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A rendering from the presentation to the Community Development Board in 2022.

Permanent Supportive Housing Coming to Pittsfield Soon

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Berkshire Housing Development Corp. has a few projects in the pipeline and hopes to start construction soon.

This includes 28 units of permanent and supportive housing on West Housatonic St., nine permanent supportive housing units on First St., and a housing resource center.  All are supported by $6.5 million of the city's American Rescue Plan Act funds.

President and CEO Eileen Peltier also reported that Berkshire Housing has been on a journey to change its culture over the last three years.

"When I started three years ago, we did resident services mainly at our senior properties. We today provide resident services at every single one of our close to 1,000 apartments," she told the Homelessness Advisory Committee on Wednesday.

"Because we believe it's not just about getting the individual four walls and a roof. It's much beyond that. It's helping them thrive and be successful. It's making sure that their housing stays stable. So we've been through a very significant sort of cultural change in how we do our work."

She feels this has positioned the nonprofit organization to move forward with permanent supportive housing projects, which are for individuals coming directly out of homelessness.

Berkshire Housing plans to build a three-story, 28-unit building at 111 West Housatonic St. for single occupancy and another nine units on the second floor of Zion Lutheran Church's hall. These will have common spaces that will function like living rooms and the West Housatonic location will include a community office and consulting space.

Peltier explained that the organization is near closing on the 28-unit build after some backlog at the state level and hope to have it under construction by the end of the summer.

"What's called the closing, when all of the funders come in and then we start construction, is very complex and complicated, lots of lawyers, lots of financial numbers, a variety of different funders," she said.

"But we are well on our way I would say we are probably 80 percent done."

She added that this is a "relatively straightforward" project because it is new construction on flat land and is moving along well.

The First Street units and the Housing Resource Center will both be in the Zion Church space, with the center on the ground floor. This "should move really quickly once we get going," Peltier said.

"We feel like we're in a good place with that one finally," she added. "It was caught up in some of the delays at the state level but we got a real commitment that that one should close."

The national housing model recognizes that individuals need more than four walls and a roof. Peltier emphasized that people are not required to use the services offered and that "we are trying to create a community and a culture that it's not judged, it's accepted. You're more than welcome to participate in the services and we believe it can help."

Several Berkshire Housing members are participating in a months-long training for permanent supportive housing that details operations, collaboration with other agencies and organizations, and more.

"It is an expansion of our services and our approach that my team feels really good about, is excited about, and it's really moving," Peltier said.

She said the organization is more than landlords and serves people with "complex life resumes." A team of community providers has been brought together and will make a game plan for partnership when the project closes.

It was clarified that residents can stay in — or leave — the units as long as they like.

"If you remember years ago, it was all about transitional housing. Get them stabilized and then move them to another place. That totally misses the fact that many individuals who are moving out of homelessness, it's about community. A smaller apartment and maybe exactly all they ever really need," Peltier explained, adding that the idea is to get to know the people well enough to make sure that they are addressing all of the needs that they have.

Entry is considered "low barrier" but does require a criminal background check that is said to be flexible.

"We haven't established exactly how we are going to do the permanent supportive housing but it's going to be at least as flexible as what we do at Berkshire Housing," Peltier reported.

"Because the goal of this is to be low barrier and accessible and open and to understand that we're giving people that next chance where they might not receive it somewhere else."

People will access the units through coordinated entry where they are referred by a provider and provider and have a small intake appointment. A group meets every other week to review open units and people on the waitlist so they can make a match for housing.

The Housing Resource Center will start construction at the same time as the First St. units and after closing, Berkshire Housing will put out a request for proposals for the operator of the center.

Peltier also threw out the idea of an awareness campaign for people who are experiencing homelessness to inform the public and lessen the stigma, which the committee was in favor of participating in.

"This is all very exciting and we've been looking forward to the permanent supportive housing programs for so long so thank you," Chair Kim Borden said. "I think I can speak to everyone when I say we are so appreciative that there are resources for these folks that have just been missing for so long."

Director of Community Development Justine Dodds spoke in favor of changing the narrative about homelessness and being proactive about corralling some of these conversations.

Tags: Housing program,   

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Dalton Planning Board Works to Update Special Permit Fees

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff
DALTON, Mass. — The Planning Board is navigating how to update its special permit fees to bring them up to date with the current costs of services. 
During the board meeting last week, Town Planner Janko Tomasic said the cost of completing the services is higher than what it costs to take action on the application.
The current application fee charged by the Board of Appeals and the Planning Board is $375. 
This fee is intended to cover the cost of labor, time, materials, postage for the certified abutters list for abutter notification, postage for the certified mail for the notice of the decision, and two Berkshire Eagle legal advertisements for the public hearing.
"According to the data, the base cost for a permit application is barely enough to cover the cost of the application process," according to Tomasic's special-permit costs breakdown. 
Based on the last six permits, the least expensive permit is $414 to complete because of the increase in cost for the steps in the permit process.   
The flat certified mail fee for eight letters is $69.52, which covers the cost of certified mail to abutting towns, the applicant, and notice of the decision to the applicant
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