Photo courtesy of the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Live155 in the process of being built February 2017.
Northampton, MA has long been known as a lodging place for travelers, the home of Smith College as well as a conglomerate of eclectic restaurants, gift shops and people. To the frequent Northampton visitor or even the average Smith College student, what Northampton is not known for is the very thing that allows it to stand out in the Springfield Metro Area; its public and affordable housing. Historically, Northampton has been known as a place for people of all economic backgrounds to be able to find a place to live, but today, only the chic downtown apartments and the historic significance are part of the allure for many people. This page functions as a medium for the story of public and affordable housing in Northampton.
Photos Courtesy of Paul Shoul and Historic Northampton
For more information on the life and the people of Northampton Lodging, please visit Historic Northampton to view an incredible exhibit photographed by Paul Shoul and curated by Cassandra Holden
Image courtesy of Mass Land records
This image shows a Deed from the Northampton Housing Authority in 1949. The property here is at the intersection of Bridge Road and Jackson Street. Today, Northampton Housing Authority's family development Hampshire Heights site there.
vintage postcard courtesy cardcow.com
Northampton Commercial College was established in 1896 on Main st. in Northampton, MA. In 1967 Haywood House, a men’s dormitory, was built. In 1973 Northampton Commercial College closed and Haywood house was sold.
Photo courtesy of the Daily Hampshire gazette
In 1976, two Northampton community members Bill Mcloughlin and James Watson purchased the old dormitory and created Northampton Lodging. The boarding house design of the old dormitory allowed them to repurpose it as a rooming house with some Single Room Occupancy units. This rooming house functioned as a place to rent an affordable room. After 39 years, Northampton Lodging was repurposed to Live155.
Photo of Live155 at 155 Pleasant St. taken April 2018 on day of Grand Opening. Courtesy of Natalie James
In 2015 Wayfinders purchased Northampton Lodging with the purpose of creating more modern, affordable units and commercial space for the Northampton community. Northampton Lodging residents were all relocated and Northampton Lodging was demolished. Today, Live155 stands where Northampton Lodging used to be. A 70 unit building, the walls are adorned with art from the community and the main floor is occupied by commercial space. All of the former Northampton Lodging tenants have been invited back and in addition to those affordable units, market rate units are also available.
Public housing in the United States started as an initiative to house war production workers during WWI. In the 1930’s the Great Depression took a great toll on America at large and housing became a major issue. In 1934, Congress passed the National Housing Act of 1934 which admittedly was aimed at the private housing market; creating the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) with the goal of using public capital to reduce private risk. After years of moderately successful public housing, the U.S. Housing Act of 1937 was enacted creating the U.S. Housing Authority. Housing Authorities were created to be city entities that controlled public housing on a local level. Housing Authorities are also tax exempt and enforce eminent domain. Between 1923 and 1945 the U.S. Housing Authority and the Federal Works Administration produced less than 200,000 units of public housing. Throughout the rest of the 20th century, many more attempts were made by the Government to solve the public housing issue. In the late 1960’s during the Johnson and Nixon administrations, divestment from large scale public housing projects began to prevail and thus led to the deterioration of the infrastructure of the projects as well as the deterioration of the public’s trust in public housing. Into the 1970’s and 80’s public housing continued to deteriorate and since then, the large scale public project model of public housing in the U.S. has been the least popular. Few cities such as Chicago and New York City continue to use their large public housing projects. Today, the largest public housing project in the United States, the Queensbridge project, located in Queens, NY accommodates approximately 7,000 people. In 1988 the Federal Government developed a Low income Housing Tax Credit. This came by way of the IRS and supported public/private partnerships. The tax credit works as a funding mechanism. The Federal Government issues a number of tax credits to non-profit organizations. The non-profits sell the tax credit to investors and thus the investor gets a tax break. Since the early 1990’s, the more popular mode of government assisted housing has been the Low income housing tax credit. With this tax credit non-profits are able to hand out section 8 vouchers that are then subsidized by the Federal Government. In addition to this, private contractors can also receive a government subsidy for making affordable housing units available for low income residents. This is known as affordable housing. Today, recipients of public house make less than 50 percent median income and they pay no more than 30 percent of their income for rent. Recipients of affordable housing can make up to 80 percent median income and have access to affordable units as well as section 8 vouchers.
