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Office of Community Development has big plans for grant funding


Aug. 23, 2013
By Chris Maza

chrism@thereminder.com

WEST SPRINGFIELD – The Office of Community Development has big plans for the latest round of grant funding it recently received.

While in West Springfield on July 26, Gov. Deval Patrick announced the award of $31 million in Community Development Block Grants to 38 cities and towns throughout the Commonwealth, including a $900,000 grant to West Springfield.

The $900,000 represented the maximum the town could receive, Community Development Director Joseph Laplante confirmed to Reminder Publications.

“I’ve been with the town for 26 years and each of those years, with the exception of two, we have been awarded this grant,” he said.

Laplante said the grant would be used for “a number of initiatives” within the town with a focus on the neighborhoods located in the southeast.

First and foremost, he said, half of the money would be utilized as part of an extensive housing upgrade project in the Merrick, Memorial, Sand Hill and Center neighborhoods.

“Under the housing repair program, income qualified residents can receive grants to repair their houses,” he said, explaining the monies could be used for myriad upgrades, including, but not limited to, roof and foundation repairs and electrical work. “We have enough money to fix 13 units.”

Laplante said the town is active in the rehabilitation process for the dwellings, aiding in the writing of specifications for the work and securing the three bids required. The Office of Community Development also oversees the work to make sure it is completed satisfactorily.

“Our goal is after we leave the house, all code violations are repaired without the need for improvements for 10 to 15 years,” he said.

Another portion of the money would be used to fund the town’s housing safety code enforcement program.

“We have an inspector dedicated to the southeast portion where 70 percent of code violations occur. The four neighborhoods in that area are very densely built,” Laplante said. “The southeast area covers 12 percent of the land, but 25 percent of the population.”

Sidewalk replacement projects in the Memorial Drive area near the Eastern States Exposition would require $225,000 in funding. The plan calls for the replacement of 6,000 linear feet of sidewalk on various streets, Laplante said.

“Many people don’t have reliable cars and have to walk to work, to get groceries or to receive services,” he said. “You need to have a good pedestrian system.”

Remaining monies from the grant, $61,400, will fund small portions of five social services offered by the town.

Those programs include: an English as a second language learning program at the public library; a family self-sufficiency counseling program sponsored by the Center for Human Development; a first-time homebuyer education program sponsored by HAPHousing in Springfield; summer camp scholarships through the Boys and Girls Club of West Springfield; and support for Headstart, sponsored by Community Action of the Franklin, Hampshire, and North Quabbin Regions Inc.

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