|North Adams Votes to Accept Properties, Funds From Housing Program|
|By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff|
12:13AM / Wednesday, April 12, 2017
|The council on Tuesday night approved the transfer of properties from HOI.|
The city will not accept the former Sun Cleaners until the property can be shown to be free of contamination.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday night accepted a transfer of assets held by Housing Opportunities Inc., an agreement that ends years of negotiations.
The board of the 30-year-old nonprofit has been trying to dissolve for at least five years. It is comprised of the same board as the North Adams Housing Authority and the staff of the authority has been managing the properties.
City officials have been in talks with HOI for nearly six years on taking over its assets but the talks have hit bumps along the way despite a vote several years ago to begin the transfer.
"Their auditors brought this up, they're a federal housing authority, and their auditors basically stated that this is not the type of work you should or can be doing," Mayor Richard Alcombright told the council. "It's taken us five years to get to this place."
The HOI board determined in 2012 to dissolve the 30-year-old program created to help first-time homeowners, feeling it was no longer useful and spurred by concerns expressed by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development.
Included in the transfer are seven parcels of vacant land at 353-355 River St., 83-83 River St., 140-142 Bracewell Ave., 60 East Quincy St., 337 River St. and 5-17 North Holden St., and a parcel with a building at 367 Houghton St.
There are also three mortgages for 35 Chase AVe., 29-31 Chase Ave. and 83 and 87 Brooklyn St. (added to article on 4/12)
Two pieces of property are being held back for at least 90 days: the former Sun Cleaners at 111 River St. and an apartment building at 111-113 Bracewell Ave. currently being used by Louison House.
The former dry cleaners, parts of which date to 1865, closed at least a decade ago. HOI purchased the property for $50,000 in 2008 and there is concern about chemicals in the soil. The city will take possession depending on the results of a 21E environmental assessment that will be paid out of funds held by the HOI, which is now about $292,704.
Any remaining funds after testing and remediation will be transferred to the city, minus "reasonable costs incurred" in the property transfers.
Councilor Eric Buddington asked what would happen to HOI if the city declined to accept the River Street property.
"The city would not be obligated to take that property if we're not satisfied with the results of the 21E assessment," City Solicitor John DeRosa said. "It would leave HOI where they are now, holding title to a property that's less than desirable."
It was an important piece of the agreement to ensure the city would not be obligated to take any contaminated property, he said.
Administrative Officer Michael Canales said he's requested estimates for doing an assessment and expected it to be done within the next few weeks. Alcombright said results would be forwarded to the council.
The mayor also said the HOI board and the city agreed that if Louison House Inc. wanted to continue its housing program on Bracewell Avenue the building would be transferred to it. Louison, formerly the Family Life Support Center, has been operating on Bracewell and at the Flood House, which it acquired from Housing Authority for $1 last month.
"I think there's 90 days in there to make up their minds if they want to stay," Alcombright said.
All the properties and any leftover funds would be managed by the Community Development Department.
"This has been done through the Community Development Department before so they're very adept at the collection process for [mortgages]," the mayor said to questions.
Once the city has possession, it may sell off the properties and use the funds for other housing betterment programs.
"You could potentially look at a use for a facade program, a paint program, all kinds of things that we can think about with that money," the mayor said.
Councilor Robert M. Moulton Jr. objected to the transfer, asking why the HOI had not sold all the property already.
"The city has a ton of properties ... I don't know 175-200, from this building to an unusable parcel," he said. "So now we're going to be getting more parcels. ... Why in this period, in this past three or four years, has HOI not put all these to auction and sold them and then just given the proceeds to the city."
He brought up a parcel the North Adams Ambulance Service had not been allowed to buy while other pieces were being sold, some to city employees.
Councilor Keith Bona called a point of order, saying there could be a conflict in the discussion because Moulton was chairman of the ambulance's board of directors. "It sounds like a gray area to me," he said.
Alcombright said the issue had nothing to do with the agreement before the council but he would explain what had happened three years ago. The ambulance had submitted an offer for an adjacent piece of land
for $12,000 that was approved by the HOI board. Before the closing, an offer for the full value had come to the mayor's office.
The mayor said he would have been criticized by others if he had played a role in allowing a piece of public property to sell for less than half its value.
"So this is a lose-lose situation ... We're three years past that and it has nothing to do here," he said.
The final vote was 7-1 to accept the properties, with Moulton voting no. Councilor Nancy Bullett was absent.
The council also:
• Approved two secondhand license renewals for Ernest Perry of 118 Eagle St. (Odds & Ends) and for Mary Ann George, 656 Ashland St. (Maryann-Tiques & Gifts).
• Heard a presentation on the annual audit and progress on Americans With Disabilities Act compliance, and referred a fiscal 2018 draft budget to the Finance Committee.