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Pittsfield Eyes Housing, Park Improvements With CDBG Funds

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff
09:05AM / Wednesday, April 30, 2014
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Douglas Clark presented the plan for the CDBG funds Tuesday night.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city is planning to contribute $50,000 of federal funds to help the renovation of the Dalton Apartments.

Berkshire Housing Development Corp. and Rees Larkin Development are looking to spend $12.5 million to renovate the complex, better known as simply April Lane.

The city will use a portion of its $1.1 million allocation from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant Program to help the development along.

"Right now the units are fairly solid but really have no had much money put into them since they were built in the '60s," said Community Development Director Douglas Clark. "It is really going to have an impact in keeping those 100 units available for affordable housing."

Additionally, another $50,000 of those funds are being allocated to revamp Dorothy Amos and Ray Crow Parks. Dorothy Amos Park is on West Street and Ray Crow is on Winter Street. Those funds are matching state funds for the projects.

"We have the opportunity for state grant funding but it requires a match. So, we are able to match that funding," Clark said.

Those projects are the new additions to this year's CDBG plan. Meanwhile, the remaining funds will continue to support longstanding projects to fight blight, rehabilitate apartments, provide assistance to businesses and revamp sidewalks.
 
"The money really has to go toward meeting a couple key national objectives," Clark said, but added that the restrictions are pretty flexible.

The largest requirement is that 70 percent of the spending is to assist low to moderate income persons. This year, the city is plotting to use some funds to organize neighborhood cleanups in the Morningside and West Side neighborhoods, revamp rental units and demolish vacant buildings.

"We are able to demolish those so we no longer have that blight," Clark said.

Two of the four buildings specifically eyed for demolition this year are on Dewey Avenue and will make way for a linear park along the river. They city is looking to use leftover funds from previous years for to continue that project and has been in the process of taking land for it.

Nearly a quarter of the city's funds for this year will be going toward housing rehabilitation. That program offers both grants and loans to homeowners in the low to moderate income make improvements to their homes as well as to rehabilitate rental units.

The subcommittee on Economic and Community Development gave its stamp of approval on Tuesday.

"The real estate property in our city is an asset," Clark said. "When property is allowed to deteriorate, it is a real problem."

Many of the rehabilitation funds are loans so the program is mostly self-sustainable, Clark said.

Between rehabilitation and demolitions, the city is doing what it can to keep property values up. Clark said there has been a growing focus on properties recently and the Community Development Department has "reinstituted" regular meetings with the Fire Department, Health Department and building inspector to "move things along quicker."

The group continually updates and prioritizes vacant properties eyed for demolition.

Also with Community Development Block Grant funding, the city allocates funds to the Pittsfield Economic Development Corp. to provide technical assistance to small businesses.

The Human Services Commission is also a recipient and allocates funding to service organizations.

 "We have not only the CDBG money but the city also matches and contributes to that program," Clark said. "Because we are giving the grants to organizations that are already set up and organized to provide those services, I think we get a lot of bang for our buck."

As for sidewalk improvements, Clark works with the Department of Public Works to fix sections of sidewalks. That is particularly eyed to include helping those who are disabled with curb cuts.

In the past, the city has used those funds to help businesses and cultural institutes become ADA compliant. This year it is looking to build handicapped ramps for five households.

The City Council's subcommittee on Economic and Community Development gave its stamp of approval of the funds on Tuesday night.


Tags: CDBG,   

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