| G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – What was once an apartment building with many problems is now ready for a new chapter and tenants.
Jay Ash, the secretary of the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, joined Mayor Domenic Sarno and state Sen. James Welch at the official opening of the Memorial Square apartments in the North End on June 9.
The renovation of the building was a project of the New England Farm Workers Council and Vanessa Otero, the COO of Partners for Community, the council’s parent organization, told Reminder Publications the 40 apartments of affordable housing is just part of a series of renovation projects, with two more apartment buildings next in line, along with the Paramount Theater block.
She said the project required a completed gutting of the interior of the building and took almost a year. Some of the tenants will be returning to the building to live, while there will be new ones as well, she added.
Heriberto Flores, chairman and CEO of Partners for Community and Affiliates said the cost of the renovation was about $14 million. He mentioned during the ceremony the project was 100 percent union and there were homeless people the unions took on as apprentices to provide job training.
“Our training program will improve the socioeconomic condition of our community and provides employment and training services that give our people a hand up, not a handout,” Otero said.
Ash said the Baker Administration has “the easy part of the job,” by approving funding for such projects. He recognized the Legislature for having the difficult task of allocating funds.
The backing of this project, which will help homeless people by providing housing, is a part of the Baker Administration “real world problem solving,” Ash added. He said the use of motels to house homeless families has dropped from 42 motels with 1,500 families to two motels with 52 families. The goal, he explained, was to relocate families into permanent housing.
Flores, the subject of good-natured ribbing from several of the speakers about his persistence in finding state and federal funding for projects such as this one, looked at Ash and said, “I love this guy. He has a lot of money.” He then warned Ash, “the big one is coming,” a project he said would be “significant to the downtown and the city” – a reference to a redevelopment to the Paramount Theater block.
City Councilor Adam Gomez said the remodeled building “means a lot to this neighborhood,” which he added is starting to flourish. The state and federal funds that helped fund the renovation means those levels of government “are taking notice of my neighborhood.”
He noted, “We’re off to a good start.”