Northampton City Council approves Community Preservation Act money for housing program, playgrounds

Friday, April 18, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — The city is in line to be among the first communities in the state to launch a program using Community Preservation Act money dedicated solely to helping low- and moderate-income residents who live in affordable housing to stay in their homes.

The City Council Thursday night unanimously approved a $195,000 CPA grant to the Housing Partnership for a three-year initiative called the Community Housing Supportive Services Project. The program would involve the partnership selecting a community agency and a resource manager to work with people who are facing eviction from certain housing projects, including those operated by the Northampton Housing Authority and ServiceNet.

While some local agencies have staff do help these people as part of their job descriptions, the new initiative is unique in that it would dedicate one person to do the work on a full-time basis, said Sarah LaValley, senior land-use planner for the city.

The grant was among seven projects totaling $806,500 that won unanimous approval from the council on first reading, including renovation of a playground at Bridge Street School and construction of two new playgrounds at Lampron Park and Florence Fields. A second vote is scheduled for May 1.

Ward 6 City Councilor Marianne L. LaBarge said she likes the concept of the Housing Partnership program, which calls for hiring one individual to do outreach to the community housing residents who might need financial counseling or other assistance that could prevent them from becoming homeless.

“I feel this is the right way to go,” LaBarge said.

LaValley said the Housing Partnership will be required to track its progress and submit reports to the Community Preservation Committee, including how many evictions they help prevent. She said recent changes in the CPA law made this an eligible project, which Ward 3 City Councilor Ryan R. O’Donnell described as innovative.

“That’s kind of what I like about it,” he said.

Other CPA projects include a $165,000 grant that the Bridge Street School will use to help pay for most of a $200,000 renovation of its playground. The work will involve installation of new playground surfaces and a small number of design and play elements. The project is expected to be completed for the start of the next school year in September.

Another $50,000 grant went to the Recreation Commission that will be used as a match for a $200,000 state grant to build community playgrounds at Lampron Park next to Bridge Street School and at the new Florence Fields on Meadow Street. The state grant has been awarded through the state’s Our Common Backyards program.

Another $200,000 grant went to the Conservation Commission and the Office of Planning and Sustainability to fund the purchase of a 48-acre parcel between routes 66 and 10. Known as the Rocky Hill acquisition, the land would serve as a wildlife connector between open areas at the Arcadia Sanctuary, the Oxbow and the former state hospital grounds. The purchase is also made possible by $325,000 from the state’s Local Acquisitions for Natural Diversity grant program.

The property is currently on the market and if sold could be developed into six or seven homes or businesses, said Wayne Feiden, director of the Office of Planning and Sustainability. He said the city does not have an option to buy the land, but wants to have the money available in case a deal can be reached with the owner. The grant would not be used if the city does not buy the property, he said.

The remaining projects are $130,000 to the Grantham Group to help provide 43 units of affordable, assisted-living in a new 83-unit, assisted-living project at Village Hill Northampton called Christopher Heights; $40,000 to the Conservation Commission to conduct a land survey in the Saw Mill Hill Conservation Areas; and $26,500 to the Three-County Fairgrounds to preserve, modernize and attain historic listing of the grandstand at the fairgrounds.