At this week’s City Council meeting, Mayor Linda Tyer’s “At Home In Pittsfield” program was narrowly voted down after a bitter debate.
Tyer – who is coming to the end of her first term in office – unveiled the program in February. “At Home In Pittsfield” was intended to improve the city’s aging housing stock through loans from local lenders aimed at helping residents fix up their homes.
“We’ve heard from our business leaders that one of the challenges to recruiting is the quality of the housing stock here in the City of Pittsfield," said the mayor. "And you know, it’s understandable because 43 percent of Pittsfield’s housing was built before 1939, so it’s understandable why houses of that era are now in need of renovation and repair and upgrade.”
It offered residents in the city’s West Side and Morningside neighborhoods, Pittsfield’s poorest communities, larger loans.
The $250,000 needed to pay for the pilot program was intended to come from the city’s economic development fund, which once held $10 million from Pittsfield’s settlement with General Electric over the company’s pollution of the city’s land and water. Over $3 million remains in the account.
The mayor’s plan re-emerged in a revised form Tuesday after councilors expressed concerns with aspects at the plans at previous meetings.
The funding source and the disparate loan funding faced scrutiny from council members like At-Large Councilor Melissa Mazzeo, Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell, Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi, and Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli – who all voted against the bill.
“On behalf of the citizens of Pittsfield which this money was set aside for – not certain sections – I cannot support this,” said Simonelli at Tuesday's meeting.
Calls for the mayor to find a new funding source and challenges to the integrity of the program led to a protracted, bitter debate, with protesting councilors preventing the proposal from reaching the supermajority required for passage.
Afterward, Tyer told WAMC that she was “extremely disappointed that the city council was unwilling to do their part to compromise and only expected the administration to compromise."
"This was a good initiative, it was going to put money right into the most distressed neighborhoods in our city, and tonight is an extreme disappointment to me, and I am really just a loss for words,” said the mayor.
“My porch is falling apart," said Michele Beaulieu-Brace. "The boards are coming down from the ceiling. My light went through the boards a year ago May. Got hurt really bad. And I have no money to fix it.”
Beaulieu-Brace, who lives in the Morningside neighborhood, was one of the few audience members to stick it out through the four and a half hour long meeting. She was devastated by the proposal’s failure.
“I’m collecting Social Security now because I had a disability after some surgery. I have $11,000 a year. That’s it. So I’m not happy with this,” she said tearfully.
She pointed to Simonelli and Mazzeo as emblematic of the city’s growing gap between the haves and have nots.
“He’s never wanted for a thing in his life, ever," said Beaulieu-Brace. "And she’s a Mazzeo, and she probably hasn’t either. These people don’t know what it’s like to go home to a house that is distressed and not have any money to fix it up. This was the one shot. The mayor fought hard for this. And it failed by one vote.”
Tyer says she has no intent to reintroduce the program at this time.
For her part, Mazzeo announced her mayoral campaign two days later.