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Pittsfield City Council Approve COVID-19 CDBG Funding
By Jack Guerino, iBerkshires Staff
04:01AM / Wednesday, April 29, 2020
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The City Council on Tuesday night approved an amendment to shift CDBG funds into the COVID-19 recovery fund.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday amended its Community Development Block Grant to turn funds toward COVID-19 relief and recovery pursuits.
 
The amendment would allocate $789,382 in CDBG funds through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act toward the city’s $1.1 million relief and recovery fund. 
 
"I believe the city's economic recovery is a crucial element of our COVID-19 response," Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey said. "The administration has put together this package and what we are approving tonight is the first component." 
 
This $789,382 will be apportioned into four different categories including $119,000 for rental and homeowner assistance and $300,000 for business hardship grants.
 
Qualifying residents can receive up to three months of rent or a maximum of $5,000 per household. The program will be administered through the Berkshire Regional Housing Authority.
 
Eligible Pittsfield businesses that are in jeopardy of significant losses can apply for grants up to $10,000 to help them retain employees and adapt their business model to the pandemic.    
 
Another $190,000 will be allocated for city public service agencies and $100,000 will be allocated for cultural organization hardship grants; $80,283 will be allocated for program delivery.
 
Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell was the only vote in opposition and although he agreed with the spirit of the allocation, he felt $80,283 for project delivery was too much. 
 
"I think $80,000 is pretty excessive and I rather see that put in the rental or homeowner assistance," he said. "I rather see more money go into these other line items than administration." 
 
He suggested an amendment that would cut this amount in half.
 
Because the item came in the form of an order from Mayor Linda Tyer, it could not be amended unless the mayor agreed to the change -- which she didn’t. 
 
"I do not support the reduction. These programs that we will be administering ... are going to require a significant amount of effort on behalf of both our staff and the staff at the Berkshire Regional Housing Authority," she said. "So I believe this is a fair amount of money set aside to manage the cost of operating this program."
 
Director of Community Development Deanna Ruffer said this is typical in how they would set up any CDBG grant amount and report expenses. Also, they are actually allowed to use up to 20 percent. She said in this round they used 10 percent.
 
Connell also thought it would be more transparent to divvy up the administration costs in the individual line items instead of one fund.
 
"I don't like things just being out there in the wind," he said. "Let us put it in an actual line item."
 
The conversation then moved into grant criteria and although Community Development has yet to hash out some of the specifics such as how it will decide who gets funding and how many business or households will get it, there will be strict criteria for those who want to apply.
 
Connell had a specific question about cultural organization hardship grants and asked about application criteria.
 
"The Berkshire Museum just had a big sale of art in the past few years and I feel we have to be very specific where we are giving in terms of actual need," he said. 
 
Ruffer said any organization would have to show a need and make known other funding sources.
 
She pointed out one hiccup: The $100,000 for cultural organization hardship grants may be rolled into the business hardship grants because the CDBG money can't be used by nonprofits. 
 
She said they may have to explore other ways to assist these organizations and are in contact with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 
 
Councilor at Large Yuki Cohen abstained from the vote because of a conflict of interest. 
 
The CDBG funds only make out a portion of the $1.1 million package. The City Council is expected to accept on another $100,000 in Community Preservation Act funds for housing at a later meeting. The rest of the fund will be funded from the small business fund.
 
Ruffer said they still have some work to put in order but after HUD approval hope to roll out the program in early May. She said the city already has a list of applicants. 
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