A Tenant Describes the Housing Crisis in South County

A frontline worker’s firsthand account of the housing crisis in the Berkshires, as told by Jessica Winn to Sheela Clary. This story was first published in the Berkshire Edge.

I was gonna be homeless. We had nowhere to go. Through word of mouth, thank God, my friend was moving out of her three-bedroom duplex in Housatonic, so we moved in there. We paid $1,500 a month. It really took care of us for the first year after moving out. It really settled things down. It was nice! The kids didn’t want to move.

I was told in October that the landlord wanted to sell the property because the tenant on the other side is quite troublesome. I’ve had no issues. They’ve been wonderful. They saved us.

I had pretty much a one-track mind, trying to find a place to live. It’s all I did for six months. My significant other looked every day for houses, apartments, you name it. He was sending me stuff all day long, but everything was outrageously expensive. [A business in Lenox] did rent a house to me in November, and they wanted first, last and security, so $3,400 plus $1,800. They wanted it before the first of the month. I had last and security, $3,400. But I had just paid my $1,500 rent [in Housatonic] so I said, “Can I give you half this week and half next week? I just paid rent. I’ll be destitute.”

The guy renting the place said, “I’ll call the owners.” He called me back. “No, they’re going to go with the next person.”

I had already given notice. I had already rented a van. They wanted their money, and I could have paid it, but it would have left me with absolutely no money for a week ’til my next paycheck. That rent included nothing. You had to do your own plowing, your own lawn, you had to take care of all your utilities, for $1,800 a month. That is the cheapest place I have found.

There was a three-bedroom place on the Hill in Great Barrington for $4,000 a month. I called the guy and I’m like, “I’m a local girl and I want you to tell me what job I need to get in order to pay $4,000 a month for an apartment.”

He said, “Well, I can get somebody from New York City to come here and pay it like it’s nothing.” That’s what he said to me.

I have three very good friends who are in the same situation I was in seven months ago. A friend of mine has a husband, a dog, a cat and two kids. They rent a house in Canaan. The owner is having issues so she needs to move back into the house, and they need to find a place to live. There is nothing. She’s hysterical. She has chest pains. She can’t even function because she doesn’t know what to do.

Then I have another friend with her husband and two little kids, and their place is being sold so they need to find a place. They have her husband’s brother who is mentally and physically handicapped and they take care of him, so she needs at least a three-bedroom house. Nothing.

And then, another friend and her daughter. They got a great little one-bedroom apartment they could afford. She got a boyfriend that she used to date in high school, and he asked her to move in, so she loses her apartment. They live together like eight months. He breaks up with her and now she has to find a place for her and her daughter and there’s nothing for a one-bedroom apartment under $1,200. The girl’s working at McDonald’s to try to make money. It’s horrible.

I am now moving to Pittsfield because we found a brand-new, three-bedroom, two-bath manufactured home. I’m paying $121,000. I have a side yard. I have a back yard. The bike trail runs behind my house. I’m signing the papers at 8:30 tomorrow morning, and as soon as I hand over those checks and sign that paper, the anvil of weight that’s been sitting on my chest for four months will hopefully, finally, go away. My car is packed. I’m going to sign those papers and unload the car.

They put up two more after mine, and now the lot is full. I have like double the amount of space than everybody to the left of me. Sardines is what I would say about one side of the lot. Our side is more spaced out. They put in two more homes that are not finished and they’re already sold. I know a couple of people from South County who have been up here for a long time.

I absolutely love it. I mean, it’s a double wide trailer, there’s no two ways around it. But they call it a manufactured house. It’s got real windows. I have a master bedroom and bathroom with a shower and a walk-in closet, and a bathtub that you could put four people in. And the boys have their own bathroom and I have a laundry room and beautiful kitchen. The kitchen is set with brand-new, stainless-steel appliances.

The boys have taken bike rides every night. Michael did 24 miles. He did the entire trail. My significant other is here almost every night to cook for us because I’m still broke as a joke. But I did this myself. I’m pretty proud of myself, being a single mom with two kids. This way, now nobody’s gonna be kicking me out because I own it.

My best friends are all in Litchfield, Connecticut, and Sheffield. We like Cafe Adam and the Brewery. But other than that, it’s pretty much, “Screw you, Barrington.” It’s now a 39-minute drive to work for me every day. I’m gonna have to drive my son to Big Y [in Great Barrington] at 7 a.m. This way I can work pretty much 7:15 a.m.– 3:30 p.m. every day. It gives me almost my eight-and-a-half hour shift. I’m only going to have to use a little earned time. But this is what you have to literally do to be able to find a place to live in Berkshire County. My friend says our kids will never be able to afford a house in the place where we all grew up.

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