by Stephen Dravis
By Stephen Dravis iBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The spirit of co-operation that helped produce a 40-unit affordable housing complex in at least half the usual time was celebrated at Thursday’s dedication of Highland Woods.
Elton Ogden, the president and CEO of developer Berkshire Housing Development Corp., said the efforts of community volunteers, state and local officials and non-profit and for-profit businesses helped his group meet an ambitious timeline that saw Highland Woods’ opening coincide earlier this year with the final closure of the former Spruces mobile home park.
“Let’s think about how quickly we were able to get the approvals, get the property zoned, get it designed and get it funded,” Ogden said. “What is normally a very long, challenging process was just about cut in half or even less than that.
“I really feel this is a prime example of what a group of people and organizations can do when they get behind a common purpose that they really believe in. I think it’s particularly noteworthy in this day and age when there is so much cynicism about our ability to work together as people. This is a great example that we really can do this and we can do it for things that are important to us.”
The chairwoman of the Williamstown Board of Selectmen echoed Ogden’s comments.
“This is an extraordinary example of everybody, the folks involved in this, attacking this problem with the notion of, ‘Let’s get to yes,’ ” Jane Patton said. “I love ‘yes.’ ‘Yes’ is my favorite word in the whole world. I love to say it, and I love to hear it.
“And everybody involved in this process came to it with, ‘Let’s get to yes.’ ‘Yes, we can get the funds.’ ‘Yes, we can donate the land.’ ‘Yes, we can get help from the folks in Boston.’ ‘Yes, [Rep. Gailanne Cariddi] is going to help us.’ And when everybody is all about ‘yes’ … now we’re standing here in the middle of a whole bunch of ‘yes’ — so much positivity, so many good things.
“Williamstown should be very proud. Everyone here should be very proud.”
Many of the key people who helped make the Highland Woods vision a reality were at Thursday’s ceremony, where the project was dedicated with a stone marker recognizing “community support” and the “fondly remembered home and neighborhood” that was the Spruces.
Speakers included Cariddi, Williams College President Adam Falk, MountainOne Financial President Robert Fraser, Kathy Quinn of Boston Capital Partners and Susan Puddester of the local non-profit Higher Ground.
Falk said the college was thrilled to be able to be part of the town’s solution when Tropical Storm Irene devastated the Spruces five years ago.
“It was clear that we at Williams were going to want to participate in making the situation better,” Falk said. “I am deeply grateful that we were given the opportunity to do something that was relatively simple compared to all of the other extraordinary work.”
Ogden took time to thank as many of the partners as he could, from the college, which donated the land to Pittsfield-based Allegrone Construction, which “worked very, very long days and long weeks because they understood our need to get this open in time, and they did it,” he said.
Two former public officials who were instrumental in obtaining the financing for the project also were recognized. Aaron Gornstein, the undersecretary for housing and community development in Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration, attended Thursday’s ceremony. Retired Williamstown Town Manager Peter Fohlin, who negotiated the federal Hazard Mitigation Grant that funded the Spruces’ closure and helped fund Highland Woods, did not attend.
“I’m sorry he’s not here to receive the credit,” Ogden said of Fohlin. “He’s going to get credit whether he wants it or not.”
Nearly $3 million in town money — mostly proceeds from the FEMA grant but also some Community Preservation Act funds — went toward Highland Woods.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say this project never could happen without the support of the town,” Ogden said. “Williamstown has contributed $2.85 million. That doesn’t happen, especially in a small town like Williamstown.”
Thursday’s ceremony was attended by several members of town boards and committees as well as town employees like Debra Turnbull, who managed the Spruces during the closure period, and Brian O’Grady, the director of the Council on Aging.
Earlier Thursday morning, the board of directors of Higher Ground, the Williamstown non-profit formed in Irene’s wake whose name is echoed in the name of the 40-unit Highland Woods project, voted to dissolve the organization now that its last project has been completed.
Ogden recalled Higher Ground’s efforts in the immediate aftermath of Irene to help Spruces residents find safe housing, its advocacy for the Highland Woods project and its grant of $125,000 to pay for furniture in the common areas at Highland Woods and landscape improvements.
Ogden called Higher Ground the conscience of the project.
