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Paula Lewis of Lee Bank, Tara McCluskley of Greylock Federal Credit Union, Mayor Linda Tyer, Alisa Costa from Working Cities, Lori Gazzillo from Berkshire Bank, Carolyn Valli from Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, and Richard Whalen from Pittsfield Cooperative Bank announce the program on Wednesday.

Tyer Pitches Program To Help Residents Make Home Improvements

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Mayor Linda Tyer hopes the program will help address the aging housing stock.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Mayor Linda Tyer is looking to help residents who improve their homes.
Tyer announced "At Home in Pittsfield," a program through which the city will provide zero-interest loans to residents for undertaking certain home improvement projects. The effort is one aimed to improve the again housing stock in the city. 
"One of the happiest milestones in my life was the day I bought my first home right here in Pittsfield in 2000. My little house on Ventura Avenue will forever have a special place in my heart," Tyer said. 
"We know that owning a home is not everyone's dream. But for those who imagine it, who hope for it, work toward it, we are providing a pathway, a real pathway, to give more of our residents the pride of owning their own home or improving the home they already own."
Tyer is asking the City Council to approve using $250,000 of the General Electric Economic Development Funds to kickstart the program. Homeowners could then get loans of up to 10 percent of the appraised value after renovations or a maximum of $20,000.
Even more money is available to spur activity in the West Side and Morningside neighborhoods. Residents in those neighborhoods can get up to 20 percent of a maximum of $30,000.
"The city funding will be in the form of a deferred payment loan at an interest rate of zero percent and it is secured by a mortgage. This loan has no monthly repayment requirements but it is due in full when the homeowner no longer resides in the structure or conveys the property to another party," Tyer said. 
"We are also exploring the possibility that would allow for forgiveness of a portion or all of this funding over time."
The program is in partnership with Pittsfield Cooperative Bank, Greylock Federal Credit Union, Lee Bank, and Berkshire Bank. When a resident is looking to buy a house that may need some repairs or to refinance a home to make repairs those institutions would have this pool of funds to help put together the package.
"The lender will be the conduit between the applicant and the city," Tyer said.
The lenders see it as an opportunity to provide more access for residents to upgrade their living conditions. The four lenders who are partnering in this program see it as a "collaborative" approach to improving the area.
"We work collaboratively together to maximize the amount of residents we can help in Berkshire County upgrade their homes, beautify the areas, entice visitors to the area," said Paula Lewis, senior vice president of retail lending for Lee Bank.
Those in the Morningside and West Side neighborhoods have the option of going directly to the city's Department of Community Development to access those funds. 
Tyer said the eligibility is pretty broad. Homeowners must make less than 135 percent of the area's median income, which this year means $87,480. Tyer said this particular program is open to the likes of young professionals who are paying off student loan debt, retirees on fixed incomes who live in homes that need repair, or single mothers and veterans who are looking to refinance.
"The residents eligible for this program and their needs are countless and that's the beauty of this initiative," Tyer said.
The city's funds are limited to exterior repairs but Tyer said that encompasses a lot from windows and doors to roofing to foundation repairs to siding and porches. The city would review the materials and the plans to ensure the project is done with durable materials.
"Forty-three percent of the city's housing stock was built prior to 1939 so many of our homes are in need of renovation, repair, and improvement," Tyer said of the need for such a program.
The mayor said the repayment when the home is sold will help keep funds available in the future for others.
"We want to try to create a revolving cycle of funds to make available for future investments. We planned for three to five applicants annually to be eligible for the program," Tyer said.
Director of Community Development Deanna Ruffer, however, added that the city would like to make a portion of the loan forgivable if possible. She said the city will continue to look for a balance between getting a return on investment while also easing the potential burden a young professional might have if the entire loan needs to be repaid at closing.
Tyer said such a housing program is part of the city efforts to create a diversity of housing choices, help people who are under resources, and improve the overall quality of the housing stock.
"This program was designed to encourage the improvement of existing housing in the city of Pittsfield, the incentivize home ownership, and foster investment in specific neighborhoods," Tyer said.
The mayor added that more improvement projects will help stimulate the economy by providing more jobs in the trades and supplement the market cycle of purchasing homes.
Alisa Costa from Working Cities Pittsfield said such a program will make a huge difference in the lives of those who want to see their neighborhoods strengthened.
"It is really about residents having their own vision and building their own community. This empowers them to do that instead of having to be in a neighborhood that may not as pleasing aesthetically," Costa said.
Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Carolyn Valli said her organization will is available to help "stretch" the funds allocated by the city. She said Habitat will also be available to help residents navigate the process.
Tyer said she is submitting the petition asking the City Council for the funds in time for the Tuesday, Feb. 26, meeting. She said if the council approves the expenditure the program would start immediately afterward.


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Tags: banks,   GE fund,   Housing program,   

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Toy Library Installed at Onota Lake

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Feel free to use or leave a toy at Onota Lake's newest infrastructure meant to foster community and benefit kids.

Burbank Park now has a toy library thanks to Wahconah Regional High School senior Alexandra Bills. Located along the wall at the beach area, the green and blue structure features two shelves with sand toys that can be used to enhance children's visits.

The Parks Commission supported Bills' proposal in February as part of her National Honors Society individual service project and it was installed this month. Measuring about 4 feet wide and 5.8 feet tall, it was built by the student and her father with donated materials from a local lumber company.

Friends and family members provided toys to fill the library such as pails, shovels, Frisbees, and trucks.

"I wanted to create a toy library like the other examples in Berkshire County from the sled library to the book libraries," she told the commission in February.

"But I wanted to make it toys for Onota Lake because a lot of kids forget their toys or some kids can't afford toys."

Bills lives nearby and will check on the library weekly — if not daily — to ensure the operation is running smoothly.  A sign reading "Borrow-Play-Return" asks community members to clean up after themselves after using the toys.

It was built to accommodate children's heights and will be stored during the winter season.

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