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City Council Appropriates $500k For Tyer's Home Program

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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Mayor Linda Tyer hopes the At Home program will be successful enough to  attract financing from other agencies and organizations. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council last week approved an appropriation of $500,000 from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund for a residential exterior home improvement program titled "At Home in Pittsfield."
Mayor Linda Tyer pitched this program back in 2019 to help eligible residents improve their homes. This program would provide zero-interest loans to residents for undertaking certain home improvement projects in an effort to improve the housing stock in the city.
At the time, the council rejected the program.
Tyer originally asked for $250,000 from the General Electric account to kickstart the program so that homeowners could then get loans of up to 10 percent of the appraised value after renovations, or a maximum of $20,000.
It allocated more money for improvements made in the West Side and Morningside neighborhoods, where residents could get up to 20 percent or a maximum of $30,000.
That March, City Councilors were supportive of the overall idea, but many didn't like the details of the program, such as how it was being funded and how it favored certain neighborhoods. Attempts to resurrect in other forms failed. 
In late October, Tyer again asked for an appropriation, this time of $500,000, from the GE fund and the council referred it to the subcommittee of Economic and Community Development, which met in early November.
At this meeting, there was a motion to approve the appropriation, but a charter objection stopped the debate.
When this was brought back to City Council on Tuesday, Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell and Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi argued that housing rehabilitation did not fall under economic development for use of the fund.
The original intent of this $1 million fund was to compensate for the loss of taxes from GE buildings that were torn down, Connell said.
The program will not stimulate construction jobs, he said, and will provide work to current contractors with licenses that are employed by the city. He thinks the funding should be given to businesses to help them grow the economy because it will trickle down into housing, other businesses, and restaurants.
Connell said believes there are other avenues for funding such as free cash or cannabis taxes that are going to the general fund. While the $500,000 appropriation is finite and will only improve 20-25 homes, he said, using an infinite source would allow for the program to be expanded.
"These businesses are going to be contributing to this find and I do not see it stopping," he said. "Unfortunately, the mayor has refused to even consider some of those."  
Connell said wanted to state his case even though he knew he would be outvoted.
Ward 7 City Councilor Anthony Maffuccio said he believes this project qualifies for economic development because it benefits the neighborhoods.
He said he will keep advocating for any money that will improve housing stock in his ward or throughout the city and believes that the pot should have been even bigger.
"We're stimulating the economy in a different way," Maffuccio said. "We have to think outside the box sometimes."
Improving and growing the community will make others want to locate here, thus stimulating the economy as well, he said.
"In the long run, it's a win-win situation," Maffuccio said. "it doesn't matter if it comes from this pool or that pool."
The program is available to people at certain income levels who are not eligible for financing from traditional sources because of a low credit score, student loan debt, or not having enough equity on their house, but not in a low enough income bracket to quality for block grant funding that is for low to moderate-income residents.
Tyer said she found there was a gap between residents who qualified for block grant funding and those who didn't qualify but were still not able to get a traditional loan. This is the gap she is trying to fill.
A yearly income of $106,000 is the cap for eligibility, which Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey and Morandi thought was a high income to be receiving aid from the city. That number represents 120 percent of the gross annual median income for Pittsfield. An applicant cannot exceed that income in order to be eligible for the program.
Morandi said he thinks this is a great program but wants to make sure money is put into the right people's hands.
Recipients of funding from this program need to have lived in their home for at least two years and not have any delinquent city taxes or fees.
The At Home in Pittsfield program will be first come, first serve and is expected to start next spring. Tyer anticipates receiving applications on a rolling basis and that the $500,000 will cover a two-year time frame.
After the program was proposed in 2019, Tyer's office received calls from interested residents and has kept a list of them.
The success of this program will be measured in improvements made to the housing stock, quality of life, the market, and many more bench markers with a goal of showing that the program stabilizes neighborhoods and stimulates the economy. Pittsfield will then be presented to other funding sources.
Tyer said when the money runs out she has no intention of asking for more from the GE fund.  
"Our hope is that this program will be able to show that it has had a meaningful impact on our neighborhoods, in our market, and the individuals who own these homes," the mayor said. "And be able to show to other funding sources such as state agencies and private foundations that this is an investment that they should be participating in when it comes to supporting community life."

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Pittsfield Starbucks Closed Temporarily

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff

A sign outside the coffee shop assures customers the closure is only temporary. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Your alarm goes off, you get ready, and you leave for school, work, or whatever your appointment a little bit early to get a cup of coffee to start your day, only to find that the Pittsfield Starbucks, located at  555 Hubbard Ave., is closed. 
The sign has been removed, and the drive-through is blocked, but Starbucks coffee addicts need not worry — this closure is only temporary. 
The coffee shop closed its doors temporarily on July 7 to undergo a standard renovation with the chain's new Siren System, a Starbucks spokesperson said. 
According to the signage, the reopening date is projected to be Aug. 21. 
According to its website, the Siren System is part of the chain's Starbucks Reinvention plan, which aims to improve the experience for partners and staff by responding to changing needs and increasing demands. 
"As a standard course of business, we continually evaluate our store portfolio using various criteria to ensure we are meeting the needs of our customers," the spokesperson said. 
The chain's article on unveiling its innovations said, "Over the past few years, the number of cold beverages ordered has surpassed the number of hot drinks year-round. And, two in three drinks ordered have requested customizations such as extra espresso shots and flavorings."
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