The Selectmen dealt with housing issues on Monday night.
, Mass. - The developer of the Highland Woods senior housing project says the partners still hope to have shovels in the ground "before the end of the summer."
But there is no announced timetable for the awarding of the low-income housing tax credits that form the bedrock of funding for the project.
The president of Pittsfield's Berkshire Housing Development Corp. was at Town Hall on Monday to appear before the Board of Selectmen on a number of questions related to Highland Woods and the subsidized housing project planned for 330 Cole Ave.
After he was excused from the meeting, Elton Ogden said he hoped the commonwealth's Department of Housing Community Development would release the list of projects to be funded in the current funding cycle before the end of June, but he had no indication from DHCD when that list would be announced.
In the meantime, Berkshire Housing and its partner, Boston's Women's Institute for Housing and Economic Development, continue to discuss the project with state officials.
"They're deliberating and asking clarifying questions," Ogden said.
BHDC, the Women's Institute and its other partners — Williamstown Elderly Housing and Higher Ground — plan to break ground on the project this summer even if the money from the tax credits is not in hand, Ogden said.
"Our plan is to use interim financing and bridge financing to start before we close on the permanent financing," he said.
The Highland Woods project officially received one piece of funding on Monday night. The Board of Selectmen voted to accept a previously announced Community Development Block Grant of $315,000 to pay for infrastructure at the Highland Woods site, a parcel of land donated by Williams College at the end of Southworth Street.
Ogden said construction of roads into the wooded site is the first step toward getting the housing project off the ground.
"This roadway into the site is the only access the contractor will have to go in and build a building," Ogden said.
Eventually, the same road will be paved to provide access to the apartment complex that will neighbor the existing Proprietor's Field senior housing complex on Church Street.
Ogden and Mollye Wollahan of the Women's Institute had hoped to clear up two other issues with the town on Monday evening, but two items originally scheduled for consideration at Monday's meeting were postponed: the formalization of the $2.6 million the Board of Selectmen promised last winter to the Highland Woods project (proceeds from the $6 million Federal Emergency Management Agency grant) and the approval of an option to sell the 330 Cole Ave. site to BHDC and the Women's Institute, who last month were selected by the board as that site's developers.
Both those actions were put off because the town's counsel is still reviewing the related documents.
In other housing related business on Monday night, the four Selectmen in attendance voted unanimously to borrow $2 million for six months at .45 percent. Town Finance Director Janet Saddler and Town Manager Peter Fohlin explained to the board that the loan is necessary to preserve the town's free cash account while still making payments the town is obligated to make under terms of the FEMA grant.
"We need working capital for the Spruces," Fohlin said. "As you know, this is a reimbursement grant. It takes some time for the state to reimburse us."
The problem is that the money the town is spending — mostly in the form of compensation for Spruces Mobile Home Park residents who are losing their homes — needs to replenished, lest the town's free cash account dwindle.
"The real concern ... is that at the end of June when the state certifies our free cash, they will deduct any outstanding grants from free cash unless we have covered it some other way," Fohlin said. "For example, if they were to deduct a million in grant reimbursements, we'd lose all our free cash. We can't have that on June 30."
"Free cash" is the municipal term for the combination of unanticipated revenue and cash left over when expenditures do not reach their appropriated level.
"At the annual town meeting [on May 20], we apply our free cash to lower the tax rate," Fohlin said. "The effect of not having that free cash at the end of the [fiscal] year would be to raise the tax rate."
Fohlin told the Selectmen the town already has distributed $345,376 to 17 residents of the Spruces, and it has a Memorandum of Agreement with another six residents to bring the total amount promised or distributed to just shy of $500,000.
Eleven of the 66 residents who lived at the park at the time the FEMA grant process started have moved out, and 13 more are scheduled to leave by the end of June, Fohlin said.
Forty-three park residents have met with the relocation agent the town hired with some of the FEMA money.
"Some [of the remaining 23] are overwhelmed and don't know where to start because they don't know where it's going to end," Fohlin said. "Some are planning to stay the full two years [it will take to close the park] or at least until next summer. Some just haven't found the right place yet.
"Of the 23 people who haven't met with Trish [Smith], there are probably 21 different reasons."
A final note on the housing front was provided by Thomas Sheldon, the Board of Selectmen's representative to the town's Affordable Housing Trust. Sheldon told the board that at its Wednesday meeting the trust will continue to discuss creating a program modeled on one in place in Lenox, where public funds are used to provide mortgage assistance to income-qualified homebuyers.
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