Leaders of Valley Community Development and Way Finders moving on 

  • Peter Gagliardi, the CEO of Way Finders, stands in front of Live 155 on Pleasant Street in Northampton.  STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Peter Gagliardi, the CEO of Way Finders, stands in front of Live 155 on Pleasant Street in Northampton.  STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Peter Gagliardi, the CEO of Way Finders, stands in front of Live 155 on Pleasant Street in Northampton.  STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Peter Gagliardi, the CEO of Way Finders, and Joanne Campbell, the executive director of Valley Community Development, stand in front of The Lumber Yard in Northampton, a project the two organizations worked on together. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Peter Gagliardi, the CEO of Way Finders, in the conference room of Live 155 on Pleasant Street in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Peter Gagliardi, CEO of Way Finders, reflects on his accomplishments recently at Live 155 in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Peter Gagliardi, CEO of Way Finders, and Joanne Campbell, the head of Valley Community Development, stand in front of The Lumber Yard in Northampton, one of many projects they worked on together. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Joanne Campbell, center, executive director of Valley Community Development, sells raffle tickets during a block party for the organization’s 30th anniversary in 2018. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, left, Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash, Valley Community Development Executive Director Joanne Campbell and Lionel Romain, Director of Housing for Central and Western Massachusetts at Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation, attend a ceremonial ground breaking for The Lumber Yard Apartments affordable housing project on Pleasant Street in Northampton in November 2017. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 2/1/2020 7:31:19 AM

NORTHAMPTON — When Valley Community Development Executive Director Joanne Campbell and Way Finders CEO Peter Gagliardi took the helm at their respective organizations — Campbell in 1998 and Gagliardi in 1991 — the Pioneer Valley was not quite the real estate and rental market it is today. 

“In this area — certainly Northampton, Amherst, Easthampton — it’s more and more difficult for lower-income people who want to own homes to find something that’s in their price range,” Campbell said, “so that number of housing that could serve somebody who’s making between 60 and 80 percent of the median income just keeps shrinking as housing prices continue to climb.”

At the same time, she noted, there also has been an increasing and unprecedented demand for rentals. 

As the area’s housing market became more expensive — which the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission detailed in a recent report about Northampton — the two nonprofits have provided housing for low-income residents alongside small business, career and community development, often working in tandem. Now, the organizations will continue this mission, but without the leadership of Gagliardi and Campbell, who are each set to retire in June.

Speaking with the Gazette last month, Gagliardi and Campbell reflected on their extensive careers in housing and community development, and the current state of housing in the Pioneer Valley. 

A changing landscape

Valley Community Development, founded in 1988 and previously known as Valley Community Development Corp., has established affordable housing projects in downtown Northampton, Florence, Amherst and Easthampton, in addition to offering programs that foster small business ownership.

Way Finders, founded in 1972 and formerly known as HAP Housing, has housing developments in 12 Hampshire and Hampden county communities and is the largest nonprofit housing provider in western Massachusetts. A recent project, Live 155, includes mixed-income residential and commercial space, opening at 155 Pleasant St. in Northampton last spring. Around the same time, The Lumber Yard, a 55-unit affordable housing complex developed by Valley Community Development and managed by Way Finders, opened just down the road at 256 Pleasant St. 

Although Valley Community Development’s name is not attached to the Live 155 project, the nonprofit plays a role in any Northampton Way Finders project, according to Gagliardi. Campbell also sits on the board of directors at Way Finders.

“Even when their name isn’t officially on it,” Gagliardi said of Valley Community Development, “anything in Northampton, they’re partnered with us, one way or another.” 

The Lumber Yard and Live 155 complexes are evidence of just how much Pleasant Street has changed since the late 1990s, Gagliardi said. The stretch of road just steps away from Main Street “wasn’t the gateway” to downtown and beyond that it is now, boasting numerous restaurants, bars and an assortment of shops, as well as access to bike paths and Union Station.

“You had a motley collection of older buildings that people really hadn’t started investing in,” Gagliardi recalled of the location. “You had the lumberyard itself,” he said, referring to the former Northampton Lumber Co., which sat at 256 Pleasant St. for almost 50 years, “and while there was a nice, convenient place in years past for a lumberyard, the lumberyard wasn’t as welcome as what’s there now.”

