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19 units of affordable housing to be built in downtown

By Erin O'Connor

Staff Writer

WESTFIELD State officials recently announced that the Westfield Community Development Corporation (CDC) has been awarded funding from federal low-income housing tax credits and state housing programs to develop 19 units of affordable housing in three buildings on Elm Street.

$282,149 in federal low-income housing tax credits and $1,750,000 from state housing programs was awarded to the CDC in early December.

"It is a very good project," Westfield CDC Executive Director Mark Noonan said. "What the state has been talking a lot about is smart growth development of housing along existing bus lines. People can walk who are not driving, people that don't have cars can still get jobs."

The Westfield CDC said they began purchasing the three buildings in Downtown Westfield in Fall 2005. The properties include the Rinnova Building at 105-107 Elm Street, the Erin's Own Irish Imports building at 168 Elm Street, and 120 Elm Street.

Each of the buildings will feature modern apartments on their upper floors while continuing to hold retail presence on the street level Noonan said.

Platterpus Records is housed in the Rinnova Building, Erin's Own Irish Imports and three hair salons are located at 168 Elm Street, and a Massage Therapy practice is located on the street level at 120 Elm Street.

"A lot of down town stores have upper stories that are underdeveloped, that are just empty," Noonan said. "The businesses below will continue and hopefully grow."

"This grant award represents a positive development in bringing residential life back to Elm Street," State Senator Michael R. Knapik said. "Mixed-use development has taken hold in many urban settings and I firmly believe it can succeed here in Westfield as well," he added.

Noonan said the apartments will be affordable housing units for those in the income range of $27,000 - $30,000, appealing to the "single-mother" market.

Estimates have put rental rates in the range of $600 for one-bedroom units to $750 for two-bedroom units. At this time officials said the rates are not set.

"The subsidies come through the construction so the property has to stay affordable throughout the structure," Noonan said.

State officials said this is part of a larger scale program in which more than $85 million worth of federal tax credits and funding from various housing programs will be targeted to support 26 projects in 17 communities across the Commonwealth.

When the project is completed state officials say it will yield 1,203 new rental apartments, 1,089 that are to be affordable for low- and moderate-income working families.

"By providing people the opportunity to live nearby it opens up a lot of possibilities," Noonan said. "I think it will help, but I don't think it is the only answer. There are a lot of efforts to make it work, both public and private. A lot of investors are hesitant to do pure market rate stuff. This sets a leading example to do more of this stuff," he added.

This is the Westfield CDC's first experience with rental housing. Previous programs have been aimed at first-time home ownership.