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Mural Planned for Ashland Street Apartments in North Adams
By Jack Guerino, iBerkshires Staff
01:19AM / Wednesday, September 30, 2020
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An illustration of a mural project on the Housing Authority's Ashland Park Apartments that will part of the Ashland Street Initiative.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Housing Authority approved a mural project that will transform one end the Ashland Park apartments, more commonly known as the high-rise.
 
Housing Authority Executive Director Jennifer Hohn said the authority voted Monday to allow the painting of a mural on the north side of the eight-story building.
 
"I am extremely excited for this extraordinary opportunity for the North Adams Housing Authority to be part of this piece," Hohn said. "This will add even more intriguing art opportunities for tourists coming to Mass MoCA or other local museums."
 
The mural is part of the Ashland Street Initiative, a project to enhance and beautify the area between downtown North Adams and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
 
Inspired by the Eagle Street Initiative, the citizens' group behind that project, NAMAzing, teamed with Common Folk Artist Collective, Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, and the city to bring some of the same placemaking and artistic touches to the Ashland corridor. 
 
Hohn said the discussion with the initiative began some months ago, and the approval is contingent upon a legal review of the contract.
 
Muralist Gaia produces large-scale murals all over the world, and his proposed Ashland Street mural has been influenced by the input of more than 200 survey responses by the building's and community residents, said the city's Director of Community Events Suzy Helme.
 
NAMAzing project coordinator Benjamin Lamb said the mural is inspired by the future generations of North Adams, and the the women and children who helped build the community and local industries over time.
 
He said the mural is also inspired by horticulturalist Lue Gim Gong, a Chinese immigrant who after moving to Florida from North Adams developed the Valencia orange in 1911.
 
"It celebrates our well known industrial past, our less well-known but inspiring historical figures, and the hopes, dreams and aspirations we have for our children and future," Lamb said. "Plus, it is gorgeous."
 
In announcing the choice of Gaia in June, Lamb said he was "incredibly excited" that Gaia agreed to create the mural. 
 
"His O+ work in Kingston, N.Y., is some of the most inspiring, bold, and eye opening public artwork I have ever encountered," he said at the time. "His work is of a caliber and quality, with incredibly deep intention, that will help inject new vibrancy and beauty on Ashland Street while celebrating our community's present and past."
 
Hohn said she is happy NAHA has been included in this effort.
 
"In addition, it hopes to help beautify the Ashland corridor which has been an ongoing effort to date," she said.
 
Lamb said the project's timeline will be guided by the "New England weather systems."
 
The effort has been upset somewhat by the novel coronavirus but trees were planted last year and the distinctive "NAMA"  bicycle racks have been recently installed along with benches sporting the city's new logo. There are also plans for crosswalk flag stations to increase pedestrian safety, and a number of creative installations and green space improvements. The mural is considered the cornerstone of the project. 
 
The initiative began in spring 2019 and is funded through community crowd-funding and a $12,500 MassDevelopment matching grant. 
 
In other business Monday, the Housing Authority discussed a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement with the city that started back in 2009.
 
"NAHA started paying a PILOT to the City of North Adams in 2009 when I took over as executive director, based on a formula agreed upon between NAHA and the city of North Adams," she said. "To date, nobody can locate any agreement prior."
 
Per a communication from NAHA's attorney Steve Narey, the mayor has indicated that he has no qualms with the PILOT agreement and is waiting to hear whether it will require City Council approval.
 
The Housing Authority needs this agreement in writing as part of the Rental Assistance Demonstration closing process.
 
The RAD allows U.S. Housing and Urban Development housing authorities to move their units to the Section 8 platform and to leverage debt and equity for re-investment without affecting tenant rights and rents, or housing authority control.
 
In a communication to the NAHA, some additional requirements for the conversion include the submission of construction estimates for major projects, a financing plan, and some third-party reports.
 
NAMA's annual five-year plan has already been submitted to HUD and it is estimated NAMA could close on the conversion in six to nine months.
 
The board also discussed the fiscal 2021 operating budget that Hohn said is up around $20,000. She said this increase is essentially driven by legal costs associated with the RAD conversion and anticipated attorney-assisted evictions once the state's eviction moratorium expires.
 
"NAHA has experienced a national trend of residents whose income has not been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, whom have opted not to pay their rent because they are safe from eviction," Hohn said. "This only adds to higher balances and the limited affordability to pay the past due balance."
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