Great Barrington trust helps low- and moderate-income residents afford and rehab housing

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Great Barrington has established an Affordable Housing Trust Fund to provide assistance with down payments for first-time homebuyers and rehabilitation projects for low- and moderate-income households.
 
Town Meeting approved the fund’s creation last year with $50,000 from Community Preservation Act funds. On May 7 of this year, Town Meeting approved another $100,000 in CPA funds, which will be used for assistance beginning in July.
 
Great Barrington Selectman Bill Cooke, who serves as the Trust Fund’s chair, said addressing housing affordability will have an impact on the economy in the town of 7,500 residents.
 
“I heard from practically every merchant in town that they couldn’t find help because workers couldn’t afford to live here if they’re making $12 an hour working in the shop,” Cooke said.
 
Cooke said affluent New York City residents have been moving to the area over the past two decades, driving up prices and buying low-end homes and renovating them extensively in order to sell them for profit.
 
“Buy a house for $250,000, do a complete gut from the inside and suddenly the house is worth half a million,” he said. “And they’ve been disappearing like that. It’s a serious problem.”
 
The down payment program offers first-time homebuyers an interest-free loan for up to 5 percent of the purchase price, with a maximum of $15,000. The maximum qualifying purchase price of a home is $300,000. Households with incomes up to 80 percent of the area median income, as established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, are eligible.
 
The first-come, first-served loans require those purchasing a home in Great Barrington to qualify with one of six local participating banks, in conjunction with a Federal Home Loan Bank “Equity Builder Program” grant.
 
Homebuyers must agree to repay the loan in full when the house is sold or transferred, unless the selling price is less than 95 percent of the original purchase price of the house.
 
The home rehabilitation program will offer interest-free loans of $28,000 per unit, or up to $35,000 as determined on a case-to-case basis, to qualifying homeowners with up to four units with low- or moderate-income tenants.
 
Qualifying work includes roofing, foundation repairs, installation of energy-efficient windows and doors, insulation, accessibility improvements, plumbing, electrical repair or replacement, septic, water supply, lead paint removal, and exterior painting.
 
The scope of each project will be determined by the program’s rehabilitation specialist, along with a town building inspector.