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Community Preservation Funds Approved for Housing Relief
By Jack Guerino, iBerkshires Staff
10:23AM / Wednesday, April 29, 2020
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Community Preservation Committee on Monday approved the use of more than $100,000 to help bolster emergency home security funds.
The Community Preservation Act, adopted by the city several years ago, allows the collection of a property tax surcharge that is partially matched by the state for preservation, recreation and housing needs.  The committee has voted to set aside $110,000 to help support households during the COVID-19 pandemic that may be just over the median income.
"I am glad the CPA has this capability," Chairman John Dickson said. "Certainly at this time when everyone is talking about different approaches if we can support what the city is doing that is meaningful."
City Planner CJ Hoss said although the committee had 18 applications in the hopper, these presentations have been paused with COVID-19 halting many governmental functions. Without being able to meet for presentations, these projects have been suspended until at least June.
Justine Dodds of Community Development Office said the city plans to use $789,382 in Community Development Block Grant funds to assist families as well as businesses, cultural organizations, and public services.This, she said, aligns with the the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
This is part of a larger $1.1 million city relief and recovery fund.
Some $119,000 of this amount will go toward rental and homeowner assistance with rent, mortgage, and utility payments. The Berkshire Regional Housing Authority will administer this portion of the program.
Dodds said these funds can only assist those who fall under the 80 percent of median income and there is no funding for those slightly above the 80 percent but below the 100 percent.
This is where the CPA funding can help. 
"We are looking for CPA funds to leverage and work with these funds to provide homeowners with assistance that may not meet those specific CDBG regulations," she said.
Executive Director of the Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority Brad Gordon said folks can apply for no more than three months of assistance and can receive a maximum of $5,000. They must prove they are Pittsfield residents, their income, and that they were able to continue payments prior to March 10. 
"They need to show that the pandemic has created significant hardship for them and they are unable to make their rent payments," he said. 
Dodds said there are already 53 names on a wait-list hoping to take advantage of the program to be rolled out in May.
"It gives you a sense of the kind of need that is out there right now," she said. 
Gordon suggested capping all similar programs at a consistent number to discourage people "shopping around." He said this would also help them stretch these dollars as far as possible.
Funds will go directly to vendors and he added that funding would be dispersed on a rolling basis.
"As people come in we will try to help them until we run out of money," he said. "I think that is the most sensible way, efficient way, and ethical way."
Gordon added that it is also important to set people up to be able to continue payments after the pandemic. Although there is a moratorium on evictions, rents and mortgage payments will eventually be due.  
"This is going to be a long term challenge and we can't just address a couple of months and not think about how the other months will be," he said." We wouldn't be doing any favors to the households."
Hoss said they added in the $10,000, or 10 percent, as a possible administration cost and expects to present the item to City Council in May. 
The committee then discussed future projects and agreed to make a decision whether just to roll funds into the next fiscal year or try to act on some priority projects.
Hoss if they were able to see presentations in June, they would be approving projects possible in September and October instead of the late summer.
There was a sense among the committee that while some projects may be off for the time being because of the pandemic, some may be helpful for the city or individual organizations. 
Hoss said the committee can "cherry pick" projects and he would reach out to applicants to see where their projects stood.
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