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Community One Stop for Growth Awards $143 Million for Economic Development Projects

The Baker-Polito administration just announced all 337 Community One Stop for Growth awards, including the 101 Community Planning, Housing Choice, and Rural and Small Town awards being made through DHCD.

Governor Charlie Baker, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, Undersecretary of Community Development Ashley Stolba and MassDevelopment President and CEO Dan Rivera were joined by state and local officials in Pittsfield to announce more than $143 million in grant awards to support 337 local economic development projects in 169 communities. 

Construct Inc. is pleased to be one of two organizations that were awarded a grant making funds available to produce affordable housing in the Southern Berkshires.

The grant awards were made through Community One Stop for Growth, a single application portal that provides a streamlined, collaborative review process of 12 state grant programs that fund economic development projects related to community capacity building, planning and zoning, site preparation, building construction and infrastructure. MassWorks is the largest program in the One Stop portfolio and is awarding $100 million in grant awards this year.

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Good News for Affordable Housing in the Berkshires

Early on in the project, Construct was proud to have been involved in writing the feasibility study for the new housing development.

Great Barrington has secured a $3.2 million MassWorks grant to pay for infrastructure work at a planned affordable housing development on North Plain Road in Housatonic.

The project, a collaboration between the town and Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, will include 19 affordable, energy efficient homes on a 7.25-acre site. The state funds will cover the costs of road construction, sewer, water and stormwater infrastructure.

The MassWorks Infrastructure Program is a competitive grant program that provides state funds to support and accelerate housing production and other economic development efforts.

Today, Governor Charlie Baker, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, Undersecretary of Community Development Ashley Stolba and MassDevelopment President and CEO Dan Rivera were joined by state and local officials in Pittsfield today to announce a total of more than $143 million in grant awards to support 337 local economic development projects in 169 communities.

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Construct Helps Family Buy First Home

First Home Buyers, Berkshires

Through the Attorney General’s Abandoned Housing Initiative Receivership Fund (AHIR), which incentivizes the conversion of blighted properties into affordable housing units, Construct was designated a court appointed receiver. With this appointment, Construct created the first affordable housing unit in Becket by rehabilitating a long-abandoned 3-bedroom property in town. Situated on 2.9 acres, the property has easy access to many ideal amenities for a first time home buyer. With help from a $100,000 loan from the AHIR, Construct rehabilitated the blighted property and then offered it for sale by lottery to individuals whose income is 80% or less of the area’s median. A deed restriction ensures the home will always remain affordable.

Shasta Bona, a Great Barrington social worker, was the lucky lottery winner. “This has saved my family from homelessness. Our future looked very grim when we were evicted from our apartment. All apartment opportunities were uninhabitable, too expensive, or out of our daughter’s school district. We had begun looking into long-term stays at local motels when I learned about this opportunity. I still cannot believe we made it to the finish line, but we did! Thank you, Construct!”

Construct continues to identify other abandoned properties throughout the southern Berkshires, with two more projects already underway.

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The Brick Campaign

Brick by brick, building a stronger community.

Stable housing is the foundation of a successful life. And for Anne Schnesel, this is the message of the Brick Campaign. With bricks representing structure, strength, and security, Anne launched the Brick Campaign in honor of her late husband Ernie, whose strength of spirit had enriched many lives.

Starting at $25 per brick, donors can impact areas of housing insecurity often overlooked, such as transportation and childcare costs and essential hygiene items–necessities that, when depleted or scarce, can cause anxiety and compound housing insecurity.

“The Bricks represent a foundation…the foundation of a person as important as the foundation of a building … the support needed for someone to start over, regain their footing, and thrive.”

Construct board member, Elaine Silberstein, is a regular donor to the Brick Campaign, giving bricks as birthday presents, in memory of loved ones, or even as hostess gifts. “The Brick Campaign has been a meaningful way for me to express my love to others throughout the year while taking steps to create a stronger community.”

To Buy A Brick You Will Need

Donate to the Brick Campaign

($25 per Brick)

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Cassilis Farm: From Historic Mansion to Affordable Housing

Construct is pleased to announce our latest acquisition: the stately Cassilis Farm in New Marlborough.

“We are thrilled that we were able to acquire the property at a favorable price and that we are going to be able to bring thirteen affordable housing units to New Marlborough and still keep the historic nature of this historically important building,” said Construct Board Chair and New Marlborough resident, Elizabeth Rosenberg.

Read more about the lucky acquisition and our plans to bring much needed affordable housing to our community in the New Marlborough 5 Village News, on page 12 of the October 2022 edition.

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For 52 years, Construct’s mission has been simple: to provide affordable housing to strengthen and diversify communities, stabilize lives, and empower individuals to build a better future. Our newsletters help us build bonds by letting our community know about our latest endeavors, undertakings, and all the good people who participate.

FALL 2022

In this issue:

  • The Brick Campaign 
  • Becket House Lottery 
  • Center for Affordable Housing Update
  • Windflower Inn Acquisition

FALL 2021

In this issue:

  • Steps Towards Steward Solutions
  • Meet Your Neighbor: Karen Lewis
  • Client Spotlight: Kevin
  • Supporter Spotlight: Wanda Houston

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It’s Time For a New Flag—The Berkshire Edge

By Sheela Clary

“There’s an 80-year-old woman living at the shelter because her landlord raised her rent and she couldn’t afford it. That’s gonna be all of us. When the blue and yellow flag of Ukraine comes down, perhaps we should replace it with a black circle and square on a bright red background, the international sign for an SOS.”

Almost every house and business along Route 102 in West Stockbridge is flying the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag. Locals are also supporting on-the-ground efforts, such as the heroic ones undertaken by Chef Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen to feed millions of meals to Ukraine’s beleaguered population, and the million-plus refugees who have fled their home country.

But right here in our own bucolic corner of the world, another high-stakes crisis is playing out, for long-term renters. Units are being sold out from under tenants, and there is no place else to go. The housing waitlist for Construct, South County’s rental and affordable housing assistance agency, is up to more than 800, a nearly 25 percent jump from just three months ago. Renters are being exiled because they no longer have a place in our economic structure. The median income for our homeowners, according to the 2020 Housing Needs Assessment, was 120 percent higher than the median income for our renters.

SOS Flag

If you listen to enough stories from those who are struggling to continue to rent homes here, flags might start to remind you of tents. That’s where many families could very well be living, and soon. Chefs, nurses, teachers, electricians, therapists, single moms, retirees, and married couples are exiled from their hometowns, or still living within them in unstable housing situations that could end any month. Some are homeless already. As far as Courtney Kimball, program manager at Construct, is aware, at least five people are living in tents in the center of Great Barrington. A woman is living in her car. Kimball speaks every day to people trying desperately to ward off that fate.

What’s the face of imminent homelessness in the Best Small Town in America? She has a face shaped like a big heart. I met her in 2011, when she was a sophomore at Monument Mountain Regional High School. She was very quiet, and easy to overlook in a class full of rowdy boys. “Maggie” remained an enigma until one morning in March, when it was her turn to present for our Share an Interest project. Then, for 10 minutes or so, she took center stage and my ungovernable class held its collective breath as she slowly clicked through a series of alternately brilliant and stark photographs she’d taken of our sunsets, hills, and streams.

That summer I partnered with a friend to send Maggie to art camp. Back then, it seemed possible that one week of enrichment might, as more expansive summer experiences do for more privileged kids, give her a leg-up in the college application process. She enjoyed the camp, but it likely just gave her false hope, as did her College Prep classes. By junior year she was working in a grocery store, and after graduation she simply upped her hours. No one in her family had gone to college, and there was no one outside of it to painstakingly mentor her through the lengthy, trying process of applying to schools, to say nothing of being matriculated into one.

Her class’ valedictorian spoke in her graduation speech of bright futures for all, but Maggie’s trajectory since high school has been mostly downward, and she will have nowhere to go in two-and-a-half months’ time. She has to be out of her apartment because the landlord wants to get in on the hot real estate market.

Maggie’s only option, as she sees it now, is to move in with her sister who lives in North County. “Not that she has a lot of space, but she said that she wouldn’t let me go homeless,” she said. But even that would be a temporary fix. Her sister — along with two children — has already been served a notice to vacate because her landlord is turning the place into a cannabis dispensary.

If a voice from the future had knocked on the door of my 2011 classroom and predicted that one of the kids in Period B English would be homeless at the age of 26, I’d have been incredulous. But Maggie is only one among many, and since she has no dependents, hers is not the most dire situation. Construct’s Kimball has people with Section 8 [federally subsidized housing] vouchers whom she can’t find housing for, even with the rent paid. If no apartments become available, they will lose the vouchers. One client waited six years to obtain it, the other waited 10.

