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Work continues on a Habitat for Humanity home on Cole Avenue in Williamstown. The house is one of two planned for a parcel purchased by the town's Affordable Housing Trust in 2015.

Williamstown Housing Trust Decides on Ask to Community Preservation Committee

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The town's Affordable Housing Trust plans to seek $75,000 in unrestricted funds from town Community Preservation Act funds this spring.
 
On Wednesday, the trustees met and reviewed the group's application, which will be reviewed by the Community Preservation Committee this winter. The CPC vets all funding requests under the act and decides whether to send them for approval to town meeting in May.
 
The Affordable Housing Trust has received CPA funding from the town's voters each year since the trust was created. In fact, even longer.
 
"The first grant was made before the trust was even formed," trust Chairman Thomas Sheldon told his colleagues on Wednesday. "It was made concurrently at town meeting in 2012 along with the creation of this board."
 
Including that first grant, the town has funded the trust to the tune of $670,000, according to Sheldon, who has served on the trust board since its inception.
 
The trustees Wednesday discussed some of the ways the body has expended that money to support affordable housing efforts in the town of 7,700.
 
Actions like providing financial support for the Highland Woods senior housing project, purchasing two town building lots and granting nearly $300,000 under the trust's DeMayo Mortgage Assistance Program are highlighted in the application Sheldon drafted.
 
Trustee Stanley Parese suggested strengthening the language on one point — the funding for Highland Woods.
 
"It's my recollection of that funding process through the [state] Department of Housing and Community Development that one of the criteria was demonstration of community support," Parese said. "It's a perfect example of us having the ability to put the community's money where it's mouth is and do it in a timely way."
 
The mortgage assistance program, designed to help first-time homeowners, has helped 19 families access the Williamstown housing market since it was introduced.
 
"What's good about the program is that in most cases, without the DeMayo grant, it wouldn't have been able to happen," trustee Patrick Quinn said.
 
Sheldon said that in 90 percent of the applications, lenders have told the trust that without the town grant, the homeowner would not have been able to make the down payment.
 
"And in those other cases ... we've been told that while the transaction may have been able to proceed, it would have done so with real financial stress to the homeowner," Parese said.
 
Sheldon said the demand for the DeMayo MAP is a demonstration of how effective the program has been.
 
On Wednesday, the board heard that it has one applicant in the pipeline for a grant, which would make No. 20 in its history and which would deplete the funds available for new grants for the rest of fiscal year 2020.
 
Sheldon said that, according to his records, the trust has had to suspend the program for want of funds once before in its history, in August 2018.
 
A key question for the trustees on Wednesday was whether to request funds from the CPA that are restricted — i.e., tied to a specific program — or unrestricted. It has money in its coffers set aside for spending with Habitat for Humanity's Brush With Kindness program, but the trust is waiting for requests from the non-profit to expend those funds.
 
Sheldon drafted the FY21 funding request for unrestricted funds but explained that the board could go either way on that point.
 
"We're asking, as we did last year, that it be an unrestricted grant, but some of our grants in the past have been restricted," he said. "There has been a waxing and waning of views on the CPC about whether it's more advantageous for the trust to put forward a restricted or unrestricted request.
 
"Last year ... the unrestricted had more appeal [to the CPC]."
 
The trustees voted 6-0 to go forward with the unrestricted request but agreed to meet again before the early January CPC deadline if Sheldon gets a signal that the committee has a preference for restricted requests. That or any other guidance could come from the pre-application information session that CPC members will be conducting over the next couple of weeks.
 
In other business on Wednesday, the Affordable Housing Trust received an update on another of its initiatives.
 
In 2015, the AHT used some of its CPA funds to acquire two building lots in residential neighborhoods: on Summer Street and at the corner of Cole Avenue and Maple Street.
 
The latter currently is under development by Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, which plans two single-family homes at the site.
 
Quinn, who is volunteering on the building project, told his colleagues that Habitat hopes this spring to be able to turn over the home to its new occupants, who also are investing "sweat equity" in the project
 
Quinn said new volunteers are always welcome.
 
"From what I've seen, there seems to be a core of about 20 [volunteers], who come well equipped," Quinn said. "They know what they're doing. I've been impressed that they're very compassionate with those of us who don't know yet."
 
The volunteers come not only from Williamstown but also Clarksburg, North Adams and Southern Vermont, he said.
 
"They're there every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at quarter to 9," Quinn said. "They'll give you a hard hat and whatever you need. ... If you show up and are willing and basically able, you're welcome."

Tags: affordable housing,   affordable housing trust,   CPA,   habitat for humanity,   

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Williamstown Planning Board Weighing New Pot Bylaw

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Planning Board last week heard from several residents who want it to prohibit outdoor production of marijuana in the language of an updated bylaw the board intends to send to May's annual town meeting.
 
Several of the people who argued against granting a special permit to grow pot on a Blair Road parcel early last year were back at Town Hall on Tuesday to ask that town regulations be changed to allow marijuana production only indoors and then under highly regulated conditions to control odor.
 
The Planning Board chose to address the bylaw passed by town meeting in 2017 because it was written before the commonwealth's Cannabis Control Commission had written statewide regulations in response to the November 2016 vote to decriminalize marijuana in Massachusetts.
 
The town in 2017 was trying to "get ahead of the curve," and now wants to amend its language to align with the nomenclature used at the state level. For example, the 2017 bylaw refers to "marijuana production facilities." The CCC language is written to address indoor and outdoor "marijuana cultivators."
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