“It’s been a long process, and it says so much about Williamstown that we, as a community, made this happen,” Higher Ground President Susan Puddester said. “Every individual who has been a part of making this a success should give your self a pat on the back. You are part of making Highland Woods a reality.”
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By Stephen Dravis
04:15PM / Monday, February 15, 2016
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The town’s new senior housing project threw open its doors on Friday to current and former town officials who helped make the project a reality.
On Tuesday, it begins welcoming its first crop of residents.
Highland Woods is a 40-unit affordable housing project built partly with town funds on land donated by Williams College. This week, it will begin welcoming the dozen former or current residents of the Spruces Mobile Home Park.
Most Spruces residents have long since found new homes since Tropical Storm Irene devastated the park in 2011 and certainly since the town assumed control in 2014 with the intention of closing the park under the terms of a federal Hazard Mitigation Grant.
Among the handful who remain at the Main Street mobile home park, at least six will be relocating to the new apartments off Southworth Street, behind the existing Proprietors Field senior apartments.
The bulk of the Highland Woods funding came from federally-funded, state administered low-income housing tax credits.
The town’s efforts to create replacement housing in the wake of Irene helped spur the development of the three-story Highland Woods in a remarkable period of time.
“We cut one and a half to two years off the funding approval time,” said Elton Ogden, the president and CEO of developer Berkshire Housing Development Corp. of Pittsfield.
Friday’s open house gave a look at project’s the one- and two-bedroom units as well as common areas throughout the building. Debra Turnbull, who has managed the Spruces for the town since it assumed control of the park, said those common areas — as well as the proximity to Proprietors Field and the town’s senior center — will help those Spruces residents making the transition create the same sense of community they had at the park.
Ogden said Friday that the apartments are starting to fill up, but Berkshire Housing is still accepting applications.
“At this point, half the units are filled,” he said. “We’re working from a good list of other people. But we’re definitely still in the marketing mode.”
By Stephen Dravis iBerkshires Staff
01:02PM / Tuesday, November 10, 2015
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The developer of the Highland Woods senior housing project expects to hold a lottery to determine the first occupants within a week or two.
Next week, a local non-profit raising money to support the project will pull a lucky raffle ticket worth $500.
Elton Ogden of Pittsfield’s Berkshire Housing Development Corp. said late last week that the agency was in the process of qualifying applicants and expected to hold the lottery within two to three weeks.
Berkshire Housing and the Women’s Institute for Housing and Economic Development are building the 40-unit project at the end of Southworth Street on land donated by Williams College.
The project is funded largely through federal low-income housing tax credits administered by the state, but the funding package also includes about $2.8 million in commitments from the town of Williamstown.
Most of the town money will come from proceeds of the federal Hazard Mitigation Grant related to the closure of the Spruces Mobile Home Park.
Town officials envisioned Highland Woods as replacement housing for some of the residents displaced by the closure of the flood-prone park, and current or former residents are eligible for preference in the weighted lottery to decide the first residents.
All units at Highland Woods qualify as affordable housing. Seniors whose annual income does not exceed 60 percent of the area median income qualify to move into Highland Woods. Ten of the units are set aside for those making 30 percent or less of the AMI.
While construction continues at the site in anticipation of residents moving in this winter, Higher Ground, the local nonprofit that was one of the driving forces behind Highland Woods, continues to raise money to help make the project more complete.
Higher Ground hopes to raise enough money to furnish Highland Woods with amenities, including furniture for its community room, a vegetable garden and outdoor walkways.
Recently, MountainOne Bank presented Highland Woods with $15,000 toward its goal, and the bank’s Main Street lobby features raffle tickets for a $500 gift card donated by RK Miles. The drawing will be held Nov. 15. Tickets cost $1 each or six for $5.
by Stephen Dravis
02:49AM / Thursday, September 03, 2015
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The marketing team behind the Cable Mills apartment complex was at Town Hall on Wednesday to urge anyone interested to inquire about applying for one of the project’s 13 affordable housing units.
“A lot of people think they’re not qualified,” said Debbie Anacki of property manager Hall Keen of Norwood. “Always ask. We want folks to call us with those questions. You’d be surprised who could qualify.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with having $100,000 in the bank or $200,000 in the bank.”
