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After A Decade, Ground Broken On Pittsfield Affordable Housing Units

Three people stand in a field with a backhoe and a sign explaining the construction behind him
Josh Landes
Justine Dodds, Carolyn Valli, and Thomas Whalen at the Gordon-Deming Village groundbreaking on Friday, May 31st, 2019

Central Berkshire Habitat For Humanity held a groundbreaking Friday for six new affordable housing units in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

The ceremony was held on a plot of land just southeast of Pittsfield’s core, looking down on the banks of the Housatonic River below.

“I’d like to welcome you all to the groundbreaking and a realization of a dream, this Gordon-Deming Village," said Carolyn Valli, executive director of Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity. She was easy to pick out from the crowd at the groundbreaking. Under her bright pink hardhat beamed a smile that spoke to a decade-long project finally nearing completion.

“Well the biggest problem that we had is that this – when you’re standing up here, you don’t think, oh we’re close to a river that’s right down there," Valli explained. "So there were a lot of conservation issues that had to be resolved, we had to be able to get it set aside to mediate that, and then when we started running the numbers, the cost of construction because of the infrastructure was going to be beyond our ability to do that, because we have to be able to sell them at affordable rates for people to have affordable payments.”

To bring the housing into existence, Habitat was facing a project cost of $425,000. That’s when Pittsfield stepped in.

“The city has worked with Carolyn and Habitat on a number of projects before. This is unusual because it’s new construction, and usually we’ve been donating land or helping them with some of the structures that we took over for tax title," said Justine Dodds, Pittsfield’s Community Development Program Manager. “The city was able to find a grant opportunity for that through the Department of Housing and Community Development through the MassWorks program, and those are grants that are specific for infrastructure related to affordable housing. It’s near transit, it’s in the downtown, that’s important. So we wrote a grant for that last year and we were awarded $425,000 for that.”

The land was initially donated to Habitat by Berkshire Gas in 2009.

“My understanding is that it used to be an MGP site, a manufactured gas site, which again, is no longer in use," said Berkshire Gas President Franklyn Reynolds. "And we’re revitalizing this site, putting it to good use here with the six condos that will be built.”

Financing for the units – which are designed to meet net-zero standards through the use of renewable energy – are being offered to potential homeowners by a local lender.

“We tried to mirror exactly what Habitat already offers to their homeowners," said Lisa Trybus, Vice President of the Greylock Federal Credit Union Mortgage Department. "It’s going to be a low 30-year fixed-rate option with a two percent interest rate for the full 30 years. They’re going to go through the Habitat counseling that they go through now, and we’re going to provide the financing for them.”

She says the financing is well below the average rate in Pittsfield.

“Currently, the fixed rate is about 4.5 percent," said Trybus. "So it’s a pretty big discount that we’re offering.”

With a house in neighboring Dalton almost done, Valli says Habitat is eager to take what it’s learned in Pittsfield to the rest of the county.

“We believe that we’ll be able to probably take this model to other communities besides Pittsfield, because all of our communities in the Berkshires are in need of affordable housing," said the executive director. "And the people who purchase Habitat homes, they are hardworking people just like you and me. You can’t save for a down payment if you’re paying every one of your dollars for your current housing or you’re living in substandard housing, and we really want to partner with communities to be able to expand this everywhere, because our territory goes from Cheshire all the way down to Southern Berkshire as well.”

With construction scheduled to start in September, Valli says the first two families should move into the Gordon-Deming Village by Christmas.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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