The Northern Berkshire Community Coalition assembled for their monthly meeting inside First Baptist Church to discuss homelessness, economic stability and the housing market as a whole.
“This topic came up across the board. Housing and homelessness strikes the entire community,” NBCC Executive Director Amber Besaw said. “It’s not just about the homeless. It’s also about people that are going to lose their homes.”
Brad Gordon, the executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority, helped lead the discussion.
Backed by a PowerPoint quiz of sorts – Gordon asked an audience of approximately 70 people questions regarding homelessness, to which they shouted out answers – he delved into the facts and figures.
“What we’re talking about isn’t the usual idea of homelessness,” Gordon said. “It’s really more about housing instability. It’s much more prominent.”
According to data from the BCRHA, 33 percent of Berkshire County residents are renters. In North Adams, the number is higher – 48 percent. Compiling on that, 56 percent of all Berkshire County renters are rent burdened. This means they spend more than 30 percent of their monthly income on rent. 29 percent of renters struggle even more – defined as “severely rent burdened,” they spend more than 50 percent of their monthly income on rent.
“That’s about one third,” Besaw said. “That’s one in every three people.”
“And I guarantee you North Adams is much higher,” Gordon added, continuing with his slides.
Households that are deemed very low income, below 30 percent of the area’s median income, and extremely low income, below 50 percent, represent similar numbers. In Berkshire County, 37 percent of households fall under either definition. In North Adams, the percentage jumps to 48 percent.
Work hours and minimum wage do not help, either. According to Gordon and the BCRHA numbers, a person working for minimum wage needs to clock in 53 hours to afford an average one-bedroom Berkshire County apartment. To afford a two-bedroom apartment, 65 hours of work are required. Eighty hours are required to afford a three-bedroom apartment.
“This is not to depress you, it’s to make you think,” Gordon said. If rent is not met, evictions are filed. Gordon attributes evictions to “70 percent economic” and “30 percent behavioral” reasons, and discussed them at length.
Over the last year, 578 evictions were reported by the Berkshire County District Court. But housing court, Gordon said, can see an additional 1,000 cases a year.
“A lot of people have gotten to that point and are in distress,” Gordon said.
In northern Berskhire County, as of Jan. 25, “13 households are currently deemed homeless,” Gordon said. That statistic is underreported, though.
“It really leaves out what we know is going on – couch surfing, doubling up,” he said. “It’s not the reality.”
For those who do lose housing, there are plenty of resources. Gordon said that those in jeopardy are encouraged to reach out to the BCRHA, who can find them temporary housing. One of these shelters, for example, is North County’s Louison House, which served 88 individuals and families in 2016.
“Without stable housing, you can’t address any other underlying drivers,” Gordon said.