Gov. Deval Patrick praises Pittsfield for being at the forefront of affordable housing in the state on Friday at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Rice
Gov. Deval Patrick praises Pittsfield for being at the forefront of affordable housing in the state on Friday at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Rice Silk Mill apartments. (Stephanie Zollshan / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
Saturday October 20, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Gov. Deval L. Patrick on Friday praised Pittsfield for being in the forefront in fostering affordable housing as part of economic development in Massachusetts.

"Just as we encourage communities to create jobs, we also need to plan where the workers will live," he said, citing the recently completed Rice Silk Mill apartments along Spring Street

Patrick's accolades came during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the 45-unit complex in the Morn ingside neighborhood.

While construction began last October, the city began working with the developer and the state nearly three years ago to help convert the 133-year-old former A.H. Rice Silk Mill facility into affordable rental units.

City planners approved the $15 million project in May 2009, but it took the developer another two years to secure $11 million in state and federal historic tax credits toward funding the project. The state also awarded other grants to help fund the housing complex, including the $306,000 Pittsfield spent to upgrade the city's water, sewer connections and sidewalks along Spring, Cherry, Willow and Burbank streets.

The one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments will benefit working individuals and families who meet state and federal income guidelines.

"One thing we hear most across the state, especially from small businesses, is make sure we have housing for those with livable wages," Patrick told reporters after the event.

The first nine tenants have already moved in, with another 12 units to be leased by Nov. 1, according the Berkshire Hous ing Development Corp. BHDC is managing the rental housing on behalf of project's Boston-based developer, Rees-Larkin Development.

The rents are $750 for a one-bedroom unit, $900 for two bedrooms, and $1,150 for a three-bedroom apartment, ac cording to BHDC officials.

Aside from the affordability, Norma Santos said she appreciates the amenities that go along with her two-bedroom apartment.

"We have a laundry room, gym and community room," said the mother of two young boys. "It's awesome."

Tenant Bob Austen said he's impressed with how the project has helped spruce up the neighborhood.

"The gardens, the landscaping, it's like having a condo for us," he said.

While several small, non-historic structures were razed for the creation of a courtyard and more green space, the developer has fully restored the main building.

The architectural team of Chelsea and Keith Con struction from Stoughton were hired to refurbish the mill, last operated as a factory nearly seven years ago. The previous owner, Jim Miller, moved the manufacturing operation at the Spring Street mill to his plant in South Carolina in December 2005.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said the Rice Silk Mill apartments will do wonders toward revitalizing the Morningside area.

"So much of the site has been preserved and re-used in a smart way." said Bianchi.

Jon Rudzinski of Rees-Larkin Development praised Pittsfield for taking advantage of state incentive that encourage cities to promote affordable housing projects.

"The city has been smart enough and aggressive enough to jump on what the state has to offer," Rudzinski said.

Patrick pointed to Pittsfield being the first municipality to back downtown housing project under the state's newly created Housing Development Incentive Program. Under HDIP, Allegrone Construction Co. Inc. will create a total of 39 market-rate apartments in the upper two floors of the vacant Howard and Onota buildings. The $11.7 million project is expected to get under way by year's end, starting with the renovation of Howard at 124-132 Fenn St. Renovation of Onota is slated to start next summer, according to Alleg rone officials.

Renovating the Howard building has a 10-month construction scheduled, setting the stage for another ribbon-cutting ceremony next fall.

"Governor, you're going to be back, because we have more great projects here," said state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.