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Cheshire Pledges Money Toward Housing Rehab Grant

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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CHESHIRE, Mass. — The town is looking at putting $60,000 toward improving the town's housing stock.
William Sikula, a planner with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, reviewed the town's Community Development Block Grant allocation with the Selectmen last week and asked if the town would be willing to put up $60,000 in an effort to reel in another $600,000 in grant funding.
"If we get this grant, it will help a lot of people and would be a great shot in the arm for them," Chairman Robert Ciskowski said. "We were willing to do the 10 percent last year, so I think we should let it ride."
The grant can be used by qualifying residents who want to make small improvements to their homes and bring them up to code. The town applied for the grant last year but was not awarded any funds.
Last year, it was mandatory to match 10 percent of the grant but this year it is not. However, Sikula said if the town puts up funds it can only help the application.
"They like to see projects that are ready," he said. "Half of it is project readiness and need." 
Selectwoman Carol Francesconi initially felt it was unfair to the taxpayers to use town funds.
"I have a problem with that. Say I need a septic system done at my house and I am part of this grant, your tax dollars are going to pay for it," she said. "That is just my opinion."
Sikula said the town's share will act as a contingency fund. The max amount a homeowner can receive is $35,000 and if extra is needed to finish up the project, residents can dip into the town's share.
"There are houses that may need a little more and that's what the matching funds will go towards," he said. "The first thing they look for is code violations and the contingency fund will be used if they don't have enough money to bring it up to code."
Ciskowski asked if it was mandatory that the $60,000 be completely used. 
"If we had reasonable projects, yes, but if we do pie in the sky we are going to burn through the grant and have to use that money," he said. "This should be a hand up to people but not a handout."
Sikula said a single project wouldn't clean out the town's share and it would only be applied if needed.
At a past meeting, Sikula recommended the town join New Marlborough and submit a regional grant that he believed would make the application more competitive. But he told town officials that Marlborough hadn't signed on yet.
He said they were unable to meet Monday because of the holiday but he should have an answer this coming Monday.
Sikula said the maximum amount the two communities could bring in with the grant is $1 million: $600,000 for Cheshire and $200,000 for New Marlborough. The $200,000 balance would go toward grant administration and project delivery.

Tags: CDBG,   Housing program,   

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