‘Housing that people can afford;’ Valley Opportunity Council gets $8.5M bond to rehab 36 apartments in Holyoke’s Churchill neighborhood

March 30, 2023 : MassLive, Jim Kinney

HOLYOKE – Valley Opportunity Council, through its Voces de Esperanza arm, has secured $8.5 million in funding to rehab 36 apartments in Holyoke’s Churchill neighborhood.

MassDevelopment, the state’s development finance agency and land bank, announced the low-interest financing Thursday. The news release said bankESB is buying the loans.

Easthampton’s bankESB is also loaning the project an additional $1 million, said Valley Opportunity Council Executive Director Stephen Huntley.

In addition to the tax-exempt bond, MassDevelopment assisted the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development with the approval of federal low-income housing tax credits that will provide approximately $5.7 million in equity for the project.

The total cost is $9.5 million.

“The need in western Mass., and really everywhere, is extraordinary,” Huntley said. “Housing that people can afford. Housing that you can work a minimum wage job and afford is just nonexistent right now. That’s where our focus is.”

Valley Opportunity Council took over the project from the Mass Housing investment Corp. in 2009. “We took it over and it had serious structural issues,” Huntley said.

The project involves 348 Chestnut St. and 337-351 Chestnut St. in the Churchill neighborhood, south of Beech Street, near Sheard Park and close to the I-391 access points.

Some upper floors of 348 Chestnut St. – a building erected in 1920 – had dipped as much as four inches in the center.

The building at 337-351 Chestnut St. dates from 1999, but its stucco exterior had problems and needed be replaced.

Renovations will include making kitchen and bathroom upgrades with new cabinets, fixtures, and appliances; repairing and repainting walls and ceilings; and installing new flooring and carpeting.

The building at 348 Chestnut St. will get new entry doors, windows and repaired and repointed masonry, according to the release. A vacant commercial space on the ground floor of 348 Chestnut will be converted to one new unit of housing.

Work began in January, Huntley said, with Valley Opportunity Council moving a third of the tenants out to other apartments in Holyoke. Once work is done in those apartments, those residents will come back and the process will be repeated.

A ribbon-cutting is planned for next month.

According to the release, the buildings have 37 units consisting of six one-bedroom apartments, 20 two-bedroom apartments and 11 three-bedroom apartments.

Ten units will be rented to households earning no more than 30% of the area median income (AMI) ($28,250 for a four-person household). Fifteen units rented to households earning no more than 50% of AMI ($47,050 for a four-person household) and 12 units will be rented to households earning no more than 60% AMI ($56,460 for a four-person household).

Huntley said rents won’t change for continuing tenants. But for a new tenant, rent for a two-bedroom unit will be about $1,200 a month. That includes utilities.

“Voces de Esperanza is the fulfillment of the vision and hard work of the late Carlos Vega,” Holyoke Mayor Joshua A. Garcia said in a news release.

“His vision inspired the development of the Churchill neighborhood where this project is located. Roughly three decades ago, with Nueva Esperanza, Inc. as the developer, Carlos Vega leveraged the necessary resources and partnerships to rehab, preserve and build affordable housing totaling 36 units, a project known as Voces de Esperanza,” Garcia said.