Pittsfield Affordable Housing Trust Hears Ins & Outs of Development

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — In its third meeting, the Affordable Housing Trust heard the ins and outs of development and how they apply to Pittsfield. 

The panel is early in its work. It met for the first time in the fall after being established by the City Council over the summer. 
Two organization leaders were invited to last week's meeting to detail their hands-on experience with affordable housing in the Berkshires. 
Matt Kropke, director of real estate development at Berkshire Housing Develop Corp., and Construct Inc.'s Development Director Leigh Davis gave insights on affordable housing projects that are completed and in progress. 
Berkshire Housing most recently completed 41 units at 330 Cole Ave. in Williamstown and 45 units Bentley Apartments in Great Barrington. 
Challenges that the nonprofit organization runs into with affordable housing include land availability, project funding complexity, and market fluctuations. 
"Once you find the developable site and figure out how you can remediate or whatever it or what it may be, the complexity of the funding is an issue altogether, its own challenge," Kropke said. 
"Most of the deals we have done in the recent history have been the Low Income Housing Tax Credit deals, which involve an inventory and usually a syndicator. We've also got banks for the construction and permanent loan. We've got the [state Department of Housing and Community Development] who administers the program." 
Combined with the legal expertise needed for the process, Kropke said all of this makes for a large amount of soft costs and are only really feasible if there are upwards of 40 apartments in the development. 
"We're having a very difficult time on these smaller projects where we come across a building that has six or eight units and it would be great to remodel or rehab and get some housing in there," he explained. 
One of the organization's upcoming developments is a 28-unit supportive housing complex on West Housatonic Street. The plan is to apply for only 4 percent tax credits on it. 
In addition, a project has to have a certain amount of development done to be awarded the tax credits.
Kropke said most of Berkshire Housing's projects are designed by the architect to an extent of about 90 percent completion before submitting a funding application. 
All of this preliminary work comes at a cost which can be a risk, he said. 
When organizations apply for funding at the state level they want to know that it is locally supported. Kropke said letters, local funding and infrastructure investment are good ways to channel that support. 
"It's absolutely critical. It's part of one of the key things [the state] looks for is local funding, local support," he explained. 
"We have to submit several letters with every application from the community and the more sort of even small private donations from foundations we try to get so it shows they want to see as much match as possible." 
It was pointed out that one-bedroom apartments in Pittsfield are going for more than $1,500 a month at market rate prices. When asked what "affordable" rent means in the city, he gave a very rough estimate of $850 to $900 a month but said it is hard to pinpoint because of all the factors that go into rent prices. 
Davis detailed Construct's newest venture: turning the Windflower Inn in Great Barrington into workforce housing. The 13-suite property was bought by the organization for $1.4 million through fundraising and will be a shared living model. 
Rent will be around $850 a month for a furnished between with shared facilities. There is a 30-day minimum stay and no maximum. 
On the property are two additional homes that will be closer to market rate and a commercial kitchen that can be rented. 
"This is an example of some of the ways that we're creating affordable housing outside of kind of the normal way of actually building it," Davis explained. "So we're repurposing an inn in this realm to create housing in kind of a co-living arrangement." 
It will primarily be used for people who are either working in Great Barrington or moving there.  
"This is a wonderful opportunity, a wonderful pilot because it's kind of a stepping stone for those that work in Great Barrington but just need — maybe they're couch surfing at the moment or they need something just to get their feet wet and then move on," Davis said, as she has heard of many industry workers couch surfing or staying in hotels. 
She said Construct works on a smaller scale than Berkshire Housing, using around 11 units, partially not to trigger zoning and building codes. 
The organization also works with multi-family units and does housing lotteries.  
Davis emphasized the importance of leveraging funds in the trust's mission. 
"The Affordable Housing Trust fund shouldn't be the sole source of revenue," she said, adding that they should have a list of sources. 
Kropke agreed and said leveraging helps developers go out and get other funds. 
"I think that is part of a good strategy," he said. "I think what you're doing is right by talking to different types of developers and different types of projects and learning about the landscape of affordable housing in Pittsfield and then making decisions based on that." 
There was supposed to be a third presentation from board member George Whaling of Teton Management but was continued because the meeting went on for about two hours. 
Whaling said he would love to get into more detail on how mobile homes can be a potential solution to affordable housing. 
Teton owns Allendale Pines mobile home park on Cheshire Road. 
"Mobile homes today are completely different than what everyone's conception is of a 1970s trailer," he said. 
"Construction is very good today, the designs are very appealing and in tune with what the market is looking for and they're still relatively affordable." 

Tags: affordable housing,   

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Pittsfield Woman Pleads Guilty to Larceny

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Heidi Kushi pleaded guilty in Superior Court for two counts of larceny and was sentenced to state prison.  
On Monday, Jan. 30, Heidi Kushi, 57 years old of Pittsfield, pleaded guilty in Superior Court for two counts of larceny by single scheme. She was indited in July of 2019. 
The defendant was sentenced to 2 to 5 years in state prison, both counts concurrent, by Judge Agostini. 
Kushi, who began working for Donovan Construction in June 2013 as their accountant/bookkeeper, stole $138,772.72 during her time at the company. From June 1, 2013, to the date she was terminated, April 27, 2018, Kushi overpaid herself totaling approximately $38,000. From 2017 the date of termination, Ms. Kushi used the Donovan Construction bank account to pay off credit cards including cards in her elderly mother's name with the defendant identified as an authorized user. 
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