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Bostwick Gardens would receive $200,000 from the town through the Community Preservation Act toward a $12.4 million project that would more than double the elderly housing complex's number of units from 29 to 60.

Great Barrington to vote on array of CPA projects

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By Wednesday, Apr 26, 2017 News 15

Great Barrington — Among the impressive list of items residents will be asked to weigh in on at the May 1 annual town meeting is whether to give financial support to the expansion of Bostwick Gardens, a project that will help fill an urgent need for affordable elderly housing in Great Barrington.

If approved by voters, Bostwick Gardens would receive $200,000 from the town through the Community Preservation Act toward a $12.4 million project that would more than double the elderly housing complex’s number of units from 29 to 60.

“What’s not to like?” Town Planner Chris Rembold asked rhetorically in an Edge interview. “You have 31 units of affordable senior housing being run and managed by an organization that knows what they’re doing. It’s a great location next to the senior center, the health centers, and you could even walk to grocery store.”

Pending the balance of funding approvals, construction should begin in late 2017 or early 2018, with completion in two years. The icing on the cake is that the Bostwick development also includes a provision for the Riverfront Trail project, a nature trail extending along the west bank of the Housatonic River from Bridge Street to Brookside Road and Bostwick Gardens. Partial funding for Riverfront is also on the CPA list for May 1.

The roof on Great Barrington's historic Town Hall is in need of repair. CPA would allocate $150,00 for the work.

The roof on Great Barrington’s historic Town Hall is in need of repair. CPA would allocate $150,000 for the work.

Representatives from the Berkshire Housing Development Corporation, the original developer and manager of Bostwick Gardens, made a successful pitch to the Select Board earlier this year when they needed a special permit, and after the Community Preservation Committee made the recommendation for the $200,000 grant.

Corporation President Elton Ogden emphasized the critical need in Great Barrington for this type of housing. He recited a litany of statistics: for 25 years Bostwick Gardens, at 899 Main Street, has had a “significant waiting list” typically numbering 75 or more. During that time, however, the vacancy rate has remained well under 5 percent.

“So, if you look at the demographics, it’s only going to get worse,” Ogden told the board.

In order to be admitted to Bostwick, residents cannot be earning more than 60 percent of the area’s median income — the typical affordable housing benchmark in Massachusetts.

And the statistics get even more pressing: of Great Barrington’s growing senior population, 57 percent are low-to-moderate income; 53 percent receive SNAP, the supplemental nutrition assistance program formerly known as food stamps; 42 percent earn less than $20,000 per year; 9 percent earn under $10,000 a year.

Ogden added that the majority of Great Barrington’s housing stock was built before 1950, so most homes are two-story and difficult for the elderly to navigate as they lose mobility, necessitating the move to a single-level residence or one with elevators such as those offered at Bostwick.

Bostwick Gardens would be expanded to accommdate increased demand for senior housing.

Bostwick Gardens would be expanded to accommdate increased demand for senior housing. Photo: Terry Cowgill

The project, Ogden explained, “is very well aligned with the goals of the town’s award-winning master plan,” which prioritizes the creation of affordable housing and encourages “smart-growth” strategies.

Other sources of funding for the Bostwick Gardens project include grants from the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Trust Fund, conventional mortgage financing and a federal program of Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC). But as the Edge has reported, the future of those credits is in doubt, given the Trump administration’s desire to cut the corporate tax rate, which reduces the demand for LIHTC.

However, the use of LIHTCs for financing means the owner or operator must revert from a nonprofit to a for-profit corporation, so the Bostwick property will be put back on the tax rolls, which is great news for taxpayers, Rembold said.

For fiscal year 2017, the town’s Community Preservation Committee had about $800,000 in CPA funds to give away, though the town is not obligated to exhaust the funds in any given year. The total to be awarded this year is $668,630.

The funding of affordable housing has been a top priority for the town Community Preservation Committee since its inception in 2013. The state goal for affordable housing in towns and cities is 10 percent. Great Barrington has about 7 percent. The town’s master plan addressed the subject in 2013.

“The primary recognition of the CPC is the affordability crisis,” explained Rembold, who doubles as the CPA administrator. “To this day, after four years of working on this issue, the CPC continues to state affordable housing as our primary goal.”

The lack of affordable housing is a regional problem. In Berkshire County alone, 45 percent of renter households and 37 percent of owner households are living in homes considered unaffordable, which is defined as households paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

The state Community Preservation Act is a voluntary state law that allows municipalities to fund projects that support open space preservation, affordable housing, historic preservation and the creation of recreational resources.

The Great Barrington Historical Society's Wheeler House Museum on South Main Street. Photo: Terry Cowgill

The Great Barrington Historical Society’s Wheeler House Museum on South Main Street. Photo: Terry Cowgill

In Great Barrington’s case, applications must also be consistent with the town’s award-winning 2013 master plan. The town adopted the CPA in 2012, both through town meeting and a ballot vote, by a two-thirds majority, Rembold said.

