Our Forever Home

Photograph Source: Jaksmata – CC BY-SA 3.0

It was the end of June when my wife Jan and I met our neighbors on a driveway in rural western Massachusetts just 20 feet from the border of our property. We both asked the same question: When will the construction end? The construction we spoke of had begun around Thanksgiving 2022, and has continued all week and some weekends since then. The heavy machinery on that property comes in all sizes, and I’ve counted well over 200 construction trucks, the ones that read “Do Not Tailgate” since the work began. Most annoying, however, is the shrill whistle of backhoes and other construction machines moving into reverse as they work.

The average home price in Massachusetts is $580,061.  The average home price in the US is $436,000. Half a million dollars in some parts of western Massachusetts buys a 1,200 square foot house. The issue of affordable housing is of much concern to people who want diversified communities here.  Housing for middle class and working class people is almost nonexistent.

A bordering community, a major tourist destination, recognizes the desperate need for affordable housing and recently added 49-units while admitting more housing is needed. Here, in my community, two units were cancelled due to a major rift between the developer and the town. Those lots are unoccupied years later and not surprisingly they were located on land directly adjacent to the transfer station that is discussed below.

This latest round of construction is the fourth foray into redeveloping this 30 acre plus piece of land overlooking Massachusetts’ second highest peak, Mt. Everett. Two original houses on the property have been remodeled twice each, and a third house-like structure was built. Massive trees have been removed and a fairly big swimming pool has been replaced with a larger pool. Huge amounts of debris have been piled on this property, and some has been removed.

An argument can be made that projects such as the ones described here create jobs.

Supplementing this mayhem is another “neighbor,” also not a full-time resident, who does not pay state taxes to Massachusetts, embarking on a two-month irrigation project around their second home.

A real estate attorney recently commented that I really landed in a great place regarding property values since those prices have shot through the proverbial roof. A middle-class person or family could never afford to live here and the sameness of the faces I see daily is telling. The cost of rentals is astronomical!

Beginning with the construction on the property around Thanksgiving, I’ve seen the family of second-homeowners who live there three times. Each time they visited for a period of about three days. The owners describe this as their “forever home.” The owners live far away. The state in which they are residents is a no income tax state. Readers are able to see the picture emerging here. The family, however, accrues advantages from services available in Massachusetts.

The houses I described above have a more interesting personal history than the simple unending construction. In August 2015, I asked the son of a local manure producer and town official to consider slowing down on the driveway on that abutting property. Within days, another town official, who services the same property, began a multiple-pronged campaign of harassment that continued for several months.

The message is: Speak out if a person is not a longtime resident, and the penalty will be sharp and quick. For the past seven years, the local vitriol spilled over to the transfer station that processes recyclables and refuse. Every Saturday, when I drive to that place, the operator, another town employee, goes indoors to a shed maintained on that property and does not generally leave until I leave.

I have not attended a town meeting in five years because of the meanness I’ve encountered when addressing the yearly gathering of townspeople. I am not alone in that regard. The town where my wife and I live was once a farming community which grew crops such as corn and had dairy farms. There are still farms here. When two local residents rose to address the yearly town meeting gathering about the use of pesticides or herbicides on the land and a pond, the meanness I’ve encountered began immediately. It is only a small segment of townspeople who express this vitriol and most people are accepting of others’ points of view and right to live unmolested.

I like to test the waters wherever I am, an attribute from the years of protest of the 1960s and early 1970s. I applied for two town jobs, including one on the local school committee. I was denied both jobs for obvious reasons. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination wrote two complaints based on my apparent “differentness” within the community and my job applications, but I did not go ahead with either complaint fearing retribution. The antagonism I’ve dealt with in 11 years living in the community also involved minor property damage. This is how things sometimes work in this so-called bluest of blue states.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).