Louison House readies for an upgrade

Louison House on Old Columbia Street in Adams has been closed since a fire in June 2016 caused about $360,000 of damage. State grants and insurance money will fund repairs as well as long-needed updates.

ADAMS — It's been more than a year since a fire forced the Louison House to shut down its Adams home.

Now, there's a plan, and more than $1 million of funding, in place to reopen the nonprofit's headquarters on Old Columbia Street in 2018.

With $867,000 from the Department of Housing and Community Development announced last month, the nonprofit will substantially renovate the 19th-century Adams home it uses to serve those struggling with homelessness, as well as make improvements to its newly acquired Flood House facility on Church Street in North Adams.

The funding was released by Gov. Charlie Baker's administration last month, and includes $250,000 from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and $617,000 from the Housing Innovations Fund program.

It comes in the form of an interest-free loan for periodic payments.

"Technically they are due in 30 years, but they can be continued," Executive Director Kathy Keeser said of the loans.

That couples with about $360,000 of the damage caused by the fire and sprinkler system, all of which was covered by insurance. However, the work forced the Louison House and its board of directors to pause and address many of the building's long-neglected needs and meet modern code requirements.

"The things that weren't damaged, but we needed done — it's almost like we were in the 19th century with a lot of our house," Keeser said.

In the wake of the June 2016 fire, the Louison House moved into the Flood House on an emergency basis and later acquired the building from the North Adams Housing Authority for $1. However, it was stipulated that the Louison House could not permanently use the building for transitional housing due to government regulations.

The work at the Adams house that is covered by insurance is nearly complete, but architectural and engineering work on the remainder is not expected to be finished until this fall.

When construction is complete sometime in 2018, the Louison House in Adams will support 22 beds of short-term transitional housing, largely for women and families. Residents in these units tend to stay for about 90 to 120 days before finding housing elsewhere, Keeser estimated.

The nonprofit served about 80 people with transitional housing in the Flood House in the past year, serving between about 12 and 20 people at a time. It regularly received more than 50 calls for service per month during that same time frame, Keeser estimated.

The Adams location will also include a one-bedroom, handicapped-accessible supportive housing apartment on the building's first floor and a one-bedroom apartment on the third floor.

The improvements to the building include a new heating system, and repairs to the roof, siding and more.

Staff offices, currently in the Flood House, also will return to the Old Columbia Street location.

In the wake of the fire, the Louison House board had to contemplate the future of the building and even had to question putting it up for auction.

"There's a piece of just keeping that relationship with Adams and seeing the need here," said Mike Goodwin, president of the board of directors, noting that having a location in North Adams allows better access to services downtown and the Adams house offers seclusion for those who need it.

The demand for transitional housing is persistent in the Northern Berkshires, according to Louison House staff and volunteers.

"There's definitely a need for both buildings," said Aleta Moncecchi, a board member. "We see so many homeless people in this area and I don't think people around here believe or understand what's really going on."

The Flood House, which requires significantly less work than the Adams location and is currently in operation, will be converted into three supportive housing apartment units.

The nonprofit raised nearly $100,000 through its "Rebuilding Hope" campaign to use as a match for the state funding.

"We're here, at this point, because of the the money the community gave us," Keeser said. "If we hadn't had the community match from raising that money after the fire, the state wouldn't have looked at us."

Keeser noted that although it has secured nearly $1 million in state money, the nonprofit is still in need of the same continued support of the community, both monetarily and in supplies ranging from food to towels.

"All of those things are still needed," Keeser said. "Even helping people move into apartments; that's costly."

Reach staff writer Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376 or @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter.