“There’s an 80-year-old woman living at the shelter because her landlord raised her rent and she couldn’t afford it. That’s gonna be all of us. When the blue and yellow flag of Ukraine comes down, perhaps we should replace it with a black circle and square on a bright red background, the international sign for an SOS.”
Almost every house and business along Route 102 in West Stockbridge is flying the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag. Locals are also supporting on-the-ground efforts, such as the heroic ones undertaken by Chef Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen to feed millions of meals to Ukraine’s beleaguered population, and the million-plus refugees who have fled their home country.
But right here in our own bucolic corner of the world, another high-stakes crisis is playing out, for long-term renters. Units are being sold out from under tenants, and there is no place else to go. The housing waitlist for Construct, South County’s rental and affordable housing assistance agency, is up to more than 800, a nearly 25 percent jump from just three months ago. Renters are being exiled because they no longer have a place in our economic structure. The median income for our homeowners, according to the 2020 Housing Needs Assessment, was 120 percent higher than the median income for our renters.
If you listen to enough stories from those who are struggling to continue to rent homes here, flags might start to remind you of tents. That’s where many families could very well be living, and soon. Chefs, nurses, teachers, electricians, therapists, single moms, retirees, and married couples are exiled from their hometowns, or still living within them in unstable housing situations that could end any month. Some are homeless already. As far as Courtney Kimball, program manager at Construct, is aware, at least five people are living in tents in the center of Great Barrington. A woman is living in her car. Kimball speaks every day to people trying desperately to ward off that fate.
What’s the face of imminent homelessness in the Best Small Town in America? She has a face shaped like a big heart. I met her in 2011, when she was a sophomore at Monument Mountain Regional High School. She was very quiet, and easy to overlook in a class full of rowdy boys. “Maggie” remained an enigma until one morning in March, when it was her turn to present for our Share an Interest project. Then, for 10 minutes or so, she took center stage and my ungovernable class held its collective breath as she slowly clicked through a series of alternately brilliant and stark photographs she’d taken of our sunsets, hills, and streams.
That summer I partnered with a friend to send Maggie to art camp. Back then, it seemed possible that one week of enrichment might, as more expansive summer experiences do for more privileged kids, give her a leg-up in the college application process. She enjoyed the camp, but it likely just gave her false hope, as did her College Prep classes. By junior year she was working in a grocery store, and after graduation she simply upped her hours. No one in her family had gone to college, and there was no one outside of it to painstakingly mentor her through the lengthy, trying process of applying to schools, to say nothing of being matriculated into one.
Her class’ valedictorian spoke in her graduation speech of bright futures for all, but Maggie’s trajectory since high school has been mostly downward, and she will have nowhere to go in two-and-a-half months’ time. She has to be out of her apartment because the landlord wants to get in on the hot real estate market.
Maggie’s only option, as she sees it now, is to move in with her sister who lives in North County. “Not that she has a lot of space, but she said that she wouldn’t let me go homeless,” she said. But even that would be a temporary fix. Her sister — along with two children — has already been served a notice to vacate because her landlord is turning the place into a cannabis dispensary.
If a voice from the future had knocked on the door of my 2011 classroom and predicted that one of the kids in Period B English would be homeless at the age of 26, I’d have been incredulous. But Maggie is only one among many, and since she has no dependents, hers is not the most dire situation. Construct’s Kimball has people with Section 8 [federally subsidized housing] vouchers whom she can’t find housing for, even with the rent paid. If no apartments become available, they will lose the vouchers. One client waited six years to obtain it, the other waited 10.
“I can’t do anything with them,” she told me. “Even people who make good money can’t find anything. There’s an 80-year-old woman living at the shelter because her landlord raised her rent and she couldn’t afford it. That’s gonna be all of us.”
3 Bedroom Home Available for Sale by Lenox Affordable Trust at Reduced Price
Lenox, Mass. — The Lenox Afforable Housing Trust would like to make the public aware that one of the homes offered for sale by lottery is still available for sale at the reduced price of $230,000. The home, located at 8 Hynes Street, is now available to any first-time homebuyer whose household income falls at or below the 80% area median income limits. No second lottery will be held. This home will be sold on a first-come, first-serve basis.
8 Hynes Street is a 1,168 square foot house on 1/10 acre close to the picturesque Lenox Town Center. It is a two-story, three-bedroom, one-bath home with a brand new kitchen.
