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Since its founding in 2012, the Willimastown Affordable Housing Trust has participated in the creation of dozens of units of housing, including at the Highland Woods senior apartment building.

Williamstown Housing Trust Seeks New Member, Reaches Milestone

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The board of the town's Affordable Housing Trust on Thursday marked a significant milestone and sent out an appeal for town residents interested in joining the body.
The milestone came when the board voted to award the 20th grant since the inception of its Richard DeMayo Mortgage Assistance Program.
By a unanimous vote, board granted $15,000 to a resident who currently is renting but looking to purchase a condominium in town.
Representatives from Greylock Federal Credit Union told the board that the applicant, who was income qualified, was "on the cusp" of qualifying for a mortgage without the grant.
With the grant, the applicant was able to lower the amount he borrowed and avoid private mortgage insurance to the tune of $153 per month, mortgage underwriter Tara McCluskey told the board.
"I just think [the grant] will make him a little more comfortable," mortgage underwriter Catherine Squires said. "It would be a little more room if we could get the loan down and forego the PMI."
The grant would allow the applicant to lower his monthly housing payment from about $1,100 per month to about $900 per month, which includes the condo's homeowners association fees, McCluskey said.
The board agreed to award the maximum allowable amount under the program it began in 2014.
The board agreed earlier this year to temporarily suspend the mortgage assistance program, in part to conserve its resources for an emergency rental assistance program it created in partnership with Berkshire Housing Development Corporation.
Just as the lending institutions screen applicants for the mortgage grants, BHDC handles applications under the WREAP, allowing the town board to proceed without knowing the identities of the recipients or seeing applicants' personal data.
As currently constituted, that town board has six members, but there is room for a seventh. A seat created at the trust's inception for a representative from the town's Affordable Housing Committee has been vacant since that panel went dormant.
On Thursday, the board agreed it should ask the Select Board to appoint a seventh member and talked about type of person the trustees would like to see join their ranks.
"I think I have the best board in the community or maybe the county, as is," Chair Thomas Sheldon said. "But there's always an opportunity to add to the range of views and complementarity of backgrounds and skills."
Sheldon said he has heard a name of a potentially interested community member who would provide new perspectives for the panel.
Stanley Parese said he hoped the board's vacancy could be publicized and draw a variety of applicants.
"It may be there's only the one person who steps forward … but we should allow sufficient time for people who might be interested to become aware of the opening," he said. "One of the good problems for the Select Board to have is if there are multiple, qualified, interested people."
Anyone interested in applying for a position on the Affordable Housing Trust board can fill out a citizen interest form on the town's website.
The board Thursday heard that its coffers had been enhanced by the $75,000 allocation of Community Preservation Act funds approved at August's pandemic-delayed annual town meeting, and it discussed the request the trust should make to the Community Preservation Committee for the fiscal 2022 funding cycle.
First, the panel agreed it should ask the town to repurpose about $20,000 that is on the books from a May 2019 town meeting award. That year, with the perception that the CPC favored more targeted funding requests instead of requests for unrestricted funds, the trust sought money specifically to support a cooperative effort with Habitat for Humanity's Brush with Kindness program.
"The reason [for that request] was we would piggyback on Habitat for Humanity," Sheldon said last week. "They provide the labor, we provide the materials. But their labor is limited. The likelihood of finding extra volunteers is questionable."
Sheldon therefore asked, and the rest of the board agreed, that they should ask the town to make that $20,000 unrestricted in order for it to be used for programs like the WERAP and mortgage assistance program.
That $20,000 could be part of a much more significant "ask" to the CPC, which generally begins in January to vet the applications it sends to town meeting.
On Thursday, the board discussed asking for about $180,000 in new CPA funds, or a total allocation of $20,000 if the previously restricted funds have the restrictions removed. It would fund the trust at levels not seen since it was created by an act of town meeting in 2012.
"When we got the $200,000 at the outset, it was kind of an emergency footing," Parese said, referring to the town's response to 2011's Tropical Storm Irene. "I hope we're not, but we may be as a community and a country on a crisis footing [due to COVID-19].
"I wouldn't feel shameful or anything like shameful starting at $200,000 for this first part of the conversation. … There are a number of people in the community, with no prompting from us, raising the issue of affordable housing. It's organically come to the fore again as an issue of concern in town.
"If, given the reality of the numbers at the CPC, [$200,000] is out of whack. We're a reasonable group. But this isn't the time to under-ask at the outset."

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Williamstown Fire District Looks at Recruitment Need

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Williamstown Fire District needs to work on the message it conveys to potential recruits and consider new models for service to make it a more attractive option for residents.
That was part of the message the Prudential Committee received last week from the community advisory committee the committee established last year.
Jeffrey Thomas, who chairs the advisory group, dropped by the Prudential Committee''s first in-person meeting since before the pandemic to share some input from his group.
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