Pittsfield Community Development Board authorizes special permit for new permanent supportive housing for homeless city residents

Mayor Linda Tyer announced in July that Pittsfield would invest $6.5 million in federal COVID-19 funding into new permanent supportive housing and a housing resource center. As originally proposed, the plan called for the construction of 37 housing units on West Housatonic Street. On Tuesday evening, the Community Development Board held a public hearing on a scaled-down version of the project.

“West Housatonic Apartments is offered as 28-unit permanent supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness. And I will say that the definition of homeless is somewhat complicated, but the main thing to know is that they are homeless people and they cannot earn more than 30% of the median income of the region,” said said Eileen Peltier, president and CEO of the Berkshire Housing Development Corporation. Berkshire Housing has been around for about 50 years. We are developers of affordable housing. We manage these accommodations. We administer approximately 650 Section 8 apartment vouchers in the Berkshires. We have over 900 apartments in the Berkshires. We provide services to residents. our residents. »

The land at 107-111 West Housatonic Street was donated to Berkshire Housing specifically to meet the needs of homeless people in Pittsfield.

“West Housatonic is not a haven,” Peltier said. “It’s not transitional housing. It’s permanent housing. Thus, permanent supportive housing is a well-established and proven intervention that combines affordable housing and support services to meet the needs of homeless people. The services are designed to develop independent living and rental skills and connect people to community health services, treatment services and employment.

Some business owners adjacent to the site have expressed opposition to the plan, including Ken Vosburgh of Ken’s Auto Upholstering Co at 105 West Housatonic.

“I’m third generation, we’ve been here since 1951,” he said. “I very often have homeless people sleeping in cars if they’re not locked up, customer cars. All kinds of things have been vandalized there.

General Councilor Karen Kalinowsky raised not only her own issues with the project, but those of her mother as well.

“She’s afraid of being accosted by people begging for money when she’s out,” she said. “People walking through his yard, people hanging around his yard.”

Kalinowsky expressed doubts about the proposed number of parking lots allocated to the project.

“I know homeless people who have lived in their cars,” she says. “Are you going to separate people who have cars so they can’t live in this facility?” And since this is permanent housing, don’t you expect these people to, you know, build themselves, get a job, and buy a vehicle? And since it’s permanent housing, they could continue to live there, and how are you going to allow these people to have cars when you only have seven places?

Berkshire Housing property development manager Matt Kropke addressed those concerns.

“One of the most similar properties we have in our portfolio is the Pittsfield YMCA,” he said. “It’s 44 units, mostly at the same income level, the 30% [average median income], but there are also 11 units there that are a bit higher and go up to 50% and 60% AMI. Of all the 44 residents of this site, there are no automobiles associated with these tenants. What we have found with well-located sites near the city center, there is not nearly the demand for cars and parking among residents. Now we want to allow some of them, and that’s why we’re offering all seven.”

Kalinowsky had other concerns about permanent housing for Pittsfield’s homeless.

“Not all but many of our homeless people have addiction issues,” the councilman said. “Are we going to have about 25 people with addiction issues who aren’t getting treatment living in this building?”

“This is a building where there are sure to be people with substance use disorder, just like there are in many homes across the United States on every street. And you know, substance use disorder is not unique to homeless people,” Peltier replied. and it’s part of a permanent supportive housing model. It creates a community. There are common areas. These people will hopefully take advantage of the day shelter on First Street where there will be additional services.

Part of Pittsfield’s plan is to use federal relief funds to turn the first floor of Zion Lutheran Church on First Street into a housing resource center with laundry services, computer access, boxes letters, showers, etc.

Council unanimously approved the special permit request, noting that some neighbors have expressed concerns about parking.

The next hurdle facing the new West Housatonic Street permanent supportive housing project is approval from the Conservation Commission, which is meeting tonight.

Norma P. Rex