Chronic Homelessness Just Doubled Across Western Massachusetts
According to The Berkshire Eagle’s recent article, Chronic Homelessness Just Doubled Across Western Massachusetts. Experts Are Clear About Why: The number of people found to be chronically homeless across western Massachusetts more than doubled this year, jumping from 118 to 303 people. The reasons are known. The solutions remain elusive. “We have nowhere near enough housing and then our renters spend far more than what is reasonable on housing costs,” Keleigh Pereira, director of the Three County Continuum of Care, which includes Berkshire County, told a recent gathering of people working to find answers. Overall, risk factors for homelessness like substance use, domestic violence and job loss all increased during the pandemic. The pandemic continues to take a severe toll.
Homelessness is hitting some racial groups more than others. “People of color are disproportionately represented in the homeless population,” McCafferty said. Compared to the general western Massachusetts population, there are 2.6 times the number of Black people and three times the number of Hispanic and Latino people who are homeless, she said.
That disparity is also true in the Berkshires. From 2017 to 2020 in the Berkshires, Black residents made up 2.9 percent of the county’s overall population, but 17.3 percent of the county’s homeless, according to data from the Three County Continuum of Care. Hispanic residents made up 4.6 percent of the population and 12.7 percent of the homeless, the same analysis shows. One trauma or event can lead to homelessness, Marisa Perez, program director at ServiceNet and assistant director at the Center for Human Development, told the network at its virtual session Friday.
“We don’t wake up one day and say, ‘Today I’ll become homeless,'” Perez said.
Construct, a southern Berkshire housing nonprofit, has 77 units of permanent housing units available in the southern Berkshires and 800 households on the waiting list, Jane Ralph, the organization’s executive director, told The Eagle this week.
Some of those 800 families may be on other housing waiting lists, she said. “There’s just not enough affordable or workforce housing to go around.”
“My concern is as those costs go up and other costs go up, it’s going to be harder and harder to make ends meet,” she said.
“The wait list has always been long, but it has increased over the last several months,” Ralph said. “While Berkshire County housing groups are working to address the need, there are not enough resources,” she said.
Best Community Service Organization — 2022 Shopper’s Choice Awards
The first annual Shopper’s Choice Awards have been announced by Shopper’s Guide, a weekly publication that has supported the Southern Berkshires community and the local economy for over fifty years. Readers of the guide were recently asked to vote on the businesses and organizations that make the region so special.
As the leading nonprofit provider of affordable housing and supportive services in the Southern Berkshires, Construct exists to help people in—and out—of crisis. With a mission to provide neighbors of low and moderate incomes with affordable housing solutions through rental assistance and related support services, Construct aims to provide a safe, secure and firm foundation for all.
Executive Director, Jane Ralph, says, “It is our pleasure to serve our community and we are happy that our neighbors are aware of the work we do to offer options for affordable housing and supportive services to those in need in our region.”
To date, Construct has purchased, rehabilitated and/or built over 80 permanent, affordable housing options in southern Berkshire County, plus 10 comfortable transitional housing bedrooms in two houses for individuals coming out of homelessness. Over the years, the organization has grown to meet the needs of 600+ families per year. The Covid-19 pandemic has greatly impacted the area and increased the waiting list for Construct’s services.
“It’s been said that ‘it takes a village’ and ours is something special,” says Elizabeth Rosenberg, President of Construct’s board. “Together, we can put an end to housing insecurity.”
Shasta Bona, current resident of Lee, is the winner of Construct’s Becket home lottery, which took place on April 5th, 2022. She and her family—partner Sean, who works in Pittsfield, and school-aged daughter—will move into the newly renovated house by the end of June.
“We are excited to own our first home,” says Shasta, a licensed MSW in family support services in Great Barrington.
The very first affordable housing in the town of Becket, Construct rehabilitated the 1,344 square foot house with support from the Community Preservation Committee of Becket and a Small-Town Housing Initiative Grant.
The property at 2442 Main Street is a 3-bedroom, 2-bath home on 2.9 beautiful rural acres, just three miles from town. With easy access to amenities—park, beach, library and elementary school—it is perfectly situated for work, school, and recreation.
The $250,000 house was offered for sale by lottery to homebuyers whose income is at 80% or less of the area’s median income.
Two similar projects are currently in the works in Lenox, MA.
For Berkshire County residents who meet the income eligibility requirements, Construct is now accepting applications for TWO three-bedroom, one-bath houses located at 8 & 10 Hynes Street in Lenox, MA for $254,000. Construct is administering the housing lottery for the Lenox Affordable Housing Trust, which is limited to homebuyers at 80% or less of area median income. Applications are due by 4 pm on April 25, 2022, and the lottery will be held on May 2nd.
Please visit the Lenox Lottery page for more information about the lottery and how to apply. Applications and questions can be directed to email@example.com, or call (413) 528-1985.
Applicants must be pre-approved for a mortgage before submitting their applications.
Construct is also working on the next receivership in Becket which will result in a brand new Cape.
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.