Communities polishing their pitches for Community Development Block Grants

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Be on the lookout for a public hearing coming to a town near you — there potentially is millions of dollars in grants and loans available to local homeowners for rehabilitation projects, and a hearing is the first step in the application process.

In the Berkshires, and across the country, municipalities are putting together their pitches to get one of the annually awarded Community Development Block Grants. Funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and administered by state departments, Berkshire County communities received more than $3 million from the program last year.

Block grant applications are underway in Adams, North Adams and Pittsfield while Otis, Sheffield and New Marlborough banded together to file one application. These communities have held or scheduled public hearings on their grant proposals. Other towns might have plans to apply, but have not gotten as far in the process. The deadline is March 8.

Details are coming together, but the municipalities are proposing housing rehabilitation grants for low- and moderate-income residents, upgrades to affordable housing units, updating public buildings and making them more accessible to people with disabilities, and better sidewalks.

Each community will have its own income and eligibility standards for who can apply for housing rehabilitation grants and/or loans.

"CDBG is very community-oriented," said Patricia Mullins, community and economic development program manager at the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, which is helping New Marlborough, Otis and Sheffield with its application.

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"The goal is to make certain that the community, the public, understands what we're doing and giving them the opportunity to comment and be involved in the process," she said of the hearings.

Applying for a block grant is competitive among municipalities. The program is over 40 years old, and although that in the past several years presidential budget proposals have sought deep cuts to the department one year, and a slight boost the next, Congress has kept funding for the program stable.

There is a $41.2 billion operating budget for HUD this year. In 2016, HUD's budget was $37.5 billion.

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"The first priority of the program is to correct any code violation, structural and sanitary," said Otis Town Administrator Rebecca Stone. "The program covers repairing or upgrading" home projects.

Stone said that, if awarded the grant, local homeowners would be able to apply for money to fix or replace things like roofs, trim, gutters, entry doors, siding, weatherization, heating units, and electrical or plumbing work.

CDBG awards typically are announced in the middle of the summer. Soon thereafter, municipalities start accepting local applications for rehab.

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Adams is seeking $800,000 for the rehabilitation of up to eight low- to moderate-income housing units as well as improvements to Russell Field on Harmony Street that include better fields and pedestrian access. The Adams Select Board is holding a public hearing on the application at 7:10 p.m. Feb. 13, at Town Hall, 8 Park St.

North Adams is an "entitlement" community, which means the community has been selected by the state as being in particular need of housing help and is therefore entitled to a block grant. The city will hold a public hearing on its application at 6 p.m. Feb. 13, on the second floor of City Hall.

Pittsfield hasn't outlined the amount the city will seek, but knows where the money would go: housing rehabilitation, public facilities, demolition of vacant buildings, sidewalks and park improvements, among other projects. The city is holding two public hearings on the application: 5:30 p.m. Feb. 11, at Morningside Community School, 100 Burbank St.; and 5:20 p.m. Feb. 25, at Conte Community School, 200 West Union St.

New Marlborough, Otis and Sheffield have come together to pitch a regional housing rehabilitation effort that would seek to improve an as-yet-unspecified number of low- to moderate-income homes. In addition, the application is seeking money for designs to remove accessibility barriers at the Sheffield police station and restrooms at Town Park. A public hearing for the application was held in late January at Sheffield Town Hall.

Kristin Palpini can be reached at, @kristinpalpini, 413-629-4621.


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