Springfield agencies, officials call for stronger efforts to improve housing, reduce blight (MassLiv

SPRINGFIELD — Local officials and community activists said Thursday that there needs to be a stronger, multi-prong effort to improve housing in the city, including more resources to help landlords and tenants.

Two City Council committees accepted public comments at Rebeccca Johnson School regarding ways the city can strengthen neighborhoods, reduce blight and help meet housing needs for residents citywide.

“We want to look at everything from home ownership to development of rental units and refurbishment to the existing (housing) stock,” said Councilor Jesse Lederman, who co-chaired the meeting. “We see this as the beginning of the conversation.”

More than 75 people attended the hearing, including representatives of city departments and nonprofit organizations that deal with housing issues, landlords and tenants.

Thomas Kegelman, executive director of Home City Housing, said his agency has developed many affordable housing projects in Springfield with quality work done, but he believes other communities in the region need to do more.

There needs to be a regional effort to address the needs of affordable housing, Kegelman said

In addition, the city needs to ensure, through code enforcement, that only responsible landlords are able to operate in Springfield, he said.

David Cotter, deputy director of code enforcement, said his inspectors and the Law Department crack down on troubled landlords, with housing court actions and some assignment of receivers to turn around troubled properties. In addition, it will also aid landlords — for example, by offering advance inspections for a fee to protect them from problem tenants.

Liz Bewsee, a housing advocate and organizer for Arise for Social Justice, urged more help for low-income tenants to ensure rents are affordable and that landlords are required to fix poor conditions.

The city's inspectors and lawyers need to go after the landlords, she said.

Denise Jordan, executive director of the Springfield Housing Authority, said the authority has more than 2,300 public units at 27 sites in Springfield, along with state and federal housing vouchers, with those seeking public housing on long waiting lists.

The authority strives to provide for quality of life and empowerment, Jordan said. She joined others in saying there needs to be a stronger effort by other communities.

Ben Foreman of MassINC., a nonprofit group that promotes public policy to benefit residents, praised Springfield officials for their housing improvement efforts, but said there is a need for more state and federal resources. He urged continued efforts to bring buildings up to code, saying it promotes “neighborhood stabilization and well-being.”

Rose Webster-Smith, a representative of Springfield No One Leaves said, residents are being displaced by foreclosures and rising rents. The key is to help the current people living in Springfield.

One aid to people living in Springfield is to provide them with a database of all existing resources to help tenants and homeowners, Webster-Smith said.

Another aid would be very low interest loans or grants for aiding with correction of code violations, she said.

Geraldine McCafferty, the city's director of housing, said that a high poverty rate in Springfield contributes to some of the distressed properties and blight, particularly in poorer neighborhoods. While her department works to help homeowners, landlords and tenants, she said she also wants to hear from the public on potential solutions.

Elias Acuna, of the Realtors Association of Pioneer Valley, said it is definitely a "sellers' market" with higher prices for housing in Springfield. He said programs that would help with home repairs could be one avenue for improved conditions.

"We want to continue talking to residents, developers, all members of the community on what steps we need to take at the local level and steps we should take to advocate at the state and federal level here," Lederman said.

The meeting was co-chaired by Councilor Adam Gomez.

Other participants included Springfield Neighborhood Housing Services.

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