Pittsfield mayor looks to help homeowners spruce up exteriors

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PITTSFIELD — Seniors with pensions that aren't keeping up, young professionals saddled with student debt and single mothers dreaming of their own home.

These are the people Mayor Linda Tyer had in mind with a new program she's looking to launch this spring. Through the program, the city would partner with local banks to give zero-interest loans for such things as roof replacements and other exterior repairs.

To finance the program — it's called At Home in Pittsfield — Tyer will ask the City Council to appropriate $250,000 from the city's Economic Development Fund, created under the city's PCB cleanup agreement with the General Electric Co. The fund began with $10 million, and there is $3,229,237 available.

An appropriation request will go on the agenda for the council's next meeting, at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the council chambers.

During a news conference Wednesday at City Hall, Tyer said the program would boost Pittsfield on multiple fronts — by supporting residents struggling with slouching housing, catalyzing neighborhood pride, and spurring economic development through construction and private investment.

"People are challenged by a lot of demands for their resources," she said. And when Pittsfield employers look to attract workers, "the quality of our housing stock is a barrier."

Tyer said the program concept has been months in the making, and it stems from one statistic: 43 percent of the city's housing stock was built before 1939. In Tyer, the statistic spurred a desire to support under-resourced residents as they work on aging exteriors.

"This program is intended to help people right now, who live right here," Tyer said.

Only owner-occupied residences would be covered under the program, including multifamily homes with no more than four units. Hopeful homeowners would apply for funding as they apply for home financing, but the city money must be applied to an exterior project.

The program would be available citywide, though residents who live outside the West Side and Morningside communities would need to refinance their home to leverage the loan.

Homeowners in the West Side and Morningside neighborhoods could receive up to 20 percent of the home's post-project value, or a maximum of $30,000. Residents outside those neighbors would be eligible for up to 10 percent of the property's value after the project, or up to $20,000.

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The program would benefit residents who make no more than $87,480 in the current year's salary. Applicants would need to be up to date on their tax payments to the city.

Lenders include Greylock Federal Credit Union, Lee Bank, Pittsfield Cooperative Bank and Berkshire Bank. Residents also could choose to apply for money directly through the city's Community Development Department. If the program moves forward, residents would apply through a lender of their choosing, and staffers in the city's Community Development Department would review project proposals to be sure the materials are not too costly and that durable materials were being used.

Organizations like Working Cities Pittsfield and Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, said Executive Director Carolyn Valli, would help connect residents to the money and stretch the city's investment in the corners of the city where it's needed most.

"We bring the knowledge of the neighborhood ... ," Valli said. "It's about relationship building."

Eligible projects would include roof replacement, window and door replacement, porch repairs or replacement, chimney repairs, siding installation and foundation repairs. The program would not cover work like landscaping, drainage projects, interior remodeling or work on a garage or shed.

Those who would borrow city money through the program would do so at zero percent interest, and with no monthly payment obligations. The loan would be due in full once the owner either moves away from or no longer owns the home.

The city also is exploring the possibility of forgiving the loans over a period of time, Tyer said.

"We are providing a pathway — a real pathway — to give more of our residents the pride in owning your own home or improving a home that they already own," she said.

The city has an existing program through which homeowners can apply for help rehabilitating their homes, but the income standards are much more strict because money is funneled through federal Community Development Block Grants.

The existing program is best used for lead paint abatement, said Justine Dodds, the city's community development and housing program manager. The funding pool is small, she said, and so there is typically a waiting list.

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


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