PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city officials outlined plans for Community Development Block Grant funds and pressed their importance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The remote presentation on Tuesday went over a draft five-year plan and an action plan for fiscal 2021. Director of Community Development Deanna Ruffer said these funds are more important now than ever.
"We are in a very unique situation at the time with the management of the CDBG funds as we are in the midst of a pandemic," she said. "It is clear on a day-to-day basis that these funds are vital resources to help our most underserved residents. That has become even more apparent as we work to support the same population during the pandemic."
Ruffer said the city over the next few months will both strategically use the $789,382 in CDBG funds awarded through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act to combat the effects of COVID-19 as well as its allotment of $1,341,750 to address housing issues throughout the city as well as other challenges and projects.
"We will continue to advocate for more as we manage through the pandemic and the recovery from that," she said. "In the meantime our daily needs do not go away."
Justine Dodds, community development and housing program manager, said the public hearing is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. She said the draft five-year consolidated plan runs from fiscal 2021 to 2025.
"It must examine community needs and market conditions, identify resources, and set a vision for long-term strategies and short term action steps to meet priority needs," she said.
Dodds said the city will continue to use funds to address homeless needs and homeless prevention. She said the Berkshires are part of the three-county Continuum of Care program with Franklin and Hampshire. In fiscal 2020, the award for all three was $1.8 million; of that, $611,000 benefited Pittsfield programs.
Funding will continue to support outreach, rapid rehousing, and homeless prevention. Also the monies will support the need for more transitional housing and permanent supportive housing units.
The city will continue to seek grants and budget for agencies that provide these services such as ServiceNet, Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority, Berkshire Housing, Soldier On, the Elizabeth Freeman Center, and Community Legal Aid.
Specifically in the coming year, the funding will support the Barton's Crossing homeless shelter and its plan to move to a larger, more centrally located facility.
Dodds said the plan also addresses other populations who may need housing assistance including the elderly, those suffering from addiction, the disabled, and victims of domestic violence.
She said funds will be used to support organizations who serve these individuals.
The grant funds are also aimed at helping those in cost burdened households who are paying more than 30 percent of their income to housing costs. Dodds said this mostly affects those with lower income in the more centrally located neighborhoods in the city.
"This disproportionality is extreme and of great concern. More quality affordable housing and better paying jobs are essential," she said.
Dodds said the city will advocate for more rental assistance and maintain current public housing as well as try to bring more units online. She said there is a general need for more public housing and better affordable housing
In the upcoming cycle, CDBG funds will continue to be used to improve housing stock and qualifying existing property owners can apply for funds to make small improvements to their homes or rental properties.
Funds can also be used to make this housing stock more physically accessible and can be used for continued demolition to remove blight and improve neighborhoods. Since 1992 the city has demolished 141 properties.
The grants are also to be used for economic development.
"We want to create a better trained and educated workforce with better jobs and expand businesses that pay living wages to help promote housing stability," Dodds said.
There also are plans to continue to use the funds to improve parks, and specifically in this cycle, Phase 2 of the skate park.
She said there are some carryover fund projects that have been phased out over a few years. This includes some sidewalk work, E for All, and the rehabilitation of a single-family home to be used as affordable housing.
Ruffer said the department will continue to monitor the city and its needs. She noted that during the city shut down because of the pandemic, there has been an increase in overdoses, domestic violence and others struggling with day-to-day needs.
"This is a program that is important during these times as well as other times and the staff here will work hard to ensure that we monitor our community needs and get those resources to our residents as soon as possible," she said.
The public hearing was held over the Zoom virtual platform since no committees can physically meet at this time. The line was opened up to the public for their input, however, no one called in. Ruffer said people can share their input via mail or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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