The Recorder – Region receives delayed community development grants

Towns across Franklin County and the North Quabbin region have received their Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) awards, and plan to use them for everything from small infrastructure projects and housing rehabilitation efforts to helping social service agencies and food pantries.

Gov. Charlie Baker announced the most recent round of awards, informing 41 cities and towns — seven in Franklin County and Athol — that there was $34 million in federal funding to share. The eight communities in this area received nearly $5.3 million.

The CDBG program provides the most direct funding that communities receive from the federal government. Funds can support a wide range of projects to benefit low- and moderate-income households. Each year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development allocates funding to Massachusetts through the Department of Housing and Community Development, which manages the competitive grant for qualifying communities.

Mayor Roxann Wedegartner said the $825,000 grant earmarked for Greenfield for fiscal year 2020, which was delayed because of the pandemic, will be used to support low- and moderate-income residents through four social service agencies; replace century-old sewer, water and drainage infrastructure on West Street; reconstruct Hope Street’s sidewalks; fund housing rehabilitation grants to homeowners; and update the Downtown Revitalization Plan.

“This grant continues to support food security programs in the city and adds support to The Literacy Project to help more people pursue high school equivalencies,” the mayor said.

“It’s great to get the thumbs up on this grant,” Greenfield Community and Economic Development Director MJ Adams said. “The funds will help rebuild Greenfield’s infrastructure — both physical (West Street) and economic (Downtown Revitalization Plan update) and social services — as we emerge out of this COVID year.”

According to Adams, over the past five years more than $4 million in CDBG funds have supported projects throughout the city, which was also awarded funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act to provide grants of up to $10,000 to small businesses with five or fewer employees.

For more information about the grant, visit greenfield-ma.gov/cedd.

Infrastructure in Athol

Athol received $800,000 for infrastructure improvements on Walnut Street.

Town Manager Shaun Suhoski said the actual total of the project is roughly $850,000. The town will use the CDBG award along with a contribution of $17,000 from a previous CDBG grant and more than $30,000 in Chapter 90 road funds from the state.

Suhoski said 700 linear feet of the road along Walnut Street from Church to Union streets will be reconstructed. Walnut Street includes a combination of residential, commercial and institutional uses in downtown Athol. Seven hundred and thirty linear feet of sidewalk will also be reconstructed, and the town will replace 120-year-old water mains and a deteriorated 100-year-old clay sewer system in the same area.

“The town is appreciative of its partnership with the Department of Housing and Community Development as we continue with a multi-pronged reinvestment in our downtown area,” Suhoski said. “This is the first phase of completing the entirety of Walnut Street and will continue from where last year’s upgrades to Church Street ended.

“Athol’s Planning Department team of Eric Smith and Alyssa Moore, Department of Public Works Superintendent Dick Kilhart and our CDBG consultant Linda Overing of Breezeway Farms Inc. are the critical players to bringing these needed projects to fruition,” he said.

Three years ago, Suhoski said, Athol turned its attention back to its downtown plan to create an environment people want to visit.

West County

Buckland will receive $756,798 for infrastructure improvements to Lower Ashfield Street and to support a food pantry, while Shelburne received $787,832 for Bridge Street infrastructure improvements and to support a local food pantry as well.

Gina Govoni, executive director of the Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority, said the agency will help Heath and Hawley, which received a total of $876,713 for housing rehabilitation assistance for 16 homes over the next 18 months.

“The average loan to homeowners will be $30,000,” Govoni said.

She said housing rehabilitation includes issues geared toward code compliance, safety and accessibility, like installing ramps for accessibility, fixing leaky roofs and weatherizing homes. She said projects vary in size.

“It’s work that needs to be done rather than work someone wants to do,” she said.

Govoni said Franklin County’s housing stock is among the oldest in the country — 37% of homes were built before 1939, compared with 33% of all Massachusetts homes and 15% of all homes in the United States.

She said what’s striking, but not surprising, is that 69 percent of homes in the county are owner-occupied.

“That’s a significant number,” she said.

Montague and Orange

Govoni said the Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority will also help Montague, which received $675,519, with housing rehabilitation. The town will also use some of the money for improvements to the sidewalk in front of the Colle Opera House building on Avenue A in Turners Falls, and on planning and design for playground improvements at Hillcrest Elementary School.

It will also dedicate some of the grant to help social service agencies that will use the money for family counseling, recovery counseling, a meals program and youth services.

Orange will put its $575,342 grant toward housing rehabilitation assistance for five homes, supporting a local food pantry, and providing money to social service agencies for disability services, mediation services, family counseling and adult education.

“We help small towns who don’t have enough staff to apply and manage the grants,” Govoni said. “All of this work will begin immediately or in the early spring. We’re really excited about the awards, even though they were delayed because of COVID-19. Typically, towns and cities would have gotten the awards last summer.”

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal praised the CDBG program in a press release about the grant awards.

“During this time of need, Community Development Block Grants play an integral role in transforming the everyday lives of individuals and communities,” he said.  “Since its inception, this program has been a success, and I continue to be a steadfast supporter of it. Cities and towns have different and diverse needs. This is a proven way for them to be addressed.”

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or [email protected]