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Housing trust fund proposed in Springfield

A foreclosed house in Springfield MA
Paul Tuthill
A proposed housing trust fund could be used to rehabilitate blighted properties, according to lead sponsor At-large City Councilor Jesse Lederman.

Initiative would use ARPA funds to boost city's housing stock

Legislation is being introduced in the City Council in Springfield, Massachusetts to create a housing trust fund.

Homeowners could apply for grants to make repairs to the exteriors and foundations of their houses. Funds would also be available to fix up blighted properties and to provide incentives for the construction of new housing.

At-Large City Councilor Jesse Lederman is the lead sponsor of the ordinance. He spoke with WAMC’s Paul Tuthill.

Jesse Lederman: The Springfield Housing Trust Fund is a proposal that has really come out of conversations that myself and fellow colleagues and local government have been having with residents and community organizations over really the last several years, but especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, you know, we have seen the pandemic really laid bare, the challenges that our community faces with housing. And we also have a recent study from the Donahue Institute and Way Finders, that is showing a deficit in housing stock and the state of housing in the entire Pioneer Valley, including in the city of Springfield, which I held a hearing on a few months ago. And so what we're looking to do is create some intention around addressing that issue. And we are hopeful that the creation of this Housing Trust Fund and the resources that we hope to see invested in it will allow us to do so.

Tuthill: Where would the funds for this fund come from?

Lederman: We expect that the initial investment of funds would come from American rescue plan dollars. And that is the conversation that we've been having with the administration. Certainly this is an ARPA eligible area, housing is something that was directly impacted by the pandemic. And there's very clear causation there. So that would be the initial investment. But we also expect that future funding sources could come from CDBG, as well as the establishment of revolving loans, and a number of other state and federal options.

Tuthill: How much initially might the fund be?

Lederman: This needs to be a seven figure investment over the ARPA years that were eligible to spend. And I think that we have the data to show that that is necessary. But what we hope to see and what the legislation establishes is for an advisory committee to be established to include housing professionals, housing organizations, residents in the city of Springfield, both tenants and homeowners, and experts in the field of real estate and finance, to come together and set initial goals for the fund. And that will inform what the initial investment needs to be.

Tuthill: Who's on board with this as far as your council colleagues go, and I know you said in your announcement that it's been endorsed by Mayor Sarno.

Lederman: The thing that I value about service on the city council is that nothing gets done alone. We build coalitions to get things done on the city council. And so we're working together with my colleague Councilor Melvin Edwards from Ward Three whose district certainly has seen the impact of the housing crisis over the last several years but also whose district is an example of investments in housing being made when you look at the former Brooking School and the Central Street corridor. We want to see more of that. But also my colleague, Ward 4 City Councilor Malo Brown and City Council President Marcus Williams, who himself previously worked for a housing nonprofit. So those are the initial sponsors of the ordinance along with myself and we're grateful to be working together with the mayor on this initiative with his team to bring forward the initial legislation. And we're looking forward to holding committee meetings as well to bring more voices to the table. What I appreciate about legislation is that it is always better at the end than where it started. So we think we have a strong piece of legislation and we're looking forward to garnering more support for it.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.