It does have to do with household income, and households earning up to 80 percent of the area median income (as determined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development) qualify to rent one of the one-, two- or three-bedroom apartments at a reduced rate.
The 13 affordable units in the 61-apartment complex are the result of the $1.5 million in Community Preservation Act funds that are subsidizing the renovation of the historic Water Street mill.
A single person qualifies with an income between $37,020 and $46,100. A family of four qualifies with an income up to $65,800. More income levels are available on the town’s website.
A lottery to determine the first 13 households who will occupy the affordable units will be held Oct. 15. The deadline to enter the lottery is Sept. 30, Anacki said.
As of Wednesday, developers had received a few applicants, but none that qualified. That should not stop other potential tenants from applying for the units, which David Traggorth of Mitchell Properties emphasized are “affordable, not low income.”
“If you’re a family of four making $60,000 a year, there are a lot of people who fit within that category,” Traggorth said. “Teachers, nurses, police officers.
“When we were trying to figure out when to have this presentation, we [decided on 5:30 p.m.] because all the people who qualify have a job, unless they’re retirees, we need to make this at an accessible time for folks. So here we are.”
Wednesday’s presentation in the Selectmen’s Meeting Room appeared to draw just one participant who was asking questions on her own behalf. Other attendees included members of the town’s Affordable Housing Committee.
Anacki and Hall Keen’s Anne Dooley have been giving similar presentations around the area, seeking to drum up interest among qualified applicants, the said.
“We’ve spread out to the college, certainly there are members of the Williams staff who would qualify,” Traggorth said. “We’re also talking to larger employers further south. We’ve reached out to Bennington and Albany. We’re casting the net pretty wide.”
For more information about the Cable Mills project, visit www.cablemills.com.
Link to the article on iBerkshires.com
by Stephen Dravis
iBerkshires.com, July 12, 2015
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Work at the Highland Woods senior housing project is on schedule with a planned opening in early 2016, the developer said recently.
“It’s really progressing well,” Berkshire Housing Development Corp. CEO Elton Ogden said. “We’re at the point now where we have the third floor framed and the roof trusses are going on for one third of the building.
“There’s been a ton of work being done, but it hasn’t always been obvious because there’s a lot of below-ground work. Once the framing starts, there is much more visible evidence.”
Ogden said he hopes to start signing leases after the first of the year.
Timing is important.
The town has invested heavily in the project being built near the current Proprietors Field senior housing project.
The largest commitment is $2.6 million the town plans to realize from the proceeds of the federal Hazard Mitigation Grant tied to the closure of the Spruces Mobile Home Park. The flood-prone park is scheduled to close for good Feb 29 2016.
Town officials have always intended that the 40-unit Highland Woods project, built on land donated by Williams College, will help fill some of the housing void left by the park’s closure. And the commonwealth’s Department of Housing and Community Development has agreed to a weighted lottery to give preference to Spruces residents in deciding who gets to be the initial Highland Woods residents.
“The plan is we’re going to begin marketing in early September,” Ogden said. “What we’re hoping to do is have at least a six-week application period. Then what happens is we have to verify they’re [income] eligible. Then all the eligible people go into a lottery.
“Our hope is we’ll be able to conduct the lottery in November. That schedule is still somewhat flexible.”
Meanwhile, Berkshire Housing and its Boston-based partner the Women’s Institute for Housing and Economic Development are moving forward with its plan to develop affordable housing at the town-owned former Photech Mill property on Cole Avenue.
“We’re finally getting that off the back burner,” Ogden said.
“What we’ve done is we’ve put out an RFP [request for proposals] for an environmental consultant. … Basically we’re looking for someone to assist with a remediation plan. What we know is the building has lead paint and asbestos.”
Ogden said developers will be doing the remediation plan in parallel with the start of the design process for the parcel.
“We’ll really be ramping up on that over the summer,” he said.
In recent months, the Cole Avenue site has been used for storage of building materials, leading to speculation that a building project there was imminent. But the land is currently being used with permission of the town by R.K. Miles, the nearby building materials supplier that is renovating its property at the corner of Cole Avenue and North Hoosac Street.