|Mayor Tyer Reviving 'At Home in Pittsfield' Program|
|By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff |
01:05AM / Thursday, October 29, 2020
|The City Council is taking another look at Mayor Tyer's proposed housing improvement program. |
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — More than a year after it was rejected by the City Council, Mayor Linda Tyer has revived her At Home housing renovation program.
The initiative was referred on Tuesday to the subcommittee of Economic and Community Development. Tyer is asking for appropriation of $500,000 from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund for the residential Exterior Home Improvement Loan Program.
The mayor pitched this program in February 2019 to help eligible residents improve their homes. This program would will provide zero-interest loans to residents for undertaking certain home improvement projects in an effort to improve the housing stock in the city.
Tyer originally asked for $250,000 from the General Electric account to kickstart the program so that homeowners could then get loans of up to 10 percent of the appraised value after renovations or a maximum of $20,000.
This program allocated even more money for improvements made in the West Side and Morningside neighborhoods, where residents could get up to 20 percent or a maximum of $30,000.
The At Home in Pittsfield program would be in partnership with Pittsfield Cooperative Bank, Greylock Federal Credit Union, Lee Bank, and Berkshire Bank, with the lender being conduit between the applicant and the city.
That March, city councilors were supportive of the overall idea, but many didn't like the details of the program, such as how it was being funded and how it favored certain neighborhoods. They asked that the Tyer returned with a revamped program but then rejected it in April.
In May 2019, Councilors Christopher Connell, Melissa Mazzeo, Kevin Morandi, and Anthony Simonelli, all of whom voted it down, sought a resurrection by filing a joint petition calling on Tyer to organize a working group to find a different funding source. Mazzeo, who ran against Tyer for mayor that year and is no longer on the council, said at the time that the working group could not find a different funding source and that the program needed more money because $250,000 was not enough to make an impact.
This was what prompted Tyer's order that was submitted to City Council on Tuesday.
Connell, of Ward 4, explained to new council members that those who voted against the program last year were in favor of the initiative but not from the GE Economic Development Fund.
He encouraged fellow councilors to look at council rules and make sure this program meets the criteria for economic development in their minds. Last year, the argument was made that it was not economic development because it does not stimulate new jobs, he said.
Connell also voiced his opinion that the program seems like a "tax grab" because residents will be granted money to fix their homes and after the improvements are done, assessments and property taxes would go up. He said if the city really wants to help people out, they need to figure out a way to get expenses down so that property taxes will be reduced and people can afford these repairs without the program.
"We need to get expenses under control so it can benefit whole city," he said. "Not just a select few that this could cover."
Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio disagreed with Connell's statement. He said that this program is economic development because homeowners who can't afford to do repairs get them done and provide work for contractors and construction workers who are hurting during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Maffuccio also said this program would really benefit Wards 7, 2, and some of 6 and will improve housing stock in all of Pittsfield. He wants the council to see the program as improving some low-quality housing in certain areas of the city, stimulating the construction industry, and improving individuals homes to make the neighborhood more favorable.
"This is more putting more money back into our community and putting people back to work," he concluded.
The council made the motion to refer this to the subcommittee of Economic and Community Development, which will meet in early November.