BRPC and County Selectmen hear about Baker-Polito plans for ARPA funds / iBerkshires.com
Ashely Stolba, Undersecretary for Community Development in the Executive Office for Housing and Economic Development, speaks at the annual meeting of the BRPC and the Berkshire County Selectmen’s Association.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. – State officials have heard the same refrain from small businesses and local Massachusetts officials: housing shortages, high housing costs, and labor shortages.
“I heard the same issues in Cape Town as in the Berkshires, in the middle of the state in Lowell, in Salem,” said Community Development Undersecretary Ashley Stolba at the annual regional planning commission meeting from Berkshire. “Everywhere we went, we heard so many of the same issues. “
Stolba was the guest speaker on economic recovery at Thursday’s annual meeting held in conjunction with the Berkshire County Selectman’s Association.
The meeting was held virtually this year and took a hiatus last year, both due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has hit cities and businesses hard over the past year and a half.
The tour aimed to promote the administration’s Bill H.3922, a law relating to the immediate recovery of Covid, which was referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means.
The bill proposes an immediate disbursement of $ 2.915 billion of the $ 5.3 billion the state has allocated to federal funds under the American Rescue Plan Act to support key priorities, including housing and home ownership. property, economic development and local town centers, vocational training and workforce development, health care and infrastructure.
It would allocate $ 1 billion for home ownership and housing production, $ 900 million for infrastructure investments, $ 350 million for downtown development and vocational training programs, $ 240 million $ 225 million for workforce development and skills training programs, $ 225 million for health care, $ 100 million for tourism and cultural facilities, and $ 100 million for increased broadband access.
“What we hope to do to expand the existing programs that we already have,” Stolba said. “It would make the upfront spending a bit easier because we would be using programs that we know work and people already love. “
Housing Allowances include $ 300 million in assistance to first-time homebuyers, $ 200 million to the Commonwealth Builder Program to help communities of color build wealth through homeownership, $ 200 million to fund 2,400 rental units and $ 300 million for senior and supportive housing with the goal of creating 3,600 units.
But Sheffield deputy Rene Wood questioned whether small towns would see any benefit in these programs.
“We have so few homes for sale and no one who is still working can afford them,” she said. “We’re inundated with New Yorkers, nothing against them, but this program while it’s wonderful I don’t think it’s going to help anyone in our community, I hope I’m wrong.”
Windsor delegate Douglas McNally said broadband caused his community to sell their homes.
“Basically what has been going on for years, we had homes on the market, but we built our own broadband network and the minute broadband was available, every home that was on the market s ‘is sold above asking price and at the moment the City of Windsor market lasts less than three days, ”he said.
“The problem is, small towns like Windsor, where we have zoning because everything is fine water and septic tank, etc., so you can’t put in apartments.”
The city of Mount Washington is reportedly experiencing an Airbnb issue in which people build homes and install small unlicensed apartments to rent through the online company.
Lanesborough delegate Barb Davis-Hassan said the rental market had been “absorbed into the Airbnb market”.
In Stockbridge, the city struggles to provide affordable housing as it has a minimum zoning of four acres.
The Workforce Development proposal would allocate $ 150 million to workforce credentials for entry-level and mid-level salaries, $ 35 million to fund English language programs for speakers of other languages and adult basic education, and $ 25 million for work preparation and essential skills programs.
Mount Washington replacement James Lovejoy explained that very small towns struggle to have staff to manage grants, which makes annual funding such as state Chapter 90 favorable.
Andrew Hogeland of Williamstown, of the Berkshire County Selectmen’s Association, urged the administration to incorporate a lot of flexibility into these programs because of the varying sizes of communities in the state with varying needs.
“I want to make sure that there are fundraising programs that really appeal to a lot of small towns, because especially given where we are, among the four western counties,” he said. declared.
“There are a lot of very small towns, and they just can’t take advantage of these programs, so the more the designers of these programs keep those communities in mind, I think we appreciate that a lot.”
During this meeting, the Kusik Award named after the late Charles Kusik was presented to the Berkshire Vaccine Collaborative and the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund for Berkshire County for providing vital services to the county throughout the pandemic of COVID-19.
The Berkshire Vaccine Collaborative was responsible for around 90,000 vaccinations from January to June at three sites in northern, central and southern Berkshire County.
Amalio Jusino, a member of the Northern Berkshire Contingency Planning Committee, and Lia Spiliotes, Executive Director of Community Health Programs, accepted the award on behalf of the vaccine collaboration.
“In my many years of emergency management, I have never worked with such a great group of accomplished professionals,” Jusino said of the collaboration. “Their commitment, passion, dedication, empathy and willingness to heal the world from this small place in Massachusetts was and continues to be unmatched.”
Spiliotes said the collaboration was able to reach people at vaccination sites and from mobile health units that have been deployed in the community for greater accessibility.
“We were able to do things on two fronts: one was that we could get people to the three places and make it easier for them and help them, but we were also able to withdraw the vaccines in the first four months that the vaccines were available, we have done about 5,000 vaccines on the mHealth unit and we continue to do vaccines on the mHealth unit, and in a year from this month we will have a fleet of three units of mobile health, ”she said.
“We hope that we can use what we have to complement all of the other Berkshire County health agencies and healthcare providers who work so hard together, and that we can do something to really complement them and help them provide because at the end of the day, the people who are important to us, the people who are important to us, have great needs in this community and we are all here to support them. “
Williamstown Community Chest Executive Director Anna Singleton, Northern Berkshire United Way Executive Director Christa Collier, Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation Program Director Maeve O’Dea and Berkshire United Way Volunteer Engagement Director Brenda Petell accepted the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund award for Berkshire County.
As of March 2020, the Berkshire County COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund has coordinated around $ 2 million through 132 grants to 95 nonprofits offering a wide range of services.
It is co-directed by Berkshire United Way and the Berkshire Taconic Foundation in partnership with Northern Berkshire United Way and the Williamstown Community Chest.
“We decided at the start of this day, March 19, that we need to come together and mobilize all of our resources and do what we do best, we need to support our beneficiaries, our community partners and our member agencies, and establish that fund and get it going, ”said Collier.
“And by joining forces as Berkshire County philanthropic organizations, we really served as bridge builders, we didn’t know it at first, but we were really able to form partnerships, we were able to play a pivotal role. and build trust in the communities we serve. “
Key words: annual meeting, ARPA, BRPC,