The CPA also provides for a significant annual contribution of state funds to each participating municipality through the Massachusetts Community Preservation Trust Fund.

The state’s contribution varies but, on the local level, the CPA is funded by a three-percent property-tax surcharge on the value of residential and commercial properties above the first $100,000 of assessed value. Great Barrington expects to raise about $350,000 locally each year.

According to the Community Preservation Coalition, 172 municipalities in the state — or almost half — have adopted the CPA. Eleven out of 16 cities and towns that voted on it in November passed it. The list of municipalities that approved it last year was a hefty one that included Boston, Holyoke, Pittsfield and Springfield. Of the six towns voting against, two are in western Massachusetts: Palmer and South Hadley.

Rembold cautioned that slices of the state CPA trust fund, which is funded by real estate transfer fees, could be smaller in the future now that the state’s larger cities have joined. But both Rembold and CPA advocates are confident that the state will replenish the badly needed funds.

Berkshire Pulse, located in the historic Rubin Mill building in Housatonic, is asking for funds to upgrade an elevator to make it handicapped accessible. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Berkshire Pulse, located in the historic Rubin Mill building in Housatonic, is asking for funds to upgrade an elevator to make it handicapped accessible. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Reactions across the state to the CPA have been largely positive. Rembold said receiving a CPA grant is “a big show of support for other funding agencies. [The recipient] can say, ‘The town supports us,’ and they can leverage support from private donors as well.”

With little evidence, some conservatives have postulated that the CPA is merely a workaround for Proposition 2½, a 1980 ballot initiative that limited municipal tax levies, with some statutory and override exceptions, to increases of 2½ percent a year.

On the other side of the political spectrum, former Boston City Councilor Lawrence S. DiCara, a well-known progressive, argued more than a year ago in CommonWealth magazine that Prop 2½ widened income equality in the state and that the CPA actually made it worse.

For obvious reasons, wealthy towns are more likely to pass Prop 2½ overrides and/or the CPA. Those already well-to-do communities then have more tax revenue for improvement, while poorer communities continue to languish, DiCara’s thinking goes.

“The Massachusetts Community Preservation Act only adds to the inequality fueled by Proposition 2½,” DiCara wrote. “Residents from every municipality pay into the fund through the use of the Registry of Deeds, but only the affluent communities that are able to adopt these tax increases are eligible to receive these matching grants from the state.”

However, since DiCara’s article was published, the aforementioned Boston, Holyoke, Pittsfield and Springfield — hardly well-to-do — have embraced the CPA.

 

CPA funds would also underwrite improved access to Lake Mansfield Recreation Area. Photo: Terry Cowgill

CPA funds would also underwrite improved access to Lake Mansfield Recreation Area. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Other CPA projects up for approval at the May 1 Great Barrington annual town meeting include:

  • $50,000 to the town to establish and Affordable Housing Trust Fund. At a special town meeting in January, voters approved the creation of a Municipal Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which will fund and implement projects meeting the affordable housing needs of the town. This CPA grant of funds would be the first money appropriated into the fund. Other funds could include grants, gifts and donations, or other appropriations.
  • $30,000 to Berkshire Pulse to retrofit the existing freight elevator in order to bring it into compliance as a handicapped-accessible passenger elevator. Berkshire Pulse’s home, in a former mill building in Housatonic, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Pulse, a nonprofit dance education center, serves more than 600 youth and adult community members each year and is on the third floor and is accessible only by a steep staircase. Pulse has a long term lease, and the elevator accessibility upgrades are required by code in order to continue using the space. The project costs approximately $161,000, and funding is already in place from other sources. CPA funds make up only about 18 percent of the total budget.
  • $150,000 to the town for a Town Hall repair project. The roof at Town Hall is in urgent need of replacement. Water infiltration during heavy rains and snow melt is leading to rot and moisture issues. The roof and cornices need complete replacement. Town officials say both the structure of the building and its distinctive historic features are in jeopardy. The project is estimated to cost $250,000, and the Town has applied for $100,000 in state grants.
  • $41,230 to the Berkshire Natural Resources Council Thomas and Palmer Preserve Access Project for hiking trails, improved parking and accessibility to the public.
  • $58,000 to the Great Barrington Land Conservancy to complete survey and design work for a proposed Riverfront Trail extending along the west bank of the Housatonic River from Bridge Street to Brookside Road in Great Barrington.
  • $106,400 to the town for the Lake Mansfield Comprehensive Improvements Plan to fund the engineering and design documents that will allow the town to determine how best to design the road.
  • $33,000 to the Great Barrington Historical Society for the improved accessibility to the Wheeler House Museum.

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15 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Patrick Fennell says:

    Recently in this blog people were complaining about cuts to the senior lunch program. The CPA is filled with luxury projects and in the past CPA recipients have let the taxpayers down badly like Monument Mountain and Bridge Street. Apparently it is alright for the locals to starve senior citizens but not alright for the feds to.

