Advocates For The Poor Seek Springfield Housing Task Force

Jul 18, 2017

Springfield City Hall

   A Massachusetts anti-poverty group is calling for establishing a housing task force in the state’s third-largest city.   As the Springfield City Council heard that request, it voted to give MGM more time to build housing as part of the downtown casino project.  

     Arise for Social Justice, the Springfield-based nonprofit which advocates for the poor, is calling for a task force to address what Liz Bewsee, the housing organizer at Arise, says are challenges low-income people face when trying to rent apartments in the city.

     " So what we want the city council to do is to create a task force to take an in-depth look at the housing we have including abandoned, foreclosed and vacant properties and use that information to figure out what kind of housing we need in the city," Bewsee said. " We don't need more market rate housing."

     Bewsee said twenty families contacted her just last week looking for help finding an apartment they could afford.  She said the typical monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Springfield is approaching $1,000.

     "You can't work a minimum wage job and expect to afford an apartment," said Bewsee.

     Springfield City Council President Orlando Ramos said he looks favorably on the request from Arise.

     " I know this is an issue they have been working really hard on. It is an issue that is important to me," said Ramos.

     Ramos has authored an ordinance that would establish a city registry of all apartments and require regular inspections.  He said it has failed to pass because of objections from landlords over the registration fees.

    " The legislation I proposed is a rental registration ordinance that would have created a more informative data base for the city to keep tabs on the rental property  and make sure they are up to standard," explained Ramos.

     Its estimated Springfield has 30,000 apartments for rent in more than 8,000 buildings.

     The city council voted unanimously Monday night to give MGM Springfield a time extension on its commitment to provide 54 units of market rate housing downtown as part its $950 million casino project.

    MGM’s housing plans have changed three times.  Initially the housing was to be built within the 14.5-acre site where the resort casino will be.  Then, MGM purchased the former Springfield School Department headquarters in 2016 with the intention of redeveloping the building to satisfy the housing requirement.

    Now, MGM may become a partner in the proposed redevelopment of the long-vacant six-story former Court Square hotel just a block from the casino.

    Springfield Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy said last month MGM had tentatively agreed to invest $11 million in the $35-$40 million mixed-use development that would include 60 apartments.

    "We feel this is a very good deal for the city," said Kennedy.

    MGM’s housing commitment was one of several conditions the company agreed to in order to secure a gaming license from the state. 

    Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby during a meeting in May voiced frustration over the delays in fulfilling the housing promise.

    " ( The ) housing is not going to be open at the time the project opens, which is already a bit of a disappointment," said Crosby.

    The new deadline approved by the city council will give MGM until March 2020 to meet the housing commitment.  The casino is scheduled to open in September 2018.