvantaging small towns like ours.
Andy Hogeland: So I’ve advocated for that for me to be changed. And a recent success is we’ve been advocating for several years for the creation of a director of rural affairs, which would be a point person in the administration to look out for small towns like us and just about to go. They agreed they would do that. So the job is not filled yet, but this would be someone who would look at state programs to make sure they’re fair to small towns. When you develop new programs, make sure they’re fair. Look at the formulas, you know, a variety of issues. It’s a big job for somebody. So I hope they find a competent person to do it. But for me, I like doing the local work. But this has given me the chance to do statewide work, which actually help our local towns, a lot of other local towns. So if I get reelected, of course I can continue to do both of those, serve directly, work on love on the Selectboard, but also using these other positions to do things for us and towns like us across the state. So it’s I feel really lucky to have been able to grow into this other universe. I think most people leave town don’t even know what I do, but it’s been actually a lot of time on it.
Top Left Corner: Well, clearly it takes a lot of dedication and a lot of hours. I don’t think anybody who doesn’t follow civic life understands just the kind of commitment and the kind of sacrifice, frankly, that that officials make. And so I know that a lot of people do, myself included, appreciate all that you’ve done so far. Where can people go to find out? Do you have a Facebook page? Do you have anything?
Andy Hogeland: There is a Facebook page under my name. I just I’ve never been on Facebook until like five days ago. So there’s not much there. There’s a there’s a two page flier which talks about me. The more informative place to go is Andy hoagland.com catchy title. I’m sure you appreciate that I do and that has there’s there’s ten parts to that which kind of go through everything I’m doing and doing so it includes housing good government transportation which you and I didn’t get a chance to really talk about.
Top Left Corner: Could spend the entire we could spend the entire hour on transportation. You and I. I’m sure you and I have similar feelings about it.
Andy Hogeland: I did a lot of work at the Spruces. I advocated persistently for the bike path, which is there. Happily, I was on another governor’s commission on the Future of Transportation where I was advocating for all kinds of things for Western Mass. There’s a northern tier rail service. I’m not on the committee, but I’m in the room. Yeah. Are you incur them to try to get rail passenger rail service through Greenfield and North Adams.
Top Left Corner: So that would be something else. Yeah.
Andy Hogeland: Well it’s it’s not a pipe dream and I think there’s a lot of attention being paid to the east west Rail, which will go from Springfield to Pittsfield. And that’s that’s great. But that’s billions of dollars in many, many years. I think we get rail service to North Adams in a fraction of the time at a fraction of the expense. Right. It wouldn’t be high speed, but you could get to Boston in a decent amount of time and have Wi-Fi on the train while you go. So I’m in favor of that one, but it’s really competing with East West Rail and that’s kind of a problem for me.
Top Left Corner: No, I think look, being able to like, you know, I drive in Boston, I don’t love it, but I can tell you that there are there are people who would be happy to spend, say, three hours on the train to go to Boston now that a lot of people are working in hybrid positions, they could work in Boston like three days a week and then work at home two days a week. And that would do worlds of good for our economy here because people would then be able to basically bring out-of-town money back to the to the area.
Andy Hogeland: Exactly. And part of my pitch to them is, well, first of all, it’s not just Western Mass. It’s also serves southern Vermont and southern New Hampshire. Right? So the ridership numbers need to pull in those populations. And it looked like in the first round they weren’t going to do that. The map just kind of stopped with the mass was the border. So that’s one thing. And the job commuting thing you talk about, you’re totally right. The other thing is, because we’re partly a tourist economy, the train service needs to be tweaked around. When will people want to come visit us?
Andy Hogeland: At Mass MoCA. Or the clerk or the theater festival or whatever else we have going on out here. Um, know they need to look at schedules, which would do kind of like what the brochure flier is doing. Yeah. A train not designed for commuting business purposes, but for entertainment purposes, for people to come here and for us to go to Boston for that. So yeah, it’s going to be a multi year thing and who knows where it’s going to go. But I like that you probably picked up. I like working on these issues. Know this is not for me, a job where I sit in a boardroom for 90 minutes once or twice a month. This is a lot of hours outside there.
Speaker3: No, and and and.
Top Left Corner: And I and I hope that people understand that they that their energies are needed. I mean, it isn’t just, you know, it isn’t just money that you that you, you know, are voting, you know, giving money to a campaign or voting. It’s sometimes it’s sometimes showing up at meetings, sometimes it’s writing letters, sometimes it is just spreading the word. I mean, honestly, just spreading the word, for example, about, you know, about, you know, commuter rail, commuter rail. But, you know, rail service, you know, people they don’t know. I talk to people all the time. They don’t even know what was achieved. You know, that in the area that that has, you know, like, for example, you know, the we’ve got train service to Pittsfield. It’s not great. But you know, some people don’t even realize that you can take a train down to the city. And so I feel like people need to just sort of be. They need to be cheerleaders for their own for their own area, because that is what keeps the enthusiasm going to work on the next project and the next project and the next project.
Andy Hogeland: I’m totally with you on that. That’s why I do this work. That’s why I love the state work, because it allows me to influence things in a broader scale than just within Northern Berkshires. So that’s good for me. Good for the town, I think, as well.
Top Left Corner: Well, I’m going to make sure I have your address, your web address in the show notes for this episode. Andy, I want to thank you so much for all this time. I think we went way over, but I appreciate it. And as I said, all my candidate guests. Good luck. And and we’ll talk to you after the election.
Andy Hogeland: I’m to just remind them of the elections on Tuesday May 9th.
Top Left Corner: All righty. Hey, Andy, have a good weekend. Take care.
Andy Hogeland: Take care. Bye.