  2. Tom Blauvelt says:

    Hi Patrick,
    As the current Chair of our town’s Community Preservation Committee I couldn’t disagree more with your point of view. Preserving historic properties, creating open recreational space and building affordable housing are not in my view luxuries. Rather they are investments in our community. The voters in their wisdom adopted the CPA in 2012 and since then many projects have been funded and completed. These projects benefit everyone. I am not sure how you connect cuts to the senior lunch program to the CPA.

    1. Patrick Fennell says:

      I am going to go out on a limb and say a hungry kid or elderly person would rather have a tuna fish sandwich than learn to dance at Pulse or walk a nature trail. We have been taken advantage of too often like Monument Moutain Reservation and 100 Bridge Street.

  3. Steve Farina says:

    After reading his article, it is my thought that Dicara is not wrong in his assessment of the growing disparities.

    1. Patrick Fennell says:

      The Registry of Deeds can not keep up with the ‘matching funds’. A great deal of the state money comes out of the general fund and to pay for a nature trail money is taken from say ‘Meals on Wheels’, and school transportation costs.

      1. Tom Blauvelt says:

        Hi Patrick,
        Spreading disinformation is unworthy of you. CPA funds come from primarily from two sources: fees collected by the Registry of Deeds for real estate transactions and a local property tax surcharge from 1% to 3% depending on what the community adopted. As more and more communities adopted the CPA, Governor Patrick signed legislation that allowed the state to add extra money to the CPA Trust Fund only when the state budget has a surplus. No money comes from the general fund.

      2. Patrick Fennell says:

        MA has no surplis money thus lack of school transportation and road and bridge repair money. The brown bridge for example.

  4. John says:

    Property taxes are slated to go waaaaaaay up in GB. That alone drivers seniors out of their houses and the need for government housing goes up yet more….

    Some of these project listed are just out of line. Sorry, an elevator for a private ‘non profit’ dance club does not fit.
    While I think a riverfront trail is very nice, no need to spend more seniors Social Security checks on this. If 200 people can show up for a riverfront cleanup, they can show up to build a trail too for less than 58,000.(that is a lot of meals for seniors isn’t it?) and 41,000 for improved parking and trails? Boondoggle!!!!
    Leaky roof? Now that’s worthy and fix it!!!

    1. Ellen Lahr says:

      John, the Rubin Mill building in Housatonic is the only mill in the village whose owners have invested in its renovation and preservation as a commercial space that is now home to nine business, five of whom share a co-workspace on the second floor. Berkshire Pulse is the most public of these but the local business impact of those working in the building is substantial. The elevator there will improve access to all businesses there and is a long overdue financial investment in the business life and infrastructure of the village. Housatonic rarely benefits from CPA funds and this is an excellent use of those funds.

      1. John says:

        Ellen
        Yes it is great the one of the mill buildings is now being used. However, upgrades should not be off the taxpayer wallet. If a new elevator is desired, it should be a capital improvement project by the owner. If the taxpayers are expected to pay for building upgrades, where does it stop?? New roof, new fire escape, new windows, then repeat for the other buildings up there? No, taxpayers should not be on the hook for the mill maintenance/improvements/code compliance.

  5. lolacola says:

    $106K to determine how best to design the road at Lake Mansfield? Haven’t they already been round and round with that one. There is
    no possible way to make the road wider unless you go into the land on the other side (which isn’t going to happen) Now we need to dish
    out this money to pay an engineer to tell us what we already know. Is there a way to make another road on the other side of the lake? It’s been so long since I have been up there, I believe there is a road off of Castle Hill Ave on the other side of the lake, I see houses across the lake.

    1. John says:

      It’s a boondoggle… I’m suprised they don’t try to fund a study to study the study for high speed rail around lake Mansfield…..

      1. Tom Blauvelt says:

        John and lolacola,
        More then half of the requested $106,000 is to be used to design an outlet control system to help prevent flooding onto the road . The balance of the request is broken down into two tasks primarily to do test borings along 2300 linear feet of the road to evaluate the subgrade conditions , perform wetland delineations, identify proposed locations for drainage and storm water improvements and prepare preliminary design drawings and permitting requirements. You can read the entire application on the town’s website. Hopes this helps to clarify any misunderstanding you may have about this funding request.

      2. Steve Farina says:

        Hi Tom,
        Shouldn’t that be highway dept funding, not CPA? Please inform me if I am wrong, but I don’t see how that fits:
        “The state Community Preservation Act is a voluntary state law that allows municipalities to fund projects that support open space preservation, affordable housing, historic preservation and the creation of recreational resources.”
        You are talking about road improvements, not really open space preservation.
        For $106,000 we could almost create another affordable housing unit….

  6. Tom Blauvelt says:

    Hello Steve,
    Excellent question. The application meets the requirements for CPA funding under the open space and recreation category as it seeks to protect wetland, lake and pond frontage and create additional greenways and prevents further injury harm or destruction. Hopefully the voters will see the value of this project at our Town Meeting tomorrow night.

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