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Tyer’s At Home In Pittsfield loan program expand to a second round thanks to federal relief money

Four people stand behind a lectern with mics on it between PA speakers on a lawn in front of a house with pumpkins out front
Josh Landes
/
WAMC
Mayor Linda Tyer speaks at a lectern on the lawn of Barbara Skalski (standing to Tyer's right).

The mayor of Pittsfield, Massachusetts held a press conference on the results and expansion of her signature home improvement loan program this afternoon.

Mayor Linda Tyer says her At Home In Pittsfield program has attracted over 80 applications from city residents since it launched in April, with 19 approved to date. The loan program, backed by local lenders, is aimed at the city’s low income neighborhoods – specifically, the Morningside and West Side communities – and upgrading their aging housing stock.

“The program is intended to cover exterior home repairs. So we define that as roofs, windows, siding, porches, things that under normal circumstances, it's very difficult to get traditional financing for exterior repairs. And so we wanted to close that gap," explained Tyer. “If you're one person household, making $72,600, you might be eligible, depending on some other factors, all the way up to an eight person household with an income of $116,000. But income is only one element. There's lots of other factors, including whether there's equity available in the home, whether or not you might be eligible for another program that the city offers.”

Around $421,000 of the original $500,000 allotted to the program has been paid out to repair roofs, gutters, window replacements, siding, porches and more. Individual projects are projected to take three to four months to complete.

10 of the approved applicants hail from the Morningside and West Side neighborhoods.

“I was trying to save money to get my roof repaired because it's slate, and nobody wants to do that anymore, and the cost to replace the roof was way more expensive than I had anticipated," said Barbara Skalski. "And then I just happened to notice one morning in the paper, there was a program started.”

Skalski, who’s lived in her house in the West Side since 2006, is one of those applicants. She hosted the press conference on her South John Street lawn.

“Before things depreciate more get more out of hand, it's been a great help for me, because without this program, I would never be able to keep up with the maintenance and the upkeep of keeping my home in the condition that it is," said Skalski. "And a nice looking home and a decent neighborhood looks good, rather than to let your house go. So I'm very, very grateful for this program.”

At Home In Pittsfield faced a long and tortured journey to acceptance in city council chambers, with opponents largely critical of its funding source – the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund. When the program was first introduced in early 2019, the fund – established as part of General Electric’s settlement with the city over decades of polluting its land and water – had around $3 million left of its original $10 million. Critics said it wasn’t the correct use of the money, which they said was meant specifically to create jobs in Pittsfield. Tyer says the results of At Home In Pittsfield’s first round have strengthened her resolve that she chose the right path.

“What we believed from the outset was that the Economic Development Fund was the exact right resource, because it was putting money right in the hands of our own residents, in our own neighborhoods," said the mayor. "Of course, we value using the Economic Development Fund to strengthen business and grow business. But this was a program that was meant to serve people and where they live right in their neighborhoods. Also, extraordinarily important for economic recovery and growth. Having a community of homes that have value is economic development. As I mentioned, providing opportunities for our contractors to engage in this work and employ people, that's economic development.”

Tyer announced that At Home In Pittsfield’s second round of projects would be funded with $500,000 from the over $40 million the city will receive in federal COVID-19 relief money – meaning she won’t have to go back to the city council to see the program continue.

“We had 83 applicants, and we only had $500,000," said the mayor. "So I think that speaks to the popularity of this program and the need and we want to be as responsive as people possible, which is why we feel very strongly that the American Rescue Plan can be another resource of funds for this important program.”

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