The Rural Homes Program seeks to create quality, energy efficient homes that are move-in ready at an affordable price. This new initiative is being launched by RDI in partnership with the Attorney General Office’s Neighborhood Renewal Division, Franklin Regional Council of Governments, the City of Greenfield, and other Franklin County municipalities and will focus on rehabilitating vacant, distressed properties, removing health, safety, and code issues as well as neighborhood blight.

Several municipalities in Franklin County have been working with the AGO to address abandoned properties. Through a court appointed receiver, these properties are brought up to code and placed back on the market. To create affordable housing through receivership, RDI and the AGO are piloting a process where RDI takes ownership of a home prior to rehabilitation, allowing RDI to utilize affordable housing programs to fund the renovations. The cost to rehabilitate these properties is higher than what they can be sold for at an affordable price, requiring subsidies to make up the difference.

RDI plans to target first-time homebuyer households earning no more than 80% of Franklin County’s median income. In exchange for purchasing the home at a below-market value, the home will come with a 15-year affordability restriction. If resold within 15 years, it must be sold at an affordable price to another income-eligible homebuyer. The value of the home increases over time and the homeowner gains equity, just at a restricted amount. After 15 years, the restriction is lifted, and the home can be sold at market value.  Prospective homebuyers will need to go through an application process to verify eligibility and complete a first-time homebuyer course.

Initial seed funding to hire program staff came from a New England Rural Health Association grant sponsored by FRCOG and the North Quabbin Community Coalition. Massachusetts Clean Energy Center – MassCEC – funding is supporting program staff for several years and will help RDI learn best practices in converting homes from fossil fuels to clean energy and improving energy efficiency.

Pilot Project – Cleveland Street, Greenfield

Working with the AGO, RDI currently has a purchase and sale agreement for a 3-bedroom home located in a quiet Greenfield neighborhood near the High School. The home has been vacant for approximately 10 years and needs substantial renovations. RDI was awarded a grant from MassHousing’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program to help cover acquisition and rehab costs, and from MassCEC to pay for energy efficiency improvements and converting the home from oil to electric heat pumps. Additional funds will include a construction loan to be paid back when the home is sold, and other possible subsidy sources.

RDI will need final court approval before acquiring the home. Tentatively, rehabilitation work is planned for 2024 with the sale to a new homeowner by the end of that year. Marketing of the home to prospective homebuyers will begin once RDI acquires the property. A lottery will be held closer to construction completion to select the purchaser. Staff are actively seeking other properties with the goal of expanding the program to multiple towns.

42 Cleveland Street, Greenfield
Design images for Cleveland Street renovation, by Austin Design Cooperative, Inc.