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Undersecretary of Housing and Community Development Aaron Gornstein noted the ‘incredible work at the local level at an announcement about the progress being made on the Highland Woods project at the Harper Center in Williamstown on Friday.

WILLIAMSTOWN -- Selectman Thomas Sheldon remembers touring the Spruces Mobile Home Park after it was ravaged by Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011.

Sheldon was acting as chairman when the storm hit, and recalled seeing people’s damaged personal possessions askew outside their homes.

"It really changed me. It really affected my perspective, my values, and interest," he said. "A lot of heartache and displacement grew out of that storm."

But out of those events came a collaboration that would ultimately create affordable housing the town desperately needs.

Sheldon joined numerous local and state officials at the Council on Aging’s Harper Center on Friday in celebrating a new prospect for former residents of the park -- a 40-unit senior housing project, to be called Highland Woods, on the end of Southworth Street.

"I spent 35 years in state government," Sheldon said, "and I can’t ever recall an undertaking as collaborative as this has been."

The collaboration took place between the town and multiple entities, including Berkshire Housing Development Corp., nonprofit Higher Ground and Williams College.

The college announced last summer it would donate four acres of land to the project, a move seen as one way to fast-track a project and have housing for when the Spruces closes in early 2016.

Project developer BHCD will receive $2.67 million from the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and was awarded $5.4 million in federal housing tax credits. Local funding comes from $2.


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6 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency money, representing a portion of a grant meant to relocate residents of Spruces, and $250,000 from the Community Preservation Fund.

Allegrone Construction of Pittsfield was selected as the general contractor for the overall $12.6 million project, BHCD President Elton Ogden said. He said there was no exact date that construction would begin, but shovels are expected to be in the ground this fall. Construction is expected to take 14 months and to coincide with the closing of the Spruces.

"We’ve come very far, very fast," Ogden told attendees.

Speakers included Higher Ground President Bilal Ansari, state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, and DHCD Undersecretary Aaron Gornstein.

Gornstein said that the community being this close to construction in such a short amount of time "is a testament to the incredible work at the local level."

"But I also know you’re not going to stop there," he said. "The need isn’t going to go away by building this one project. We know there’s a tremendous need for affordable housing for seniors in families, both in Williamstown, the region, and the state."

To reach Edward Damon:
edamon@berkshireeagle.com
or (413) 663-3741 ext 224.
On Twitter: @BE_EDamon