|By Nate Luscombe|
HOLYOKE "My kids don't even think we live in the same apartment. They keep calling it 'our new house.'"
That was Maria Velasquez's reaction to her newly renovated apartment in Holyoke.
Velasquez lives in the Verano Apartments in South Holyoke. The complex, comprised of four buildings totaling 44 apartment units, was refurbished by HAP, Inc. the region's housing partnership, and Nueva Esperanza, a neighborhood-based community development corporation.
"Our commitment is not to just pay off the mortgage and sell the building," said Carlos Vega of Nuevo Esperanza. "We want to re-invest in the community."
The buildings that comprise the Verano Apartments which are on Summer Street, South Summer Street and Hamilton Street were purchased by HAP and Nueva Esperanza in the mid-1980s. The rehabilitation project new roofs, masonry and structural repairs, as well as repairs common areas in all 44 units. Each apartment has new flooring, kitchen and bath fixtures, storm/screen doors, energy-efficient windows and water heaters and fire suppression sprinklers.
The word "verano" is Spanish for "summer," Vega said.
Mayor Michael Sullivan said there are many other projects similar to the Verano apartments happening in the city.
"We're looking forward to unveiling those as well," he said.
The Verano Apartments, as well as the other projects, are designed to help with stability in Holyoke, Vega said.
"We know that housing is only one aspect of stabilizing the city," he said.
Jane Gumble, director of the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development, said the mission of her department and the Affordable Housing Trust, is "to give away money."
"I've always thought Holyoke was a community that had lots to offer," Gumble said.
Gumble, who is working under her fourth governor, said her department has had a "great run" of multi-family housing projects recently, but housing in Massachusetts is still an issue.
"We can't fix it only on the state level, or only on the federal level," she said.
But Gumble stressed the importance of housing that is affordable to all residents.
"If we don't have enough housing, we don't have enough places for the people who work in our cities to live," she said.
State Senator Michael Knapik echoed that sentiment.
"We're the only state that's lost population two years in a row," he said. "We're a cold-weather state and an aging state, so we have a lot of things going against us. But we have a lot of things going for us too."
When the project was first proposed, many people said it would take 18 months to complete, and would be a major headache for residents and contractors alike, said Peter Gagliardi of HAP, Inc..
The project was completed in just over four months, he added.
"The contractor was actually a little upset that it took slightly longer than the four months he expected," Gagliardi said.
The project was completed on schedule and on budget, which was very helpful, Gagliardi said.