Northampton State Hospital Main building -This image is courtesy of northamptonstatehospital.org
With the United States’ wave to be more morally cognizant came the idea that mental institutions were no more necessary than they needed to be. People should be able to lives full lives if they are able. This caused a widespread, however controversial, deinstitutionalization of mental institutions across the nation. In 1978 Northampton’s ‘Northampton Decree’ called for the deinstitutionalization of Northampton State Hospital. First named Northampton State Hospital, Northampton Insane Hospital began discharging patients in 1978. Over the course of 10 years, the hospital was completely deinstitutionalized and abandoned. Many of the then poor and mentally ill patients who were once housed there were either moved to a different institution or merely let go onto the Northampton streets. This began Northampton’s battle to combat homelessness. This battle encouraged Northampton residents to step in and lend a hand. Many Single Room Occupancy (SRO) houses such as Shaw’s Motel and Augie’s Rooming House as well as Northampton Lodging were opened and run by local community members. These houses had affordable units for those struggling with poverty and homelessness. They also supported those in recovery from substance abuse. In addition to the SRO’s, with the Northampton Decree came organizations such as The Center for Human Development (CHD) and Service Net. These programs support the psychiatric needs of those who were left without other options after the closing of Northampton State Hospital.
Photo of Live155 taken April 2018 on day of Grand Opening. Courtesy of Natalie James
Live155 demonstrates the spirit of modern day Northampton. The adaptive reuse of 155 Pleasant St. has allowed for the space to house students, low-income folks, recovering substance abusers, and people in a transitional period in their life. Today, Live155 stands as a place not to isolate those community members, but to urge the outside community to commix with them; because everyone has a story to tell and everyone deserves to have a great place to live. The UNESCO World Heritage guidelines offer that in order to be considered a World Heritage site that the site must encapsulate at least one of the six criteria. The second criteria says, “(ii)to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;”. Live155 demonstrates this criterion so well because over the last 40 years, the space has functioned as a place of refuge for those who are cast off and condemned by society. Over time, the structures have adapted to serve the community in invaluable ways. This building came to life because of the members of community. Everyone, even those who do not utilize public or affordable housing in Northampton, needed Live155 in order to foster a more responsible and innovative community
Video Courtesy of MassLive
This video shows the demolition of Northampton Lodging. In its place now stands Live155.
Video courtesy of MassLive
Valley Community Development Corporation is a local Northampton organization that focuses on community development through home ownerhsip services, affordable housing development and small business development.
Wayfinders is a a Massachusetts based organization that works to end homelessness through increasing the amount of stable, affordable housing and helping people to buy their first home.
The Northampton Housing Authority was established in 1946 as a subdivision of the State of MA. It is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as well as the Department of Housing and Community Development. It functions to administer quality affordable housing for low/moderate income families in Hampshire County; controlling Public Housing in Northampton, mixed finance affordable housing development as well as housing choice voucher (HCV or section 8) management.
Thank you for all of your help !
Natalie James '18 is a graduating senior majoring in Africana studies with a minor in English and a concentration in Community Engagement and Social Change. During her time at Smith College she has chaired the Black Students' Alliance, worked for the Conway Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center and run a small hair care business. Her interests include public speaking, community engagement work, dancing, and reading Toni Morrison novels. After Smith, she hopes to travel the world while pursuing a career in affordable housing development; handing out resources in a Hood near you.
Images courtesy of Citymetric and David Schiolli's 'Reading the Pictures' respectively
Public housing in the U.S., historically, has been a hub of popular cultural productions; especially for Black and LatinX folks in the community. From musical innovations to social justice, to street art and so much more. Public housing communities in the U.S. tell the story of how this America came to be.