Plans for major improvements to a downtrodden neighborhood in the city of Holyoke have received a big financial boost from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker Tuesday announced the largest single award in the current round of funding from the popular MassWorks municipal infrastructure program: $6.56 million to the city of Holyoke.
"We are very excited about this project," said Baker, who called it "a big statement for the city and a big statement for all of us."
The city will use the money for a project to make improvements across a four block area of South Holyoke to support the eventual development of new housing. Plans call for streets to be narrowed, sidewalks widened, lighting added, trees planted, and green space created to encourage more pedestrian and bicycle traffic.
" Treating this as a walkable neighborhood is really what sold us on the opportunity to invest in it," said Baker.
Construction is expected to begin next year and be substantially finished in the summer of 2021.
Once the infrastructure work is completed, the Holyoke Housing Authority expects to begin building an affordable housing project.
Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse said it is the most significant investment the neighborhood has seen in a century.
" We are in a neighborhood where over 90 percent of the housing stock is rental and we want to create more home ownership opportunities here," explained Morse.
As part of an urban renewal plan, the Holyoke Redevelopment Authority bought up dozens of blighted buildings and vacant lots in the neighborhood and then coordinated with the housing authority on a plan to redevelop the properties.
" We did dozens of community meetings in English and Spanish getting imput on the design, parks, the public spaces, making sure we had something everybody believed in and could get behind," said Morse.
The housing plan includes 66 apartments for rent and 24 houses that will be for sale, according to Holyoke Housing Authority Executive Director Matthew Mainville.
"It is going to be a strong mix of home ownership and rental, it is going to be mult-story and row houses because that is what we heard from the community that there needs to be a diversity of housing types," said Mainville.
The housing development is expected to bring $32 million in private investment, according to the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.
Through 2019, MassWorks program grants totaling $72 million have been awarded to 36 projects in 35 communities, according to the Baker administration.
Funding for the program was part of the $1.15 billion economic development bill the legislature approved in 2018.