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Grants bring $3.8M for 9 towns

With the announcement of the latest Community Development Block Grants, nine area towns are looking at $3.8 million in neighborhood and housing improvement and social service projects.

Receiving money in the latest round were Bernardston, Conway, Shutesbury, Sunderland, Greenfield, Montague, Orange, Shelburne and Buckland, singly or in groups, in five separate awards totalling $3,763,779. Awarded annually, the Community Development Block Grants funnel federal Housing and Urban Development authority money through the state to the local level.

Some of the money, earmarked for slum and blight studies, will not have an immediate impact but paves the way for future grant money if the areas in question are designated blighted slums.

Bernardston, Conway, Shutesbury, Sunderland have $1.1 million to work with for 22 housing rehabilitation projects and the Meals on Wheels program.

M.J. Adams, Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority director of community development, said the plan is to issue loans for four houses in Conway and six each in the other three communities.

The loans, up to $35,000, go to income-eligible owner-occupants, with half the loan forgiven after to years if the homeowner has kept the house and the remainder due when the home is sold.

The same applies in Montague, Adams said, where four loans are budgeted for residents in the village of Millers Falls. There are waiting lists for loans in each community — 17 applicants each in Bernardston and Conway, 18 in Shutesbury, eight in Sunderland and at least eight in Millers Falls — but Adams said new applicants are encouraged and projects are awarded to the most critical and urgent needs. The loan can be used for work such as plumbing, septic or roof work, lead removal and to address anything else health- or safetycode related.

Income eligibility depends on household size, but for a family of four to be eligible for a loan they would have to earn less than $64,400 annually, Adams said.

In the four communities, $787,600 is slated for housing loans, with decisions projected for the fall and construction for the spring, and $15,152 for Meals on Wheels. The balance of the $1.1 million goes to administrative costs.

A share of Greenfield’s $900,000 grant is also destined for housing rehabilitation, eight loans to be granted in two target areas identified by the state based on income — from High Street west to Elm Street, and the Hope, Washington and Deerfield Street area north to Silver Street.

Greenfield’s Community Development Administrator, Alice Connelley, said residents may begin applying now through the town Planning and Development office, 413-772-1548. Greenfield’s rehabilitation loans do not accrue interest, but, unlike the previous towns, the full sum is due upon sale of the house and returned to a fund for further loans. Budgeted for this purpose is $231,400.

The remainder of Greenfield’s allotment, which Connelley said is about average for Greenfield, goes to a number of other projects in the $100,000 range.

A flat $100,000 goes to a slum and blight inventory of the downtown commercial district, to be conducted by the Franklin Regional Council of Governments in order to renew the expired 10-year slum and blight designation necessary to qualify for industrial rehabilitation block grants.

On Deerfield Street, $20,000 is budgeted to purchase the fire-damaged 102 Deerfield St., and $142,500 to demolish that and another condemned property already bought by the town, 106-108 Deerfield St.

Sidewalks in the Hillside neighborhood, the area of Foster’s Super Market and Elm Terrace, are slated for a $118,400 reconstruction, $139,000 is designated for social service projects and the remaining $148,700 is earmarked for administrative costs.

Social services receiving partial funding through this year’s grant are:

Money helps fund the position of housing coordinator at the Greenfield Housing Authority, an employment readiness program through Community Action, The Recover Project on Federal Street, and dual enrollment for Greenfield High School students at Greenfield Community College.

The balance of Montague’s $426,406 allotment, after the four units of housing rehabilitation, goes to two slum and blight studies, a planning study for a new senior center, Meals on Wheels and a literacy and childcare program.

Montague Town Planner Walter Ramsey said the first blight study will target the Turners Falls Industrial District, which includes the former Indek power plant, former Strathmore Paper Mill, former Railroad Salvage and current Southworth Paper Co. and Housing and Redevelopment Authority buildings on the island between the Connecticut River and the Power Canal.

The second study focuses on the area of the East Main Street and Bridge Street intersection in Millers Falls, including the three mostly empty and town-owned buildings on East Main Street.

The senior center planning money will look at whether it is feasible to upgrade the existing building on Fifth Street, small and not particularly accessible, or possibly move elsewhere, Ramsey said.

“Overall it was kind of a planning year for CDBG funding because over the last couple we did major capital improvements,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey said there are limits on how much towns may apply for, and next year they will seek a larger allotment.

The literacy project, through Montague Catholic Social Ministries, targets the town’s substantial Spanish-speaking population with English education for young children. Social Ministries Executive Director Susan Mareneck said the organization and the Center for New Americans have cobbled together money for the program for a couple of years as a parallel and support for the center’s new English classes in Turners Falls. The program teaches young children English while simultaneously allowing their parents to attend what Mareneck said have proved to be very popular English language classes.

A cooperative application by Shelburne and Buckland netted $687,373 for Community Action’s West County Food Pantry, ramp construction and sidewalk improvements around Shelburne’s Highland Village Housing, and roadway, sidewalk, drainage and water improvements along Sears Street in Buckland. John Ryan of Breezeway Farm Consulting in New Salem, the grant author, said the Sears Street project completes the improvements begun there last year.

In line for Orange’s $650,000 allotment are drainage and sidewalk improvements for Cheney and East River streets and advocacy and parenting support services for the mentally disabled through North Quabbin Citizen Advocacy, as well as continued funding of the town’s new community development director position.

Kevin Kennedy has filled that position, entirely funded through the block grants he is now responsible for coordinating, for four months.

Kennedy said the sidewalk improvements are badly needed and targeted at making the area, including Butterfield Park, accessible.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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