Patrick assures support for recovery efforts
Date: 6/28/2011June 27, 2011
By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD Speaking at two events in downtown Springfield on June 21, Gov. Deval Patrick delivered an assurance that his administration will support the re-building of communities affected by the tornado.
“The message is that we can do this,” Patrick said of re-building at a press conference at the site of the expansion of the Caring Health Center on Main Street in the South End. “We have a need and an opportunity.”
Patrick, Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray and State Sens. James Welch and Gale Candaras congratulated Caring Health Center President and Chief Executive Officer Anne Awad for moving forward on the center’s plan to renovate the former Hampden Furniture three-building complex on Main Street despite nearly $600,000 in damages due to the tornado.
Awad explained to Reminder Publications the new $18 million facility, which is opposite its present clinic, is an expansion for the health center. Its other two locations will remain open.
Expansion is needed, she explained, as the center currently serves 16,000 patients annually “some of the poorest and most medically complicated patients in New England.”
Awad said the cost of the repairs would be rolled into the overall construction budget. The project will begin either in August or September. Besides the construction jobs, once open the expansion will create 100 permanent jobs, she added.
Awad said the project still needs about $1 million more in funding to be raised and it will benefit from state and federal tax credits.
She said, “One tornado roaring through here isn’t going to stop the South End.”
Immediately following the appearance on Main Street, Patrick and Murray joined other state officials, local elected officials, business people, representatives of numerous non-profit groups, neighborhood activists and residents to discuss recovery efforts at a meeting at the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Following the status reports, the audience of several hundred people broke off into working groups to discuss specific concerns.
Patrick made clear to those gathered that he saw a silver lining in the disaster, one of reviving communities through the re-building process. He also stressed the state was not in a position to fund recovery efforts on its own and he charged the audience with the challenge to “think outside the box” to seek solutions using private as well as public funding.
Patrick said to members of the media during the event “no one believes this is government responsibility mainly.” State funding could “fill in gaps” between private insurance and federal resources, he added.
Affordable housing must also be part of the re-building effort, Patrick said. He added the need was “critical for workforce housing.”
Housing and Economic Development Secretary Gregory Bialecki said the Commonwealth is interested in seeing if there are existing re-development plans for the affected areas. He said local officials shouldn’t set them aside because of the tornado, but rather consider putting them into place at this time. He mentioned that Monson officials had devised a re-development plan for that town’s downtown area and that plan should be considered in the re-building of that community.
He hoped that when re-building decisions are finalized, structures are constructed along “greener” principles with energy-saving additions, such as solar panels.
Bialecki said the Commonwealth is in the re-building business for public infrastructure, schools and parks, but the recovery extends far beyond that.
“A thousand people will be making 1,000 different decision in the next few months,” Bialecki said of the complexity of the recovery effort.
What efforts the state can underwrite will be funded by “trying to take money out of a lot of different pockets,” Bialecki said.
“There’s not a lot of money to be found today,” he added.
Bialecki said the state must set its re-building priorities for the next two years.
“We have a one in a generation opportunity to do it [re-building] right now,” he said. ***
Members of the No One Leaves Springfield/Nade Se Mude (NOL/NSM) advocacy group attended the meeting at the Basketball Hall of Fame and they believe the re-building effort would be assisted with a voluntary moratorium on foreclosures and no-fault evictions in the city.
The group is seeking Patrick’s support of the measure.
The Springfield City Council passed a resolution on June 20 asking area lenders to halt foreclosure proceedings for 90 days.
NOL/NSM also asked area banks that own homes in the affected areas to renovate the properties to house tornado evacuees.
In a letter sent to Patrick last week, NOL/NSM members Lara Shepard-Blue and Malcolm Chu wrote, “The Springfield No One Leaves/Nadie Se Mude coalition urges you to support an immediate loan forbearance and moratorium on all foreclosures and no-fault evictions in the City of Springfield. After President Obama’s federal disaster declaration, HUD announced an immediate 90-day foreclosure moratorium that applies to FHA-backed mortgages. Given the devastation of our city and the massive displacement of Springfield families, we need the forbearance and moratorium to be immediately extended to all banks, as well as an immediate moratorium on no-fault evictions. Please do everything in your power to support this forbearance and moratorium as soon as possible to prevent further displacement of Springfield families as our city attempts to recover from the tornado disaster.
“Further, we are concerned that there may be under counting and underreporting of the displacement of Springfield residents affected by the tornado. If an accurate assessment isn’t made quickly and with transparency, it will hamper our city’s ability to find housing solutions. We urge you to remain an active partner in addressing our city’s housing needs. Please make sure that community-based organizations like ours will have will a genuine seat at the table during the recovery and rebuilding process.”