Pittsfield Community Development Board Approves Permanent Supportive Housing Project / iBerkshires.com

An artist’s rendering of the building approved Tuesday that will provide permanent supportive housing for 28 people as part of the city’s efforts to address homelessness.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Tuesday’s community development board meeting was busier than usual due to a proposal that aims to address one of the city’s biggest challenges.

The council unanimously passed a special permit application from Berkshire Housing Development Corp. to build a three-story, 28-unit apartment building at 107-111 West Housatonic St. for the homeless.

It is designated as permanent supportive housing, which combines affordable housing and supportive services to build independent living skills and connect people with health, treatment and employment resources.

“I think the important thing to know about this project is that it’s part of a comprehensive response,” said President and CEO Eileen Peltier.

“I think the residents of Pittsfield understand that homelessness is a challenge. We strongly believe and I have done significant research around the concept of permanent supportive housing. Like I said, that’s good established and it is a response that is being seriously considered and developed across the country, and certainly in Massachusetts, to respond to the increase in homelessness that we are seeing across the country.”

Each upper floor will contain 11 single occupancy apartments and six will be located on the ground floor with support spaces, office, common room and lobby.

The effort is part of a $6.5 million allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) as well as eight permanent supportive housing units on the second floor of the Lutheran Church Hall in Zion.

The virtual meeting attracted the participation of many members of the community and more than 10 spoke in favor or against the proposal.

Business owners near the Hot Dog Ranch, Ken’s Auto Upholstery, Oasis Hair Design and Hashim’s Package Store have expressed concerns about parking, loitering and water runoff.

The special permit also reduced the number of required off-street parking spaces from 42 to seven, as the population that will be living in the building generally cannot afford a car.

HDR owner Craig Benoit said he understands the need for this type of housing, but shares experiences with homeless people “accosting” clients, getting runoff water from the property and existing parking problems.

He does not believe that the seven places will be sufficient for staff and residents.

“I have a really big problem with parking. Parking is a really big problem — it’s in the city of Pittsfield, all over the city. It’s going to be a problem for me,” Benoit said. “I know I’m going to have run-off parking, and I’ve spent every day in my parking lot making sure I have enough room for my customers, and who’s going to control that?”

Ken Vosburg, the owner of Ken’s Auto Upholstery, said he had seen homeless people sleeping in customers’ cars if they weren’t locked in and had been vandalized.

“I am against this project firstly because of that, and secondly the size of the building in relation to the land you have there is very disproportionate and if there was anything else in the city that would certainly not not,” he said. said, adding concerns about rainwater runoff.

General Counsel Karen Kalinowsky also raised concerns and said she does not believe this location is suitable for the project.

Panel members, the applicant and members of the public applauded the opposition for respectfully presenting their concerns.

“I support this project. I also want to point out that I have been involved in many conversations, public conversations and projects related to housing and homelessness and have in fact never heard of it. such respect for all aspects of the issue and that every concern is handled in a professional and respectful manner,” said State Representative Tricia Farley Bouvier.

“And I really want to show my appreciation for that. Any concerns raised, whether they’re neighbors or business owners, are valid concerns. They’re made with their businesses and their own properties in mind. and I think having dialogue like this really moves the conversation forward in our community.”

The plot is on the corner of Henry Avenue and West Housatonic Street, vacant land which was donated by John Wendling.

It is proposed to manage surface stormwater runoff with shallow pond areas and swales around the building and a rain garden depression at the lower edge of the parking area. This aims to capture some of the runoff and then overflow in a manner consistent with what is currently happening on the site.

Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey joined the meeting to express his support for the project and assure voters that their concerns will be heard.

“We’ve had discussions in our community, a lot about homelessness, and a lot of what I’ve seen on different social media sites is, unfortunately, a little less empathetic and a little less caring, kind of ‘send back’ -them from us”, “Lock them up”, which is illegal”, he declared.

“And I think we need to use everything in our tool belt to help these members of our community reintegrate into society.”

Kavey said he’s fine with the plan as long as residents’ concerns about parking and stormwater are taken seriously.

“I know all along the West Housatonic corridor there’s tons of flooding because we’ve overdeveloped it. It’s a floodplain,” he added.

“So you’ve answered those questions, I don’t expect anyone to answer them, but moving forward, I really hope you’re upfront with what you’re doing, you keep the very involved community, and if any of them have a problem, at any time, you work with them and hook me up.”

Activist and Berkshire NAACP member Kamaar Taliaferro asked how people would be helped to leave the unit once they earn more than 30% of the area’s median income, which is the limit for the building.

He suggested the city consider hiring people with lived experience while it creates positions with ARPA funding to address homelessness.

“I wish I could be sharper than that, but there will likely be some unique challenges that people who rent these apartments will face,” Taliaferro said.

“And how can those of us who are in the community help address challenges that are not covered by many community partners who are focused on tenancy preservation or who are focused on housing development? “

It was clarified that if tenants exceed the AMI by 30%, they will not be evicted from their accommodation but will pay a “slightly different amount of rent”.

President Sheila Irvin acknowledged parking had been raised as a concern, advising council and the developer. She said if it becomes a bigger concern it may need to be addressed but at this stage it does not appear to be an issue due to the urban area and the nature of the people who will be living in the small apartments .

The project was well received by the board of directors.

“I support the project. I think it’s a great location for a number of reasons, not just the supermarket, there’s a pharmacy nearby, now maybe not everyone has great capacities walk, but if you had to take a taxi would be ‘it doesn’t cost you that much to take a taxi to the pharmacy,’ said member Libby Herland.

“There are sandwich shops and pizzerias very close, restaurants just across the street, there’s also Clapp Park two blocks away, so I think it’s a great location.”

Key words: affordable housing, homelessness, Planning Board,

Norma P. Rex