Pittsfield Community Development Board OKs special permit for new permanent supportive housing for city’s unhoused residents
The Pittsfield, Massachusetts Community Development Board has approved a special permit to build new permanent supportive housing for unhoused community members.
Mayor Linda Tyer announced in July that Pittsfield would invest $6.5 million in federal COVID-19 funding in both new permanent supportive housing and a housing resource center. As originally proposed, the plan called for the construction of 37 housing units on West Housatonic Street. Tuesday night, the Community Development Board held a public hearing on a reduced version of the project.
“West Housatonic Apartments is proposed as a 28-unit permanent supportive housing for people who are homeless. And I will say that definition of homeless is somewhat complicated, but the main thing to know is that it's people experiencing homelessness and they cannot earn more than 30% of area median income," said Berkshire Housing Development Corporation President and CEO Eileen Peltier. “Berkshire Housing has been around for about 50 years. We are developers of affordable housing. We are managers of that housing. We administer about 650 Section 8 apartment vouchers across the Berkshires. We have over 900 apartments across the Berkshires. We provide resident services to our residents.”
The plot of land at 107-111 West Housatonic Street was donated to Berkshire Housing specifically to address the needs of Pittsfield’s unhoused.
“West Housatonic is not a shelter," said Peltier. "It is not transitional housing. It is permanent housing. And so permanent supportive housing is a well-established and proven intervention that combines affordable housing and support services to address the needs of homeless individuals. The services are designed to build independent living and tenancy skills and connect people with community-based health services, treatment and employment services.”
Some business owners adjacent to the site expressed opposition to the plan, including Ken Vosburgh of Ken's Auto Upholstering Co at 105 West Housatonic.
“I’m the third generation, we've been there since 1951," he said. "I very often have people homeless people sleeping in cars if they're not locked up, customers’ cars. I've had all kinds of things vandalized there.”
At-large city councilor Karen Kalinowsky brought up not only her own issues with the project but her mother’s as well.
“She's afraid of being accosted by people begging for money when she is outside," she said. "People going, cutting through her yard, people hanging out in her yard.”
Kalinowsky expressed doubts about the proposed amount of parking allotted to the project.
“I know homeless people that have lived in their cars," she said. "Are you going to separate the people that have cars so they can't live in this establishment? And since this is permanent housing, do you not expect that these people will, you know, build themselves up, get a job, and buy a vehicle? And since it's permanent housing, they could continue living there, and how are you going to allow these people to have cars when you only have seven spots?”
Berkshire Housing Director of Real Estate Development Matt Kropke addressed those concerns.
“One of the most similar properties we have in our portfolio is the YMCA in Pittsfield," he said. "It's 44 units, predominantly same income level, the 30% [average median income], but there's also 11 units there that are a little bit higher and go up to 50% and 60% AMI. Of all the 44 residents at that site, there are zero automobiles associated with those tenants. What we found with sites well-located near downtown, there's not nearly the demand for cars and parking amongst the residents. Now, we do want to allow for some, and that's why we're proposing the seven.”
Kalinowsky had other concerns about permanent housing for Pittsfield’s unhoused.
“Not all but many of our homeless have addiction issues," said the city councilor. "Are we going to have like 25 people with addiction issues that are not getting treatment living in this building?”
“It is a building where there certainly likely will be people who are dealing with substance use disorder, just like there are in many of the homes across the United States in every street. And you know, substance use disorder is not a situation that is unique to individuals who are homeless," responded Peltier. “This building has the added benefit of, one of the best ways to help people address substance use disorder is to create community, and that is part of a model of a permanent supportive housing. It creates community. There are common spaces. These individuals, we hope, will take advantage of the day shelter over on First Street where there'll be additional services.”
Part of Pittsfield’s plan is to use the federal relief funds to transform the first floor of Zion Lutheran Church on First Street into a housing resource center with laundry services, computer access, mailboxes, showers, and more.
The board unanimously approved the special permit application, noting that some neighbors expressed concerns about parking.
The next hurdle the new West Housatonic Street permanent supportive housing project faces is approval from the Conservation Commission, which meets tonight.