It Happened: Let’s Talk About Housing

What We Did

The Dighton Public Library held two community conversations on affordable housing on Tuesday, October 5 and Tuesday, October 19. These conversations were with a $3,000 grant awarded to the library from the American Library Association and the Association for Rural and Small Libraries.

Why We Did It

The Dighton Public Library staff have long heard resident concerns about being able to stay in their homes in Dighton. Rising costs, including property taxes, have always been a factor in being able to stay in Dighton. Dighton has also seen a building boom. Many of these buildings are new home constructions that are not affordable for many families.

Sustainability of this growth is also a concern for town residents. People move to Dighton because of its rural charm, size and character. Overbuilding takes away from natural beauty and appeal. It also puts a strain on town resources and infrastructure. The additional property tax collected does not keep up with the growth required of schools, police, fire and other town services necessary to maintain a Dighton’s quality of life.

These are not new concerns. They are heard every time a capital project is discussed, a housing development holds a public hearing, or affordable housing is brought up. Affordable and stable housing is something every human needs to survive. Every community needs its residents in stable housing in order to thrive.

The goal of the discussions was to give residents a way to be heard on all of these issues affecting their lives. At the very least, we can give the opportunity for residents to be heard.

How We Did It

  • Discussion One

The first discussion on Tuesday, October 5, was a Zoom discussion. A Facebook event was created, and it was shared with local newspapers (both print and digital) announcing the Libraries Transforming Communities grant. The library website and calendar, and Twitter publicized the event. We attended a Board of Selectman’s meeting where the Selectmen issued a citation for the library’s grant award. The Selectmen gave us a wonderful opportunity to invite the public to attend our discussion and discuss the grant. Unfortunately, we no attendees joined the conversation on the 5th. We tried again.

  • Discussion Two

For the October 19 discussion, we decided to try a hybrid meeting. We also took a few different approaches for this meeting. After learning the Affordable Housing Committee was going to be re-established in town, we personally invited the Chair of the committee. We sent invitations to the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and the Conservation Commission. These committees make regulatory decisions in housing developments and construction in town.

We also invited the Board of Selectmen and Town Administrator, who showed interest in attending as well. Unfortunately, the town leaders had to schedule an Executive Session hearing. They would attend if the timing allowed them to, but they shared their support and interest.

In addition to the previous publicity methods mentioned for the October 5 discussion, we were also able to include messaging in a library email newsletter sent out to over 450 patrons. I was able to see that the newsletter had a 47% open rate and the link to the October 19 discussion was clicked by 4 people. To make it easier for the public to attend virtually, I put the direct zoom link in the publicity each time. I was able to track engagement in the online events and was hopeful we would have better participation.

We had one person attend the October 19 discussion. She found us by searching for affordable housing. She was looking for housing and decided to see what we were about. And she was willing to talk about her personal housing struggles, and we learned what we could do to help her. She does not live in Dighton, and she joined through Zoom.

What We Learned

We talked about how life changing stable housing would be for her. We spoke about the affordable housing laws that Massachusetts has for its municipalities, Chapter 40B. Not every state has those laws and she expressed surprise that ours did. We also discussed Dighton’s affordable housing situation. I gave her information on where she could learn more. Having pets presented a whole new difficulty for her.

Our grant funds allowed us to purchase a subscription of Access Video on Demand and Access Video on Demand: Just For Kids. We showed a clip of a PBS Newshour Show called Housing America: Demographics and Development from Access Video on Demand. Its copyright date is 2002. The clip showed the affordable housing crisis in Burlington Vermont at that time. Nothing has changed in almost 20 years. My attendee and I were sadly not surprised.

We spoke about the Burlington experience and how difficult it has been for this woman to find housing she can afford on her disability. She has pets that she is unable to give up and she moved across the country to the East Coast because the West Coast where she lived was so expensive. This issue affects so many no matter where you are located.

We know she is not alone in experiencing these issues, nor is she alone in our community. Even though we did not have the outcome in participants we wanted, it is a reminder to us that the library can bring more attention to this issue. We can provide more information on resources that are available to our residents. We need to work on engaging our community better as well. A lot of the town seem to be just getting along in their lives. How can the library make it easier for them to do live successfully?

I’ve also reached out to other Massachusetts grant recipients to see if they would be willing to discuss their experiences in engagement at our annual state conference. I am hoping that we can collectively make a difference. I feel like there is a lot of fatigue out there that we need to help each other with and lift each other up to help us through these difficult times. And keep at it and refill our energy.

More conversations can be planned, and we feel better about how to present difficult topics to the community. We just need to keep trying.