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At Long Last, Tyer’s “At Home In Pittsfield” Program Returns To City Council

The Pittsfield city seal
The City of Pittsfield, Massachusetts
City of Pittsfield

The Mayor of Pittsfield, Massachusetts reintroduced a home improvement program with a tortured legislative history at Tuesday night’s city council meeting.

First introduced in early 2019, Linda Tyer’s “At Home In Pittsfield” program was voted down by the last city council.

“The purpose of the program is to provide financial resources to people in our city who hope to make an investment in their home for exterior home improvements," explained the mayor.

Tyer described the program to WAMC in February of that year, noting that it would be incentivized toward the city’s lower income communities.

“The program is directed at anyone citywide who makes no more than $87,000 a year," she said. "So that’s a lot of people. The door is wide open to a lot of people. And if you live in the Morningside and the West Side or on Tyler Street, you will have access to a bit more money.”

Four local lenders would offer deferred loans to eligible homeowners interested in fixing up their property. Citing the aged housing stock of Pittsfield as a disincentive for outside investment, Tyer sought to fund the program with $250,000 from the city’s economic development fund. That – along with the perception that favoring lower income communities was unfair to other city residents – proved a sticking point with the council.

“Those of us that voted against this last year were in favor of the initiative but not from the GE economic development fund,” said Ward 4 Councilor Chris Connell Tuesday night.

Connell revived last year’s debate as he argued to new councilors that the program did not meet the requirements for use of the fund, which was established as part of General Electric’s settlement with the city over its decades of polluting the Housatonic River in 2000.

“It does not stimulate new jobs, it would be existing jobs,” Connell said.

He debuted a new argument against the mayor’s plan not used in 2019, describing it as a tax grab.

“If this goes through, and those that apply and are able to get funding to side their house or put on a new porch or whatever, they’re obviously – they’re not able to do it on their own, otherwise they would have done it already. So what’s going to happen is, after these improvements are made to their house, their assessment’s going to go up. Therefore, the property tax is going to go up. These are already people that can’t afford the repairs themselves.”

Connell, a conservative, favors cutting taxes over implementing new city programs.

But the new political makeup of the council could mean Tyer’s program – originally slated for reintroduction this spring before the COVID-19 pandemic hit – will find a friendlier reception in 2020, where it returns with a new price tag of $500,000.

“Homeowners who can’t afford to do repairs on their houses get those repairs done by an industrial group of employees who are hurting right now, which are our contractors, and our roofers and our siders," said Councilor Anthony Maffuccio. "And I really do think this is an economic development position.”

Maffuccio of Ward 7 replaced the departing Anthony Simonelli, a vocal opponent of the plan, this term. He said he agrees with Tyer that improved housing stock will only bolster the city’s economic attractiveness and was excited to vote for it.

“This is going to benefit Ward 7 and Ward 2 and I’m sure some of Ward 6 and a few of the other wards, and it’s only going to improve our housing stock in our areas, especially for those that are not fortunate enough to have the money to seek repairs on their housing because of either cost of food or cost of living expenses,” said Maffuccio.

The mayor’s order was referred to the council’s subcommittee on economic and community development, and is expected to return to the full council on November 10th.

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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