CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The town is applying for about $300,000 in federal money that can help some residents fix up their homes.
The Select Board on Wednesday voted to sign on to a Community Development Block Grant application with the towns of Lee and Lenox for housing rehabilitation. The application is due on March 6.
"This is a competitive grant application ... the most amount of money for one town would be $800,000 and for several towns going together, it's up to $1.3 million," explained Patricia Mullins, community and economic development program manager for Berkshire Regional Planning Commission. Administrative and program delivery costs would leave about $900,000 — or $300,000 for each town. "By the three towns going in together, the application is stronger because number one, it shows that it's a regional grant and that basically you're sharing and the administrative services that would be provided."
CDBG grants are funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and apportioned by the state's Department of Housing and Community Development for use in economic and community development, housing, social services, preservation and conservation and recreation. Cities are generally entitled to annual grant funding but smaller communities' applications are not guaranteed. BRPC has overseen a number "regional" grants, including for a similar housing rehabilitation grant for Cheshire and New Marlborough.
Mullins estimated that the grant would cover seven to 10 homeowners. Homeowners must be income eligible and apply for the projects that would want covered. Applicants must be current on their taxes and have appropriate insurance. The income limit for a household with just one individual is $49,700, for example, and for a family of eight, it's $93,700.
When BRPC applies for a grant, Mullins said the process begins a couple months in advance and will take four to six people to make out the paperwork. The commission will also begin advertising the grant so as to have a list of applicants ready if it is approved.
Applicants will be taken on a first come, first served — the first to get their applications and documents in and be approved. The grants are zero percent, interest free forgivable loans. The homeowner will not have to pay back anything if they hold the property for 15 years; if they do so prior to the 15-year lien, they will have to pay back the balance of what is left on the loan.
"We have a list of prequalified contractors, and we follow 30-day procurement up to a point," Mullins said, because the homeowner's identity is not publicly revealed. "Then we do a pre-bid walkthrough and we have a bid opening and we expect the homeowner to take the lowest bid unless they want to make up the difference."
One caveat, however, is that the home must be up to code and sometimes dealing those issues, such as lead paint, can eat up the grant funds.
"The projects are up to $40,000 per household, DHCD will occasionally grant a single case waiver if that isn't enough," she said. "Any house that was built prior to 1978 has to have a lead paint test. And we may have to do some remediation of lead paint, which is very costly."
The funds can be used to bring properties up to code, for energy efficiency (such as insulation, doors and windows), improve handicapped accessibility, emergency repair such as leaking roofs, and weatherization.
Laura Dorr, BRPC program associate, who attended the meeting with Mullins, said she would be developing a waiting list and would be ensuring that the word got out to residents, such a mailing to every resident and setting up a box at Town Hall or the Senior/Community Center. Interested residents can also contact her at 413-442-1521, Ext. 23.
Chairman Ronald Boucher asked if the town would have any fiscal responsibilities and Mullins assured him it wouldn't. Lenox would be the fiscal agent for the grant and BRPC would be the administrator.
Select Board member Jeffrey Levanos said his only hesitation on signing a memorandum of agreement with BRPC was that fellow member Danielle Luchi was not in attendance. He and Boucher, however, decided that the opportunity was to good to pass on.
"I think it's a great program," said Boucher. "I think there's enough checks and balances along the way that it makes sense."
In other business,
• Boucher was voted as the alternate representative on the BRPC for Clarksburg. The town also needs a permanent representative.
• The date of the presidential primary was set for Tuesday, March 3, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Community Center.
• The board discussed the budget process with Town Administrator Rebecca Stone, who inquired how it is usually been done. The board had been very involved in years past and met with the Finance Committee regularly. Over the past decade, that burden largely has been taken up by the Finance Committee, although Levanos requested that the Select Board be looped in.
"I'm not use to having the finalized budget in front of me," he said. "Maybe just an update to keep us apprised."
Stone said she would speak to the Finance Committee about having a joint meeting in February and in March, when there was more to show in the budget's progress.
• Boucher read a proclamation for School Choice Week, which is Jan. 26 through Feb. 1.
• Stone updated the board on several fronts, including that governor's office has informed her that there will not be a visit to Clarksburg School. The town has been trying to get the attention of the governor to release $500,000 in earmarked funds to repair the roof. Stone said she wants the building inspector to give her a professional opinion on the status of the roof.
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