Pittsfield Community Development Board OKs Permanent Supportive Housing Project
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Tuesday's Community Development Board meeting was busier than usual due to a proposal that aims to address one of the city's most prominent challenges.
The board unanimously passed a special permit request from Berkshire Housing Development Corp. to build a three-story, 28-unit building at 107-111 West Housatonic St. for homeless individuals.
It is designated as permanent supportive housing, which combines affordable housing and support services to build independent living skills and connect people with health, treatment, and employment resources.
"I think the important thing to know about this project is that it is part of a comprehensive response," President and CEO Eileen Peltier said.
"I think that residents of Pittsfield understand that homelessness is a challenge. We firmly believe and I've done significant research around the concept of permanent supportive housing. As I said, it's well established and it is a response that is being considered and developed in earnest across the country, and certainly in Massachusetts, to respond to the increasing homelessness that we're seeing across the country."
Each upper floor will contain 11 single-occupancy apartments and six will be located on the ground floor along with support spaces, an office, a common room, and a lobby.
The effort is part of a $6.5 million American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocation along with eight units of permanent supportive housing on the second floor of Zion Lutheran Church's hall.
The virtual meeting garnered participation from many community members and more than 10 spoke either in support of or against the proposal.
Nearby business owners from the Hot Dog Ranch, Ken's Auto Upholstery, Oasis Hair Design, and Hashim's Package Store expressed concerns about parking, loitering, and water runoff.
The special permit also reduced the required off-street parking spaces from 42 to seven because the population that will be living in the building generally cannot afford cars.
HDR owner Craig Benoit said he understands the need for that type of housing but shared experiences with homeless individuals "accosting" customers, getting water runoff from the property, and existing parking issues.
He does not believe that the seven spaces will be enough for staff and residents.
"I have a very big problem with parking. Parking is a very big issue -- it is in the city of Pittsfield, all around the city. It's going to be an issue for me," Benoit said. "I know I'm going to get the runoff parking, and I have spent every day in my parking lot, making sure that I have enough room for my customers, and who's going to police that?"
Ken Vosburg, the owner of Ken's Auto Upholstery, said he has experienced homeless people sleeping in customers' cars if they are not locked up and has experienced vandalism.
"I'm against this project first of all because of that, and secondly, the size of the building to the lot that you have there is very unproportional and if it were anything else in the city that definitely wouldn't go," he said, adding concerns about rainwater runoff.
Councilor at Large Karen Kalinowsky also presented concerns and said she does not believe this location is right for the project.
Members of the board, the applicant, and members of the public applauded the opposition for their respect in presenting their concerns.
"I am chiming in with my support for this project. I also want to make an observation that I have been part of many conversations, public conversations, and projects related to housing and homelessness and I actually have never heard one that has been held with such respect for all sides of the issue and having each concern addressed in a professional and respectful way," state Rep. Tricia Farley Bouvier said.
"And I just very much want to show my appreciation for that. Every concern that, whether they're neighbors or business owners, have brought up are valid concerns. They are made with their businesses and their own properties in mind and I think having a dialogue like this truly advances the conversation in our community."
The parcel is at the corner of Henry Avenue and West Housatonic Street, a vacant lot that was donated by John Wendling.
Storm water runoff is proposed to be managed at the ground surface with shallow ponding areas and swales around the building and a rain garden depression off the lower edge of the parking area. This is aimed to capture a portion of the runoff and then overflow in a manner that is consistent with what happens at the location currently.
Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey joined the meeting to voice support for the project and assure constituents that their concerns will be heard.
"We've been having discussions in our community, a lot about homelessness, and a lot of what I've seen on different social media sites is, unfortunately, a little less empathetic and a little less caring, kind of 'send them away from us,' 'Lock them up,' which is illegal," he said.
"And I think that we need to be using everything in our tool belt in order to help these members of our community integrate back into society."
Kavey said that he is OK with the plan as long as the residents' concerns about parking and storm water are taken seriously.
"I know all through the West Housatonic corridor there is tons of flooding because we've overdeveloped it. It's a floodplain," he added.
"So you have addressed those questions I don't expect anyone to respond to that, but moving forward, I just really hope that you are forthright with what you're doing, you keep the community very involved, and if any of them have any concerns at any point you work with them on them and you loop me in."
Activist and Berkshire NAACP member Kamaar Taliaferro asked how people will be assisted in transitioning out of the unit once they are earning above 30 percent of the area median income, which is the limit for the building.
He suggested the city consider hiring people with lived experience while it is creating positions with ARPA funding to address homelessness.
"I wish I could be more pointed than this but there probably are going to be particular challenges that people who rent these apartments face," Taliaferro said.
"And how can those of us who are in the community help address challenges that aren't covered by a lot of the community partners who focus on preserving tenancy or who focus on developing housing?"
It was clarified that if the tenants go above the 30 percent AMI, they will not be removed from their unit but will pay a "slightly different amount of rent."
Chair Sheila Irvin recognized that parking was brought up as a concern, making the board and developer aware of it. She said that if it becomes a greater concern, it may have to be addressed but at this point, it doesn't seem to be a problem because of the urban area and the nature of the people who will live in the small apartments.
The project was well received by the board.
"I support the project. I think it's a great location for a number of reasons, not only the supermarket, there's a drug store that is close by, now maybe not everybody has great walking abilities but if you had to take the taxi wouldn't cost you that much to take the taxi to get to the drugstore," member Libby Herland said.
"There are sandwich shops and pizza places that are very close by, restaurants right across the street, also there's Clapp Park two blocks away so I think it's a great location."
Tags: affordable housing, homeless, Planning Board,