State grants bolster local community development agencies

Dave Christopolis, Hilltown Community Development Corp. executive director, talks to Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll after she announced a 300,000 Community Investment Tax Credit award at Hilltown CDC in Chesterfield, Thursday.

Dave Christopolis, Hilltown Community Development Corp. executive director, talks to Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll after she announced a 300,000 Community Investment Tax Credit award at Hilltown CDC in Chesterfield, Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/JAMES PENTLAND

By JAMES PENTLAND

Staff Writer

Published: 05-16-2024 4:50 PM

CHESTERFIELD — Highlighting the work of Hilltown Community Development Corp., Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll came to Chesterfield on Thursday to announce a $300,000 award that allows the agency to leverage up to the same amount from donors to support the full range of its programs.

Whatever amount the CDC can raise up to the grant amount is eligible for the tax credit program.

“The Community Investment Tax Credit program has been a game-changer for us,” Executive Director Dave Christopolis told the overflow crowd at Hilltown CDC’s offices.

He noted that it bolsters the agency’s “hyperlocal” programs such as food delivery and transportation, as well as affordable housing development.

“State government is definitely our biggest partner,” he said.

Driscoll said she has been aware of the impact local CDCs can have since she became mayor of Salem, and housing, or the lack of it, continues to be people’s top concern. Investments in rural areas help to support residents at all stages of life, she said.

Housing Secretary Ed Augustus praised Driscoll’s passion for housing, and called Hilltown CDC an indispensable partner in providing for the needs of the towns it serves. He noted that the Healey administration supports making the tax credit program, which is due to expire next year, permanent as part of this year’s housing bond bill, and increasing the funding from $12 million to $15 million.

The funding awards announced Thursday range from $50,000 to $300,000. Among the recipients was Northampton’s Valley CDC, with $215,000. Donors who give at least $1,000 to the CDCs get 50% back in tax credits under the program.

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State Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa said people were calling her about housing even before she was sworn in as a state lawmaker.

“It’s so hard to build housing, especially in rural areas,” she said, where there are no urban amenities like municipal sewer systems.

Sen. Paul Mark of Becket, noting that he comes from a town of fewer than 2,000 people, saluted the administration’s commitment to rural areas, and said he knew Hilltown CDC would put the money to good use.

“The dollars come to people who know what they’re doing locally,” he said.

Emily Haber, CEO of the state association of community development corporations, said all CDCs need to raise resources, and the tax credit program is a key component.

“It’s a tool to build up a donor base,” she said.

A lot of grant funding is restricted, she noted, but the agencies get to figure out what they want to do with these funds.

Sylvia Snape, a former Hilltown CDC board member, talked about the home she has found at Westhampton Woods, a 15-unit senior housing property developed by Hilltown CDC. She said she found a bird’s nest the day she first went to look the apartment, which she has kept ever since and which she passed around Thursday’s audience as a show-and-tell.

Her duplex apartment has a cathedral ceiling, modern heating and a huge bathroom.

“It’s my happy place,” she said.

Christopolis said Hilltown CDC so far has developed 68 units of housing, and is halfway through a project to renovate the old high school in Chester, providing 15 modern apartments. Besides affordable housing, Hilltown CDC has been working with towns on finding new uses for vacant public buildings, such as the former Berkshire Trail Elementary School in Cummington.

It has secured a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create a food hub, and is negotiating with the town to build a commercial kitchen at the old school, which officials also want to use for town offices.

Christopolis said many donors don’t place restrictions on their gifts, which helps with paying for the less visible aspects of Hilltown CDC’s work such as grant administration and technical assistance for towns and small business.

“The tax credits have helped double the size of this organization,” he said. “It’s one of the best programs I’ve ever been involved with.”