Mayor Linda Tyer says the city's aging housing stock is in need of investment.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Gov. Charlie Baker announced that the city will receive $275,000 in Gateways Housing Rehabilitation funds to address aging housing stock.
Baker and his administration joined local leadership in City Hall on Friday afternoon to congratulate Pittsfield on receiving its slice of $2.15 million allocated to support housing rehabilitation in nine communities.
"Housing is in many cases a key element to a downtown economic development strategy for many communities now in the commonwealth," Baker said. "But this program is for very particular issues that gateway cites and older cities need to solve for. We are thrilled to be here with this program and it is something I fully expect we will be doing more of."
The Gateways Housing Rehabilitation Program provides funds for eligible communities to address properties in need of rehabilitation. Thirty-one communities were eligible for the program.
Baker said economic development cannot happen without addressing housing now that retail is no longer the "backbone" of many local economies. He said many communities must reconsider how to build strong downtowns.
Many communities in the commonwealth have looked to strengthen their downtowns by moving to a work/live/play model that brings together a mix of housing, hospitality, commercial, retail and recreation, he said. This coupled with accessible transportation brings people into the downtown.
The funds can be leveraged with federal Community Development Block Grants and local Community Preservation Act funds to strengthen city cores.
"The bottom line is this kind of a program that we are putting forth today is a great way for communities to leverage ... other forms of funding that they have to do this sort of work," he said. "It’s complicated in many cases, but it gives them the ability to breath new life into property that desperately needs it."
Baker said the funds also are a powerful tool that give local governments control to address their individual housing concerns.
This is a sentiment Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy echoed.
"Our gateway cities are such treasures across the commonwealth and to be able to come up with a program tailored to those needs and opportunities," he said. "I think it is a great thing to do."
This funding is for the rehabilitation of one- to four-unit housing that has been identified through existing code enforcement activities. Projects must benefit low, moderate, or middle-income households.
Mayor Linda Tyer said 43 percent of the city's housing stock was built prior to 1939 and many homes and neighborhoods are in need of investment.
"It is to be expected that so many of our homes and so many of our neighborhoods are in need of investment, repair, and improvement," she said. "So we have to close the gap in housing."
In Pittsfield, the funding will address eight properties.
The mayor said the city is challenged to create a diversity of housing choices, to help under-resourced residents improve their homes or achieve homeownership, and to address the lack of quality housing.
She thanked the city's Community Development Office for being steadfast in its efforts to secure grant funds to improve housing and teased the return of her "At Home" housing rehabilitation program.
Tyer also thanked the governor for having a real sense of the different challenges communities face.
"Governor Baker, your willingness to hear and see what is happening on the ground in our communities and to stand with us to solve problems is simply outstanding," she said. "With you by our side, we are never going in alone."
Housing and Community Development Undersecretary Jennifer Maddox also spoke and said the funds will help address individual needs in communities and that 75 housing units in the state will benefit from the funding that is really more than a financial boost.
"If we are lucky we wake up every morning in our own home with access to opportunity and community, without worrying about where we are going to sleep tonight or next month," she said. "But we know that is not true for all households here, but we are committed to expanding access to safe stable affordable housing for all."
Which was something echoed throughout the afternoon with members of Baker's administration reiterating their commitment to expanding housing by investing more than $1.1 billion in affordable housing since 2015.
State Sen. Adam Hinds said that although Berkshire County is a smaller part of the state, the funding is just as critical as it would be in the eastern part of Massachusetts.
"How do we put a fingerprint on it that impacts the problems that we see in our districts?" he said. "...This is one of those returns on investment of state funds that may not get the attention that it does in Boston on the same scale but it is critical and has a huge impact here."
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier said the governor understands that the entire commonwealth is only as strong as every community in it.
"This is not the state's money, this is not the secretary's money, or the governor's money," she said. "This is our taxpayer money that we pay into the commonwealth and then it gets distributed for the strength of the full commonwealth. Unless we are willing to strengthen every individual community in the commonwealth, then the commonwealth will not be as strong."
After the presentation, Baker said Massachusetts has gained almost 700,000 people in the past 20 to 30 years.
"We haven't put anywhere near the amount of housing together to actually meet that demand," he said. "Housing has to be part of how we think about economic development because it is in many cases the way you build or enhance or reimagine a downtown."
He said the commonwealth has to think about all kinds of housing and added it is important to think ahead in terms of housing about the people that "aren't here yet." He specifically targeted millennials who, he said, are the next "great wave of workers" who will be part of every piece of the future economy.
"If we create places where young people want to live, stay, raise a family, plant their flag they will fill all of these jobs and create the next great act here in Massachusetts," he said.
The governor was at City Hall after attending the opening of the Berkshire Innovation Center with Kennealy and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who earlier had made the announcement of $189,928 grant to the Elizabeth Freeman Center Inc. to partner with Taconic High School and 18 Degrees on a program promoting healthy relationships for youth.
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Federally-Backed & Local Loans Aim to Support Small Business in Crisis
By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — As small businesses confront what some analysts already have called the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, the phones of a small-business adviser have been relatively quiet.
"The main contact we're getting is through email," Keith Girouard said this week. "That is a lot more effective and efficient for us.
"We're working through phone and Zoom [video conferencing] as well. But the phone is not ringing off the hook. The emails are ringing off the hook."
Girouard is the Berkshire regional director of the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network. He operates one of five such centers across the commonwealth and a thousand in the United States and its territories.
On Thursday, BRPC Executive Director Tom Matuszko told the agency's executive committee that one of its initiatives was able to quickly pivot to addressing the fallout from the novel coronavirus.
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