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Director of Community Development Deanna Ruffer goes over potential priorities at Monday's hearing on the use of ARPA funds.
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Monday's meeting was the largest to date with about 50 people attending at Morningside Community School.

Housing, Homelessness Assistance Top Priorities for ARPA Funds

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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Mayor Linda Tyer addresses the gathering at the third of four planned public hearings for setting priorities for ARPA funds.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Residents want to see Pittsfield's $32.4 million allocation in American Rescue Plan Act funds used to help the more vulnerable populations secure — and keep — housing.
 
Monday's conversation on the ARPA spending was largely centered around the need for affordable housing and aiding those who are experiencing homelessness.
 
At the third and most well-attended hearing, around 50 community members gathered at Morningside Community School to identify areas in the housing and neighborhood sector that are in need of the monies.
 
In a cell phone survey, they voted "developing affordable housing" and "funding services to address homelessness and improve access to stable affordable housing" as the top priorities.
 
Similarly, "providing services to support healthy living environments conducive to mental and physical health" was chosen as the top priority in another query, and rent and mortgage assistance was voted as the most urgent form of aid.
 
The U.S. Treasury Department has broadened the eligible ARPA funds for the Morningside, West Side, and downtown areas within the city because as census tracts, they were identified as being disproportionately affected by the COVD-19 pandemic.
 
When asked how the Morningside and West Side were impacted by the last year and a half in two words, the group said income was affected the most.
 
They also used submitted phrases such as "lack of resources" and "increased poverty."
 
Resident Kamaar Taliaferro suggested that when investing in the qualifying census tracts, the city remembers the history of these areas is "intimately intertwined with race."   
 
He also said these qualifying census tracts highlight the fact that those who lack resources are impacted by events such as the pandemic harder and that wealth development strategies should be spearheaded with housing.
 
This earned a round of applause from the other attendees.
 
"When we consider investment in the West [Side], consider investments in the Morningside, I think we should recognize that when we talk about qualified census tracts we're saying those who lack wealth are harder impacted by any vagary, any vicissitude of fortune, any change in circumstance first," Taliaferro said.
 
"And we should prioritize wealth development strategies through housing, that's tried and true."
 
An attendee who disclosed that he has been going through "hard things in his life" suggested giving money directly to people who need help.
 
Others spoke on the city's homeless population and how they are not receiving the resources they need, even suggesting that they are treated as lower-class citizens.
 
The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Act was passed by Congress and signed into law in March with the goal of stabilizing local government operations, households, small businesses, and other sectors affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
Pittsfield is receiving $32.4 million that is being allocated in two parts. The first deposit of $16.2 million happened about a month ago and the second will happen next year at this time.
 
Obligations for the spending must be made by the end of 2024 and the funds must be spent by 2026.
 
The city is also receiving a county allocation of $8.4 million in two phases. The funds are being distributed to communities on a per-capita basis because Berkshire County no longer has a county administrative structure.
 
Several other categories of use for the funds were identified in the meeting including a daytime center for homeless individuals, increasing homeownership, a community center, and investing in renewable energy.
 
Real estate agent Billy Keane said increasing homeownership is integral to helping residents build individual wealth.
 
"The development of affordable housing is an important and crucial aspect for the community but it doesn't develop individual wealth building, which is so crucial in this economy, and our community in general," he said.
 
"Encourage homeownership, I know it sounds biased because I'm a real estate broker, but I promise you, it's integral to the development of your own individual wealth, so hopefully the city can incorporate that into its educational programs."
 
Ward 6 City Council candidate Edward Carmel advocated for separating the income brackets for low and middle come housing to serve more residents.
 
"I make $12,000 a year, and you can't help me because I make $12,000 a year, but there are other people that make 13 and 14 and they can get help, because of their income and this net," he said.
 
"I want to see a split between low and middle, I want to see a split because we have housing going on right now, no one sitting in this room can afford those apartments."
 
In the hearing, disparities in rental assistance services for non-English speaking residents were also addressed.  Reportedly, those speaking languages not used to translate city documents didn't know of their rights such as not being evicted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
Director of Community Development Deanna Ruffer said the city is doing its best to translate all city resources into a wide array of languages.
 
The last hearing will be held at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts on Wednesday, Aug. 25, at 11 a.m.
 
Residents can find more information about the ARPA on the city website and can submit feedback to ARPA@cityofpittsfield.org.

Tags: federal funds,   public hearing,   

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Berkshire Reign Basketball Team Undefeated

Community submission
PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- The Berkshire Reign travel basketball team has competed in five tournaments this fall with their most recent win at the Zero Gravity Grand Opener in Albany on Oct. 23 and 24.
 
The team remain undefeated. Berkshire Reign Basketball was created to allow local youth basketball players the opportunity to continue to play competitive basketball throughout the summer and fall and is managed and coached by Bryant Mauer and Kristy Conyers.
 
Berkshire Reign would like to thank John Felix of Northern Oak Tree Service for sponsoring uniforms for the team. For further information or interest in being a sponsor, please contact Berkshire Reign at berkshire.reign@gmail.com.
 
 
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