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Importance of CDBG Funds Highlighted At Pittsfield Hearing
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
02:08PM / Friday, March 01, 2024
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. The need for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding is increasing but the budget is not.

On Wednesday, the city hosted a hearing for the Fiscal Year 2025 Annual Action Plan and input on fair housing.  Many expressed gratitude for CDBG funding and emphasized its importance.

Rosalind Kopfstein, chair of the Human Services Advisory Council, has been frustrated to see the number fluctuate over the years. She said it was "very very low" at this point.

"The frustration is you give us the full amount that you're allowed to from the federal fund, but there's so many worthy organizations that really need more funding," she said.

"So I keep on begging the city council members and mayors to provide more funding and hopefully we'll find a way to do that for all the wonderful organizations that are eligible and apply and receive funding from us."

The city gets just over a million dollars a year in this federal funding, and it is dispersed to projects involving public facilities, public services, housing rehabilitation and demolition, and economic development.

"Our funding budget for last year was just about $1.3 million so it fluctuates from year to year," Community Development and Housing Program Manager Nate Joyner explained.

"It usually goes down, doesn't go up too much."

In fiscal year 2023, CDBG funds largely went to public facilities (34 percent) and housing rehab and demos (33 percent.)  In fiscal 2024, 43 percent went to housing rehab and demos and 24 went to public facilities.

Past allotments include support to 15 nonprofit agencies, the rehabilitation of 11 housing units, nine technical assistance grants to businesses, and support for creating the ServiceNet shelter on Fenn Street.

The new 40-bed shelter at 21 Pearl St. opened earlier this year and includes three dorms with bunk beds and en suite bathrooms, two recreation rooms, handicapped restrooms, and a laundry room.

"I just wanted to join tonight to thank you for the support that you provide not just in the funding but also in the advocacy that you provide for the accessibility of our public spaces. We think that this work is important for removing our structural barriers, both physical and cultural," Library Director Alex Reczkowski said.

"At the Berkshire Atheneum, we appreciate the work that you've done to set an example for us and we've benefited from previous advocacy in conjunction with the Commission on Disabilities and we hope to continue making improvements to the library to be as open and accessible as possible."

Mary Jane Dunlop, the community liaison between the Berkshire County Board of Realtors and the city, said that this is important work.

CDBG is a federal funding program intended to provide decent, safe, and sanitary housing; provide a suitable living environment; and expand economic opportunities that primarily benefit low and moderate-income people.

A minimum of 70 percent must benefit low to moderate-income populations and a maximum of 30 percent can be used to address conditions of slum and blight.

Nationally, the objectives are to benefit low to moderate-income persons, prevent or eliminate conditions of slum and blight, and meet an urgent need in the community that threatens the wealth and welfare of residents and does not have other funding sources.

Pittsfield has been participating in the program for about 50 years. Eligible neighborhoods primarily have 51 percent or more of the population making less than 80 percent of the median area income.

The Human Services Advisory Council, which manages the grant program for human service providers, is in the process of reviewing the current year's proposals.

Council President Pete White, who also sits on the advisory panel, said that he looks forward to seeing this year's report.

The city is also seeking input on access to fair housing which does not illegally discriminate based on race, religion, sex, children, or disability.

Sally English, Executive Director of the AdLib Center for Independent Living, highlighted the need for increases in housing accessibility and affordability.

"The housing crisis is really hitting hard," she said.

"It's causing issues in the workforce, it's causing problems for many of our consumers to be able to live in the community, and right now, we even have at least 32 consumers that are trying to get out of nursing homes and the primary barrier is finding accessible affordable housing so I think that's a really great need."

She also suggested the creation of more "adaptable housing," or units that can be adapted for people of different abilities.

"Having units that are able to be adapted to be accessible for people that maybe don't need full wheelchair access, that maybe need a first floor, maybe handrails or other features that are easy to adapt without being fully modified," she added.

"So I'd say that's something to be considered for this funding source as you're looking at different projects in the future."

Public input will be used to make a draft Annual Action Plan that will be available for the public on April 22 and on April 23, the plan will go to the City Council.  From then until May 23 will be the public comment period and a public hearing with a council subcommittee will be held on May 13.



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