Pittsfield community group earns reprieve in building demolition

A community group that focuses on Latinos in Pittsfield, Massachusetts has earned a last-minute reprieve in its efforts to save its headquarters from demolition.

Condemned after a 2007 fire, the building in a residential neighborhood was slated to be demolished Monday. But after an unannounced visit to his office by ten supporters of Manos Unidas,  a Pittsfield multicultural organization, Mayor Daniel Bianchi gave the group a one-week extension to secure funding for repairs.

Anaelisa Vanegas, a co-founder of the group, says it saw a good opportunity to strategically put into practice its belief in non-violent political action.

“What I feel was powerful about the sit-in, or what we call talk-in, is it was an impromptu emergency meeting with the mayor. We timed it perfectly because we knew he would be arriving at that moment for another meeting, and he had to postpone his other meetings in order to really listen to the people,” she says.

The group, which owns the building, says it has found an investor willing to bring it up to code with the help of volunteer labor. Manos Unidas unsuccessfully sought an injunction last week to halt the demolition.

The building once housed a youth drop-in center, transitional housing, and programs targeted for Latinos and other minority groups. Manos Unidas, whose name means United Hands, has maintained a community garden in front of the now unoccupied structure, but previous fundraising efforts for rehabilitation came up short.  

Still to be resolved is a $50,000 tax lien on the building, which officials say must be paid as part of any agreement to save it.