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Undersecretary for Housing and Community Development Aaron Gornstein said the state would continue to work closely with Williamstown on the Highland Woods project.

Williamstown, Pittsfield Housing Projects Funded by State

By Stephen Dravis
iBerkshires Staff
07:11PM / Monday, July 07, 2014
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Gov. Deval Patrick, speaking in Springfield, announced $83.6 million for housing projects, including Highland Woods and Dalton Apartments.
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Williamstown's Highland Woods senior housing project is in line to receive state and federal subsidies, but it is still unknown to what extent the project will serve the population displaced from the Spruces Mobile Home Park.
 
Highland Woods and Pittsfield's Dalton Apartments were among 24 housing projects across the commonwealth funded in an $83.6 million announcement by Gov. Deval Patrick on Monday afternoon.
 
Patrick was in the Outing Park housing project in Springfield's south end to tout the projects, which he said boost economic development in addition to providing safe, decent housing for low- and moderate-income residents.
 
"Affordable housing helps to generate jobs, grow local businesses and strengthen our communities," Patrick said. "Government's role is to help people help themselves, and sustainable affordable housing will create growth and opportunity in our communities that will last for generations to come."
 
Since the start of his administration, the state has spent more than $1 billion in state and federal money to build 22,000 units of affordable housing — including 1,300 units in the current funding cycle.
 
Forty of those units are off Southworth Street in Williamstown, where developers hope to break ground before the end of the summer on land donated by Williams College.
 
The project, initiated by the local nonprofit Higher Ground, was envisioned as replacement housing for some of the population displaced by 2011's Tropical Storm Irene, which devastated the senior community at the Spruces Mobile Home Park.
 
On Monday, the commonwealth's undersecretary for Housing and Community Development said the state is still figuring out how Williamstown residents displaced from the park might be given preference for the units being built at Highland Woods.
 
"It's something we would want to work with the town on, for sure," Aaron Gornstein said after the governor's announcement. "We consider this a very high-priority project. That's why we funded it. And we'll be working closely with the developer and the town on some of the specifics on how that could happen."
 
Highland Woods is projected to cost about $12 million. The town has committed $2.8 million to support the project — $2.6 million in projected proceeds from a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant, $100,000 from Community Preservation Act funding approved at the 2014 annual town meeting and $100,000 from the town's Affordable Housng Trust (which has been funded from past CPA allotments).
 
The money has been allocated in hopes that the Highland Woods project will be a kind of "replacement housing" for the residents who lost their homes at the Spruces. More than two-thirds of the units in the 226-lot park were uninhabitable after Irene; more have left the park — and, often, Williamstown — in the intervening years.
 
At a meeting of the town's Affordable Housing Committee last fall, the executive director of the Community Development Corp. of Southern Berkshire advised that body that federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits cannot be used to build housing with set-asides for populations from a specific area, but the initial slots could potentially be filled by a "weighted lottery."
 
On Monday, Gornstein would not commit to an opinion on whether such a lottery would come to fruition in this case.
 
"We hope we can work that out," he said. "We haven't gotten into the details of that, yet.
 
"It's something we'll work closely with the town on as we move forward."
 
Elton Ogden, the executive director of Berkshire Housing Development Corp., was more optimistic — indicating that the issues around giving preference for Spruces residents have been resolved.
 
"We believe we have," said Ogden, whose company is the lead developer on both Highland Woods and the Dalton Apartments.
 
"I can't really go into details. All I know is we've come up with a plan that DHCD's Fair Housing people and the specialist that we've hired are comfortable with. ... We'll have to get back to you on that."
 
Ogden said he is not sure when BHDC and its partners — Boston's Women's Institute for Economic Development, the Williamstown Elderly Housing Corp. and Higher Ground — will begin to share details of the plan with current residents of the Spruces, who need to vacate the park before it is closed in March 2016 under terms of the FEMA grant.
 
"We'll have to sit down with [Women's Institute's Mollye Wollahan] and figure that out because, you're right, people are probably curious to know," Ogden said.
 
Ogden said the development teams have had conversations with Trish P. Smith, the housing consultant the town hired with part of the $6.1 million FEMA grant to assist Spruces residents in finding replacement housing.
 
Developers hope to put shovels in the ground by the end of the summer, Ogden said; the Highland Woods project is scheduled to be ready for occupancy before the Spruces is closed for good.
 
In addition to Highland Woods, Ogden's Berkshire Housing is the lead developer on renovation of the 100-unit Dalton Apartments complex. Ten units in the complex will be designated to serve families earning less than 30 percent of the area median income. That project is a partnership between BHDC and Rees-Larkin Development of Boston.
 
"This will be a great help in restoring a significant number of housing units in one of the city's oldest, and more substantial, complexes," Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi said in a news release from the governor's office.
 

 


Tags: affordable housing,   governor,   highland woods,   Spruces,   state officials,   

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