But as the location becomes more desirable, an increasing number of people are finding themselves priced out of the downtown Northampton area. The recently released report by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission found that 38 percent of renters spend over half of their income on rent, and median gross rent has increased by 25 percent. Renters and homeowners both face a median housing cost of $1,166 per month, the study also found, meaning they would need to make at least $46,640 per year to spend less than 30 percent of their income on housing.

Through The Lumber Yard and 18 units set aside for low-income residents in Live 155, Campbell and Gagliardi hope to make downtown more accessible to those of less than affluent means.

Situated adjacent to the Manhan Rail Trail, the Live 155 building. which comprises 70 studio and one-bedroom apartments and 2,600 square feet of retail space, is flanked by two bike racks that look more like sculptures — one fashioned to spell out “Noho,” while the other spells out “Hamp,” drawing from the relentless debate as to how exactly one abbreviates Northampton. With the bike path just next to the building, the location is appealing for people without cars, Gagliardi said.

Although the organization has yet to lease the commercial space, all apartments were nearly filled by the end of July.

The Lumber Yard, meanwhile, received 460 applicants for its lottery-style consideration for one of 55 units. 

While most apartments at Live 155 are not reserved for low-income occupants, housing those who may struggle to find and maintain affordable housing is an essential part of Way Finders’ mission, Gagliardi said. Going beyond downtown Northampton, Way Finders runs a voucher program that assists about 5,400 households per year, which Gagliardi said “pumps about $45 million a year into the regional economy.” The organization has also restored and developed more than 1,000 units of affordable housing.

The organization has also placed more than 700 adults into jobs over the past six or seven years, finding that at the end of the first year, 86 percent are still employed and 90 percent are still in their housing.

Valley Community Development has developed 279 units and served about 1,600 small businesses over the years. 

Many people are helped along by mentors, such as family members or neighbors with college degrees and industry connections, Gagliardi said, but not everyone has these resources.

“So we play that role,” Gagliardi said. “I tell our staff, we’re the coaches, and the mentors and the cheerleaders for people who haven’t had that in their lives.” It’s not their entire day, he said, but it’s an important part of it.

Gagliardi and Campbell both stressed the importance of stable housing in achieving success in other parts of life.

“It’s really the idea of people having a decent place to live to raise their families,” Campbell said, “and have reasonable rents where they can focus on other aspects of their lives, whether it’s education, work or raising a family.”

Moving forward

Valley Community Development and Way Finders are both conducting searches for new leaders as they prepare for the departures of Campbell and Gagliardi. A hiring committee appointed by the Way Finders Board of Directors is conducting a national search for a new CEO, while a Valley Community Development transition team is overseeing the selection of Campbell’s successor. Meanwhile, the nonprofits are also moving forward with new project plans.

“There’s never a point where things aren’t in some kind of flux … but it just seemed like the proper time,” Gagliardi said. “I think I’ve done what I was intended to do, and it’s time for somebody else to take that opportunity to take it from where we are to where we can go.”

Campbell expressed a similar sentiment about retirement.

“It’s bittersweet to be leaving an agency and work that I love, but it feels like the right time to leave,” she said, adding that the agency is “well-poised to enter into its next phase of vision and accomplishment.”

Among the nonprofits' upcoming developments, the Sergeant House, another affordable housing complex developed by Valley Community Development with assistance from Way Finders, is accepting applicants, receiving more than 200 applications for its 31 studio apartments at 82 Bridge St. in Northampton.

Other projects include a Way Finders Housing Center in downtown Springfield, which is set to open in April, and a proposed Valley Community Development 28-unit complex for extremely low-income residents in Amherst, which has drawn concern from nearby residents at Town Council meetings.

An affordable housing project in general “can create controversy,” Campbell noted, and also “create great accolades when it’s finished.”

Although Gagliardi and Campbell serve similar communities, they’ve worked together so that they aren’t “stepping on each other’s toes,” Gagliardi said. 

“There’s more than enough work for both of us … and we’ve both learned things from each other as we do these things too,” he said. “So the big hope is that our successors enjoy as good a partnership as Joanne and I have had for the last twenty-plus years.”

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com. 


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