Dalton Select Board Sending Support Letter for Union Block Renovations
DALTON, Mass. — The Select Board unanimously voted to offer a letter of support for a state grant to develop residential units in the Union Block.
Owners Linda and Faisal Ali are applying through the Community One Stop for Growth portal for development funding to construct apartments on the top floor of the three-story Union Block and add an elevator on the east side. The cost of the undertaking is upwards of $1.2 million.
The Alis are requesting a $100,000 to $500,000 in grants. They have already secured funds from Pittsfield Cooperative Bank and plan to use the money from this and the grant to continue renovations.
The couple purchased the property in 2005 and have run it as commercialized space. According to Faisal Ali, the first and second floors generate good interest. The first floor is completely utilized and the second floor is 90 percent full with professional office space. The third floor is underutilized and the couple has been wanting renovate it into apartments for a long time.
The state officials recommended putting the request together as one proposal and recommended how they should approach this undertaking. The One Stop portal allows for applications to be considered by more than one grant program.
"I came across One Stop and Community RAM and I thought to my wife that this might be an opportunity for us to do what we have been talking about over the years," Ali said. "I filled out the initial template and I received a response back very positive from them, giving me some recommendations on how I should approach it."
The couple was advised reach out to public officials to get their support in the project. Ali said he has already spoken to state Rep. Paul Mark and state Sen. Adam Hinds, both of whom fully support the project.
There have been a number of upgrades to the building, including replacing an outdated heating system with a more cost-effective option. Each apartment will have its own central air and heat so the tenants will be responsible for utilities.
The third floor converted into six one-bedroom apartments ranging from 550 to 700 square feet of space. There are also plans to alter the ballet studio to make room for additional apartments. Rent will be $900 to $1000 not including utilities.
Ali said the average cost of a single-bedroom apartment in Pittsfield is upwards of $1,100 to $1,300 not including utilities. He said he is willing to sacrifice the higher amount for a better relationship with the tenants.
"I'm aware that what's going on with some people, they charge anywhere from $1,100 to $1,200. In some places it's $1,300. I think we could probably do well between $900 and $1000," Ali said. "One of the things we have always done with are tenants, we have many, and they are long term. Like our employees, we try to keep everybody long term. We will sacrifice the higher amount to keep people, keep it stable, keep it clean, and have good relationships that eliminates a lot of maintenance."
He plans on having an elevator installed to improve accessibility. The building has an electric chair but Ali said it is unreliable because it is constantly breaking.
It was noted by both Ali and the board that the town, like many in the country, is going through a housing crisis.
Ali also mentioned that he would be interested in renting two or three out of the six apartments to the county for public service, such as nurse and police, who are transferring in from other areas.
Board member Marc Strout said the Ali family is a great part of the community and that having this housing in the area would be very useful.
"First of all, I have no doubt in the Alis, they are very familiar in the town of Dalton and no doubt their abilities to make this is awesome. I think it goes for the betterment of the town. I think it's a great, great idea. It's a no-brainer. I recommend everybody support this," Strout said.
Chairman Joseph Diver said having enough housing for employees moving to Dalton has been an ongoing concern and that this housing is something that can contribute to the solution.
"The only comment I have is that your comment about helping with, whether it be town employees, nurses, or doctors coming to Berkshire County, is a big issue to find that affordable housing for those newer entries into the labor force or labor markets, that's a generous position," he said.
Board member John Boyle said the Ali family is a credit to the community but that he should be careful because he may run into problems with the water district.
"It sounds like a fabulous idea. And everything Ali family has always done, it's always been a credit to the community. No questions asked. I think we all agree on this," Boyle said. "One thing I would point out to Ali, perhaps he is not aware of it, is that when you combine residential property and business property, you end up with a problem with the water district.
"I'm guessing right now you're on a water meter. And when you put residential in there, then they take your whole property and make you pay on an individual unit basis including the six apartments and he count each business in there as a separate unit. And you had to pay the fee as current for a single residential unit."
The Select Board will meet again on Monday, May 23, at 7 p.m.