Pittsfield councilors want to explore other ways of funding mayor's housing loan program

Linda Tyer

PITTSFIELD — The City Council and Mayor Linda Tyer agree on one point: Helping residents repair their homes is a worthy cause.

But how to fund the would-be program has become a thorny issue.

Councilors who opposed Tyer's zero percent loan program last month — because of the proposed funding source — filed a petition to form a working group that would explore alternative funding paths. On Tuesday, the council voted to refer that request to the mayor.

Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo said the $250,000 that Tyer proposed starting with is not enough, and that councilors need to "sit down and put our heads together" about other avenues.

"The bottom line is let's figure out how to fund this type of initiative as much as we can," she said.

Tyer had proposed taking $250,000 from the General Electric Co. Economic Development Fund to launch the program, which would dole out zero-interest loans to homeowners looking to spruce up the exterior of their homes. The initiative would bolster neighborhoods falling behind, she said, and would improve the city's flagging housing stock.

Tyer made concessions on the program to appeal to councilors, but not enough councilors voted in favor of moving the money. After the vote, she urged upset residents to contact their councilors.

She maintains there is no other funding source for the program. But that's a point that Councilors Chris Connell, Tony Simonelli, Kevin Morandi and Mazzeo are looking to explore.

"I am grateful that there appears to be enthusiasm for the initiative that we put forward," Tyer said Wednesday.

But at the same time, she said, "I am frustrated that there wasn't an equal measure of compromise" from councilors.

"I'm unsure how I'm going to proceed at this point," she told The Eagle of the petition.

Ward 7 Councilor Tony Simonelli called the petition a last-ditch effort to save the program from political stalemate. Without it, he said, "it's a done issue."

"This is a way to see if we can bring it back," he said.

Ward 4 Councilor Chris Connell said the city should look into reappropriating Community Development Block Grant funding, or possibly using marijuana taxes.

"I know if we all get together, put our heads together, we can come up with other options," he said.

But some councilors, like Councilors Pete White and Earl Persip, questioned what the working group could accomplish that councilors couldn't do already.

"This council is the study group," Persip said.

But now it's up to Tyer to decide how to receive the political volley.

Tyer said she, too, feels the council itself is already equipped to work as a study group. Still, she said she would take the councilors' petition under consideration.

"It's just too important to the people in our neighborhoods to not keep working on this," she said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.