“I can’t do anything with them,” she told me. “Even people who make good money can’t find anything. There’s an 80-year-old woman living at the shelter because her landlord raised her rent and she couldn’t afford it. That’s gonna be all of us.”

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3 Bedroom Home Available for Sale by Lenox Affordable Trust at Reduced Price

Lenox, Mass. — The Lenox Afforable Housing Trust would like to make the public aware that one of the homes offered for sale by lottery is still available for sale at the reduced price of $230,000. The home, located at 8 Hynes Street, is now available to any first-time homebuyer whose household income falls at or below the 80% area median income limits. No second lottery will be held. This home will be sold on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

8 Hynes Street is a 1,168 square foot house on 1/10 acre close to the picturesque Lenox Town Center. It is a two-story, three-bedroom, one-bath home with a brand new kitchen. 

Applicants must be pre-approved for a mortgage. 

For photos and info on the income limits:

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Chronic Homelessness Just Doubled Across Western Massachusetts

According to The Berkshire Eagle’s recent article, Chronic Homelessness Just Doubled Across Western Massachusetts. Experts Are Clear About Why: The number of people found to be chronically homeless across western Massachusetts more than doubled this year, jumping from 118 to 303 people. The reasons are known. The solutions remain elusive. “We have nowhere near enough housing and then our renters spend far more than what is reasonable on housing costs,” Keleigh Pereira, director of the Three County Continuum of Care, which includes Berkshire County, told a recent gathering of people working to find answers. Overall, risk factors for homelessness like substance use, domestic violence and job loss all increased during the pandemic. The pandemic continues to take a severe toll.

Homelessness is hitting some racial groups more than others. “People of color are disproportionately represented in the homeless population,” McCafferty said. Compared to the general western Massachusetts population, there are 2.6 times the number of Black people and three times the number of Hispanic and Latino people who are homeless, she said.

That disparity is also true in the Berkshires. From 2017 to 2020 in the Berkshires, Black residents made up 2.9 percent of the county’s overall population, but 17.3 percent of the county’s homeless, according to data from the Three County Continuum of Care. Hispanic residents made up 4.6 percent of the population and 12.7 percent of the homeless, the same analysis shows. One trauma or event can lead to homelessness, Marisa Perez, program director at ServiceNet and assistant director at the Center for Human Development, told the network at its virtual session Friday.

“We don’t wake up one day and say, ‘Today I’ll become homeless,'” Perez said.

Construct, a southern Berkshire housing nonprofit, has 77 units of permanent housing units available in the southern Berkshires and 800 households on the waiting list, Jane Ralph, the organization’s executive director, told The Eagle this week.

Some of those 800 families may be on other housing waiting lists, she said. “There’s just not enough affordable or workforce housing to go around.”

“My concern is as those costs go up and other costs go up, it’s going to be harder and harder to make ends meet,” she said.

“The wait list has always been long, but it has increased over the last several months,” Ralph said. “While Berkshire County housing groups are working to address the need, there are not enough resources,” she said.

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Best Community Service Organization — 2022 Shopper’s Choice Awards

The first annual Shopper’s Choice Awards have been announced by Shopper’s Guide, a weekly publication that has supported the Southern Berkshires community and the local economy for over fifty years. Readers of the guide were recently asked to vote on the businesses and organizations that make the region so special. 

Construct has been voted the Southern Berkshires’ BEST COMMUNITY SERVICE ORGANIZATION in 2022.

As the leading nonprofit provider of affordable housing and supportive services in the Southern Berkshires, Construct exists to help people in—and out—of crisis. With a mission to provide neighbors of low and moderate incomes with affordable housing solutions through rental assistance and related support services, Construct aims to provide a safe, secure and firm foundation for all.

Executive Director, Jane Ralph, says, “It is our pleasure to serve our community and we are happy that our neighbors are aware of the work we do to offer options for affordable housing and supportive services to those in need in our region.”

To date, Construct has purchased, rehabilitated and/or built over 80 permanent, affordable housing options in southern Berkshire County, plus 10 comfortable transitional housing bedrooms in two houses for individuals coming out of homelessness. Over the years, the organization has grown to meet the needs of 600+ families per year. The Covid-19 pandemic has greatly impacted the area and increased the waiting list for Construct’s services. 

“It’s been said that ‘it takes a village’ and ours is something special,” says Elizabeth Rosenberg, President of Construct’s board. “Together, we can put an end to housing insecurity.”

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