Our Opinion: This deal is all upside


A proposal from Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity to take over the Westside Neighborhood Resource Center building is a winning one for all parties involved.

On the city's part, Pittsfield will relieve itself of some $12,000 in expenses annually, an amount the rents paid by nonprofit tenants at the center doesn't cover.

Habitat for Humanity has agreed to maintain the building as a community center rather than explore other uses. Therefore, the current tenant organizations benefit by continuing to operate as they have, without worrying that rents will rise suddenly to market levels or that a new owner will seek more profitable uses for the building -- such as rental housing.

In seeking requests for proposals concerning the former multi-family house at 314 Columbus Ave., the city included a number of specifications to ensure nonprofit tenants, including the Westside Neighborhood Resource Center Inc., organization, Berkshire Children and Families day care and Massachusetts Fair Housing Center, could remain.

The local Habitat group was the only entity submitting a proposal for the building.

Even before the City Council unanimously approved the transfer on Tuesday, it was difficult to imagine that there were better financially feasible options out there. Habitat for Humanity is perhaps unique in this context in having steady funding sources and the staffing and expertise to ensure success as the center's new owner.

"The center will stay a community-based organization," Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said earlier this month, "and the Westside Neighborhood Resource Center [nonprofit organization] will have space. I think it will be a very good situation."

The building, constructed circa 1900, contains about 2,000 square feet of floor space and should allow for additional community programming. It was purchased by the city as a vacant, four-family house in 1997. The property was rehabilitated for office and community space with $178,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding and now is assessed at $135,200.

Other than the desire to transfer the management expenses to a new owner, city officials have said cuts in federal funding provided another reason to reconsider the city's ownership. There was also the hope services to the Westside community could expand during nights and weekends under non-municipal, on-site ownership.

Habitat Executive Director Carolyn Valli told councilors Tuesday that an expansion of services with an eye toward community needs is, in fact, the plan.


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