Tyer opens housing program planning group to councilors

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PITTSFIELD — A housing loan program that failed to clear City Council could yet see the light of day.

In response to pushback from city councilors, Mayor Linda Tyer opened a planning group for the initiative to two city councilors and another member of her administration, she told councilors in a letter presented during their meeting on Tuesday.

Councilors behind the petition to start a working group previously described it as a last-ditch effort to save the initiative, called At Home in Pittsfield, which residents had latched on to. The council bucked the mayor's proposal to fund the program last month, with several councilors zeroing in on the funding source.

Tyer had originally proposed taking $250,000 from the General Electric Co. Economic Development Fund to fuel the zero-interest loan program, but too few councilors agreed the initiative was an appropriate use of those funds.

"It is my understanding, and with great relief, that the City Council agrees with the structure of the program," Tyer said in her letter to councilors. "Unfortunately, there are differences of opinion on the use of economic development funds."

Rather than starting a new working group — as suggested in a petition filed earlier this month by Councilor At Large Melissa Mazzeo, Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi, Ward 4 Councilor Chris Connell and Ward 7 Councilor Tony Simonelli — Tyer folded councilors into an existing one.

She invited two councilors of her choosing, Morandi and Pete White, to join a group she's leaned on in developing the program so far. Members include Community Development Director Deanna Ruffer, community advocates Carolyn Valli and Alisa Costa, as well as representatives from banks planning to participate in the program.

Alongside councilors, Tyer also expanded the group to include Finance Director Matt Kerwood.

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"If we are going to find a funding solution that we can all be proud of then it is essential that the original planners be part of the next level of review," she wrote to councilors.

New members join the group for the purpose of exploring alternative funding sources for the housing loan program.

"I am confident that there will be serious deliberations and a sincere willingness to find a solution," Tyer said.

The mayor's move was well-received by at least one councilor.

"I'm glad that we've got this study group going," Mazzeo said Tuesday, noting she hopes to add her input at some point.

Costa, initiative director for Working Cities Pittsfield, said she's happy to see councilors join the effort toward a solution.

"I will take any help that we can get to find funding for this program," she said. "I'm thrilled that the councilors will be helping us in this effort. The neighborhoods really need it."

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


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