Councilors rebuff Mayor Tyer's revised housing rehab loan program

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PITTSFIELD — City councilors say they support the mayor's plan to give out housing rehab loans, but several couldn't get behind the funding source.

"Let's do the right thing tonight," Ward 7 Councilor Tony Simonelli said during Tuesday night's City Council meeting. "Let's safeguard this money for what it was intended for: true economic development."

At issue was whether to approve Mayor Linda Tyer's plan to use $250,000 from the General Electric Co. Economic Development Fund to start the program, which would give residents zero-interest loans to spruce up the exterior of their homes.

The measure, which required a supermajority to pass, failed six to four. Councilors Helen Moon, Pete White, John Krol, Nick Caccamo, Donna Todd Rivers and Earl Persip voting in favor.

Councilor President Pete Marchetti recused himself, while Councilors Kevin Morandi, Chris Connell, Tony Simonelli and Melissa Mazzeo voted against the measure.

Councilors took issue with several points in the original proposal considered last month, and since then Tyer made some notable changes, including making the program more equal citywide and making the loans unforgivable.

Applicants must have owned their home for at least two years under the new proposal, which also applies stricter salary restrictions.

But the funding mechanism was a sticking point for several councilors, including Councilor At Large Melissa Mazzeo, who got into a heated back and forth with Tyer late in the evening.

Mazzeo said her proposal has "a lot of holes in it." And she said the Economic Development Fund is "the wrong source."

Tyer said the proposal might not be perfect, but it could help and it's worth a shot.

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"If you do nothing, you get nothing," she told Mazzeo.

Several people spoke in favor of the measure in public comment.

One resident, Michelle Beaullieu, said she was recently putting out her recycling when her foot went through the floorboards of her porch. She's tried to keep up on the nearly 100-year-old structure, she said, but it's expensive and she's had to contend with health issues in her family.

She thanked city councilors for considering the spending.

"It's really an incredible thing that you're doing," she said.

Another resident, Jeffrey Brace, said he's seen shootings creep into his neighborhood and the housing rehab program would "improve the situation."

Alisa Costa, initiative director for Working Cities Pittsfield, said there are many in the city who would love to fix up their homes but simply don't have access to the necessary funds.

She said it's important to focus city dollars into the neighborhoods that need it most.

"We can either thrive or suffer in a neighborhood, depending on what it's like," she said.

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


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