‘A precious resource’: South Holyoke Homes project to bring much-needed affordable housing to city

  • A model of the South Holyoke Homes affordable housing project planned to be built on land surrounding Carlos Vega Park on Clemente Street. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Renderings of an affordable, 12-unit rental building on the corner of Hamilton and South East streets in Holyoke. Construction has begun on the building, which is being developed by the Holyoke Housing Authority as part of the large-scale South Holyoke Homes project. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Renderings of an affordable, 12-unit rental building on the corner of Hamilton and South East streets in Holyoke. Construction has begun on the building, which is being developed by the Holyoke Housing Authority as part of the large-scale South Holyoke Homes project. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/22/2021 6:35:41 PM

HOLYOKE — Construction is soon to begin on the first phase of a large-scale affordable housing project in South Holyoke.

The South Holyoke Homes project will eventually feature 66 affordable rental units and 19 rowhouse-style, owner-occupied properties built by the Holyoke Housing Authority on vacant lots surrounding Carlos Vega Park. And now, a first phase to build a 12-unit rental building on the corner of Hamilton and South East streets is fully funded and underway.

Matthew Mainville, the housing authority’s executive director, said that amid a housing shortage further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the South Holyoke Homes project represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Holyoke.

“This is the first housing construction in South Holyoke probably for the last two decades — certainly not anything of this number of units or this size,” he said. “Just putting any kind of housing into the market is very impactful.”

The housing authority was scheduled to hold a groundbreaking event on Thursday, but thunderstorms caused the event to be canceled.

Of the 12 apartments in the new rental building being built, 75% of the units will be for households earning up to 30% of area median income. The other three units will be for households earning up to 50% of the area’s median income.

Currently, the housing authority has as long as a five-year waitlist for its affordable housing properties. Sarah Meier-Zimbler, the authority’s director of development, said there will be a separate waitlist for the new property.

“Affordable housing is a precious resource for sure,” Mainville said.

The next phase of the project will involve the building of 19 townhouses for those looking to buy their first homes. Meier-Zimbler said those homes will be built in three one-year periods, beginning in 2022 and continuing through to 2025.

“It gives people time to work on their credit, saving for a downpayment,” she said of the gradual rollout of that phase.

The South Holyoke Homes project had actually already kicked off before ground was broken for the building of the first rental units. Using money from a $6.6 million grant from MassWorks, the housing authority has been completing streetscape work around the park that includes new curbing and sidewalks, street lighting, stormwater bump-outs with trees, bike lanes, pedestrian connections, improved alleyways, and an 18,950-square-foot green space.

The idea for building housing in the area of the South Holyoke park has been around for a while. It was part of a “South Holyoke Revitalization Strategy” report put together by a committee of local nonprofit organizations, such as Nueva Esperanza and Enlace de Families, the city, neighborhood residents, local businesses and others in 2008.

Those recommendations were then incorporated into the Holyoke Redevelopment Authority’s urban renewal plan in 2012, which spells out the kind of development the city intends to pursue in the area, with mixed-use housing and affordable homeownership identified as a priority. The document also calls for improvements for pedestrian access, more lighting throughout the neighborhood and the construction of a police substation in the area.

The South Holyoke Homes project has already begun streetscape infrastructural improvements, which are slated for completion in June 2022. And now housing will be a priority as the housing authority, which the Holyoke Redevelopment Authority selected as the developer for the project, continues to pursue funding for the endeavor.

Mainville and Meier-Zimbler were recently in front of the city’s mayor as one of a range of institutions invited to make pitches for their projects to receive federal American Rescue Plan Act funding from the city. Meier-Zimbler said homes available to first-time homebuyers have become “almost nonexistent” since the pandemic began, and the two pitched homeownership efforts as a way to create equity in the city. The housing authority’s ARPA funding pitch was for nearly $6.4 million for phase two of the project.

The two said that the housing authority conducted lots of community outreach about the project pre-pandemic, and encouraged people to visit the South Holyoke Homes website or social media accounts to learn more about how to make their voices heard as the process moves forward.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.
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