Gov. Charlie Baker announces state funding for Lyman Terrace in Holyoke

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This story originally appeared on MassLive.com on September 15, 2015.

HOLYOKE – Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced Tuesday that a city housing project would receive seven figures to help fund renovation efforts.

The state is awarding more than $29 million in state and federal tax credits to public housing projects across the state – 1,484 in total, including 1,119 low-income units.

Four of the projects are located in Western Massachusetts, including: Lyman Terrace in Holyoke; The Kendall in Chicopee, single room occupancy property that will undergo a full rehabilitation; the Ludlow Mill, a re-use project that will offer 75 units for seniors, 66 of which will be affordable units; and funding for phase one of Springfield’s E. Henry Twiggs housing unit.

Of the funding, over $3 million will go to Lyman Terrace in Holyoke. The award will generate over $16 million in equity, the state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development says.

The 167-unit, 18-building complex was built before World War II and is one of the oldest public housing facilities in the nation. While improvements have been made within individual units, there has not been a large-scale renovation of the apartments since it was built.

Tenants and housing authority officials say renovations are long overdue. The units are too small to comply with handicapped-accessibility standards, walls and floors within the buildings have weakened, mold has becoming a growing issue inside the residences, heat can be unreliable during the coldest months of the year and crime is a concern for both people passing through the area and Lyman Terrace residents.

The Housing Authority announced this year that an estimated $34 million is necessary for renovations, a figure that many in the greater Holyoke community have said is too much.

Speaking during a press conference held at Lyman Terrace, Baker said affordable housing is an important resource to Holyoke and other communities across the commonwealth.

“There’s a simple fact in all this, which is if you don’t maintain your housing stock, you lose it. It’s pretty much that simple,” Baker said. “Distressed projects in need of substantial work can also create other problems for neighborhoods and communities, which is why it’s so important we take this opportunity to rehab and give residents the kind of home, and small community they can take pride in. That’s what’s going to happen here at Lyman Terrace.”

Mayor Alex B. Morse said the renovations go in concert with a revival of downtown Holyoke.

“From the city’s perspective, Lyman Terrace is an isolated unit in the downtown where people don’t feel safe, either driving through or walking through. The whole point of this project is to open this up to the broader center city,” Morse told MassLive. “The finished Lyman Terrace will be one that is safe, and vibrant and well lit. It will be a place where people can feel comfortable – even if they don’t live here – walking through it.”

Morse thanked Lyman Terrace residents while addressing the crowd.

“They remind me how important it is to have a city that includes every single person, no matter what you look like, no matter what language you speak, or where you come from,” Morse said. “Lyman Terrace is the epitome is what we should be pursuing in the city and a great testament to the fact that we can build our community, create jobs, expand our tax base, build new housing units without kicking a single person out of the neighborhood that we know.”

A large crowd of tenants attended the press conference held Tuesday afternoon. Some held signs thanking Morse for his support, others clapped and cheered for the officials.

Melanie Velazquez was one of several dozen tenants in attendance. Following the event, she was sitting on her front stoop, discussing the news with neighbors.

She said the renovation – which will begin in April – is long overdue. Velazquez moved into a unit two years ago after she struggled to find market-rate housing she could afford for herself and her six-year-old daughter.

Velazquez said she often finds mold growing in her bathroom – which makes her concerned for her daughter’s health – and said temperature within the apartments can be an issue during the winter.

While she’s looking forward to change within the complex, Velazquez said she’s looking for a second job and intends to move out before it’s complete.

Community Builders, Inc. is the designated builder for the project. President and Chief Executive Officer Bart Mitchell said the renovations will be completed in phases.

Tenants will be asked to vacate on a building-by-building basis. Morse said they will either be placed in other housing facilities within the city or have the opportunity to stay within the neighborhood during renovations. “Every family who wants to stay here can stay here,” he said.

The completed project will be a mixture of construction and rehabilitation and feature two new playgrounds, landscaped green space, a new community center, and added throughways to better connect residents to the rest of downtown.