Our Opinion: Another shot at laudable home rehab plan | Editorials

If at first you don’t succeed in proposing a home rehab plan to benefit Pittsfield residents, try, try again. Fortunately, that’s just what Mayor Linda Tyer is doing.

The mayor’s At Home in Pittsfield plan should sound familiar, because it’s a revival of a proposal she pitched last year — twice. The program would tap the city’s General Electric Co. Economic Development fund to provide forgivable loans to low- and middle-income Pittsfield homeowners seeking to make exterior home repairs. The loans would be forgiven if the recipients stay in their homes for seven years, prohibiting “flippers” from taking advantage of a program meant to target vulnerable homeowners and keep them in the community.

It’s a simple and elegant proposal that at once could fight blight, help lower-income city residents with cost-prohibitive repairs stay in their homes and allow Pittsfield homeowners to build more equity in a time of economic uncertainty. The Eagle’s editorial board backed the mayor’s plan when it was first unveiled last year, and when it was revamped to coax along reluctant city councilors.

Unfortunately, Mayor Tyer ran into a brick wall. While she was able to convince a majority of the City Council last year, she wasn’t able to secure the needed backing of a supermajority. Some councilors liked the idea, but thought the proposed pot of available funds wasn’t big enough to have an impact. Others were hesitant to dip into the limited GE funds at all. Still others found it “discriminatory” that the program targeted the neighborhoods that most need this sort of assistance — namely Morningside and West Side. The plan also faced noticeable political headwinds, given that then-Council President Melissa Mazzeo was preparing an electoral challenge to the mayor.

Following last year’s city elections and the resultant shake-up of the City Council, those headwinds appear to have died down. And Mayor Tyer, to her credit, has continued to be flexible in search of a compromise that can push this helping hand for the city’s homeowners over the finish line once and for all.

For those councilors who thought it needed a bigger funding injection to be worth the shot, the mayor has doubled the proposed money on the table from $250,000 to $500,000. For those who worried that the initial plan was too geographically targeted, the new plan features a nuanced funding formula that still aims to direct more funding to the city’s neighborhoods that need it most, but doesn’t leave out the rest of the city’s homeowners, and applies the same $25,000 cap to all households.

It’s understandable that some might be bearish about dipping into the city’s GE Economic Development fund, which now stands at just below $4 million. In the time that’s elapsed since the initial proposal, though, the grand bargain forged around the Rest of River cleanup plan has promised another $8 million for city coffers from GE. That incoming boost takes a bit of the heat off the prospect of accessing this rightly guarded fund.

The At Home in Pittsfield initiative would be a sound investment of a fraction of these funds. Sprucing up the Pittsfield’s residential neighborhoods — and thereby raising overall property values — while helping working-class, middle-income and elderly residents stay in their homes is a people-first method of economic development from the ground up.

Metrics for the plan estimate that it would be able to assist between 25 and 50 of the city’s homeowners. For those on the margins struggling in the coronavirus-stricken economy, a chance to help residents build up more equity in their properties shouldn’t be passed up. And if it’s a success, it could be a good blueprint down the road for further action as the city continues the endeavor to improve its housing stock and combat blight.

We hope that the third time’s the charm for the mayor’s plan, and that the City Council this time around sees the potential citywide benefit in the At Home in Pittsfield proposal.

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