PITTSFIELD — Mayor Linda Tyer’s $500,000 exterior home loan program received the blessing of the City Council’s Community and Economic Development committee this week, teeing up the potential for a final vote next week.
Members of the committee Wednesday unanimously recommended Tyer’s At Home in Pittsfield program to the full council for approval.
Tyer is requesting permission to spend $500,000 from the GE Economic Development Fund on the program, twice the amount she sought last year. Community Development Director Deanna Ruffer said the hope is to administer the loans over the next two or three years, which, she said, will drive demand for trade jobs.
Under Tyer’s proposal, 60 percent of the money would be lent to homeowners in the West Side and Morningside neighborhoods, where, she said, home values are lower, on average, compared with the rest of the city. The remaining 40 percent would go to homeowners in all other areas of the city.
The loans would be forgiven as long as the homeowner doesn’t move away within seven years, Tyer said. Those making up to 120 percent of median area income would be eligible to apply for loans up to $25,000.
Dina Guiel Lampiasi, one member new to the City Council this year, said she was saddened to watch the proposal fizzle from the sidelines last year, before she was elected to office, and that she is “truly excited to be able to work on this now.”
Fellow first-term Councilor Patrick Kavey agreed that the program falls within the realm of economic development, which he defined as “the creation of wealth from which community benefits are realized.”
Councilor Helen Moon said the designation of 60 percent of money to the West Side and Morningside neighborhoods shakes out to about 18 loans. She asked Tyer if she would consider upping funding to those neighborhoods, noting how people of color and immigrant communities historically have been shut out by lenders through redlining policies.
“I know that there is need all across the city of Pittsfield, but when you think about concentrated wealth and the lack of concentrated wealth, I really think that the West and Morningside neighborhoods are lagging behind the rest of the city,” she said.
Tyer agreed that there is greater need in those neighborhoods, but she said homeowners citywide have expressed interest in the program. She said 43 percent of the city’s housing stock was built before 1939, and those aging homes possibly in need of repairs are spread throughout the city.
The program was designed to reach homeowners who might not be eligible for financing otherwise because of their credit history, Ruffer said. Four local banks partnered with the city on the program, and applicants without a mortgage already can apply directly through the city.
Moon expressed support for the program, which the full City Council will take up at its next meeting, on Tuesday.
Asked by Councilor Earl Persip III how the city would spread the word, Ruffer said her office keeps lists of the people who already have contacted her office to express interest in the proposed exterior home loans, as well as other programs for home improvement financing. They also expect to work with Habitat for Humanity, Working Cities, building inspectors and the banks on community outreach.
The loans could be used for exterior home improvements that prevent deterioration, said Ruffer, such as repairing or replacing a porch, roof, windows or chimney.
At a meeting last month, Councilor Chris Connell renewed his opposition to the program, saying the Economic Development Fund wasn’t the right funding source since, he said, no jobs were created by the program. He likened the program to a “tax grab,” because home repairs drive up valuations.
According to Ruffer, a $100,000 home would increase in value by about $7,000 after comprehensive exterior improvements, which, she said, equates to a “very small increase in property taxes.”
“For me, it’s very sad when I hear that we don’t want people to increase the value and equity in their homes because they might have to pay a little bit more in property taxes,” Ruffer said. “I just think that’s very sad.”