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Great Barrington, Sheffield Awarded $803K in Block Grants


By Tammy Daniels
iBerkshires Staff
09:07PM / Friday, July 18, 2014

GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — Great Barrington and Sheffield will share $803,000 in Community Development Block Grants to upgrade housing and fund infrastructure and accessibility issues.

The announcement was made by Gov. Deval Patrick and U.S. Rep. Richard Neal outside the Housatonic Community Center on Friday afternoon as part of the awarding of $27.5 million in CDBG funds to municipalities statewide.

“Working with our federal partners over the past eight years … enabled us to award over a quarter billion dollars,” Patrick said. “Those are funds that are used to revitalize communities — from the creation of affordable housing to construction and rehabilitation of community facilities to the revitalization of downtown areas — making all our communities more attractive places to live and work and to raise a family.”

The application partnership between Great Barrington and Sheffield, facilitated by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, is the culmination of several years of master planning efforts, said Sean Stanton, vice chairman of the  Great Barrington Board of Selectmen.

“This grant builds on several years of planning investments by the town of Great Barrington and Housatonic in particular,” he said. “This type of concentrated and sustained investment is really the most effective way to eliminate blight in our community and to improve our community.

“With this grant, the low- and moderate-income homeowners in our community and in Sheffield will be able to bring their homes up to code compliance and improve their health and safety.”

Town Planner Christopher Rembold said there are three components to the grant: Housing rehabilitation, developing a stormwater infrastructure design for Front Street and the Monument Mills for bidding and engineering to make Sheffield Town Hall handicapped accessible.

“We hope to do about 15 homes, maybe eight or 10 here in Great Barrington and the balance in Sheffield,” he said.

This is the first time the towns have had a housing rehabilitation component, which is based on the successful model used in Adams, Rembold said. The need became apparent during the master planning development and surveys done with the Regional Planning Commission, which showed high home prices but owners who didn’t have income to fix their properties.

“Part of our master plan was doing our best to help these homeowners and renters so they can have good places to live.”

Patrick, noting the state’s recent 5.5 percent unemployment rate, the lowest in six years, said CDBG grants tie into his administration’s push for education, innovation and infrastructure.

“They spur the local economy because they create jobs, they create jobs in the short term but are also a platform grow over time,” the governor said. “Historically, one dollar of CDBG funds has generated an estimated $3.55 in third-party private investment.”

Neal reminded those in attendance that the program had been championed by Republican Presidents Nixon and Ford and a majority Democratic Congress as a bipartisan effort.

“The whole idea was to replace Urban Renewal and the narrow focus of Urban Renewal under the headline of what was known as ‘categorical assistance’ — the federal government would determine what the priorities were,” said the congressman.

“The genius of CBGD is it allows … you to establish those priorities. This is the best part of the federal relationship in terms of investment and monetary assistance.”

The grants don’t come easy, however, said state Department of Housing and Community Development Undersecretary Aaron Gornstein. “You’re fortunate to have gotten the awards because it is quite competitive.”

Sheffield Selectwoman Rene C. Wood said her town was appreciative of the efforts by those working on the applications and by state and federal officials.

“I’m actually hoping that we will be in collaboration with Great Barrington on other projects,” she said. “I’m already planning on an application for next year.”

Also attending were state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, Reps. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, and Paul Mark, D-Peru, and North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright, who said he is “very pleased” to have received this year’s full block grant.

North Adams received the maximum grant for a single community, $900,000, which will be used for continued renovation on the Armory community center, the demolition of vacant buildings, capital improvements, the Mary Spitzer Senior Center and historic properties plans and social services.

The program is administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and funds are distributed by DHCD to communities with populations of less than 50,000. Applications include housing rehabilitation, infrastructure repair, public facilities, neighborhood and downtown improvements and economic development loans.

Pignatelli joked that the governor should “keep bringing the money here, this is where it belongs.”

“We’re very pleased with these awards, it’s really a shot in the arm of positive energy and we’re thankful for all of these,” he said.