Brad Gordon is the Executive Director and staff attorney for the Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority. In 2019, he described the region’s housing situation as in crisis. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on the economy, Gordon says the situation could only intensity. He spoke with WAMC.
GORDON: We anticipate that the COVID pandemic and the related unemployment and underemployment will have a profound impact on households in Berkshire County. But with the current state and federal moratorium for evictions, as well as foreclosures, we don’t have a complete read of that at this point.
WAMC: There’s been talk of a coming ‘eviction crisis’ in America. Can you speak to that as a concern here in Berkshire County?
Certainly. So first, I’m going to give you a little bit more of a macro view. And what we know on the state level is that the moratorium is scheduled to end on August 18th, and also that the federal unemployment insurance stimulus of $600 a week that many people have been relying on, is ending at the end of July. And so I think if you put those two, both the moratorium ending and unemployment resources ending together, you have the making of what could be a tsunami of sorts for evictions and potentially foreclosures.
Right now, how do you think Berkshire County is equipped to handle a crisis of that magnitude?
I think we’re, we do have some financial resources available for these households through the RAFT program, through a program called ERMA and some other local resources that communities have been able to generate. Do I think that will be adequate in the long term? I do not. And so I think we’re going to need additional financial resources to assist these households
Where are those resources ideally coming from?
We’re hopeful still, that there’s a bill in the Senate, on the federal level, that’s stuck there. And that would provide some additional resources that would really help us address this issue.
What kind of data points are you tracking before this potential tsunami of evictions takes place later this year?
Well, some of its anecdotal, where we talked to local attorneys that represent rental property owners. And a number of them have indicated that when the moratorium lifts, they have dozens of cases that they’re going to file. So obviously, that gives us some concern. Additionally, if you just look at the data relative to unemployment, and what people’s income was without the stimulus, you know, we’re looking at potentially hundreds of households. I think there was an estimate done that it was over 2,000 households that would need some sort of financial assistance in Berkshire County.
Other than getting more grant money, what are some structures can be put in place to prepare for what might happen later this year?
I think- Well, there’s pending legislation. I’m not certain if you’re familiar with this, but there’s legislation in the House in Massachusetts that would provide an extension of the moratorium for up to 12 months. I think there is some merit to that. I think 12 months may be a little excessive, and it may be better to do it over, in an incremental manner, where it’s done for three months at a time. And then we can look at what the lay of the land is in a very dynamic environment and determine what mitigation strategies would work best to help these households.
Right now, where can people turn in Berkshire County who are concerned about eviction or losing income that could affect their housing over the next year?
I would start with the partnership of the Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority, Berkshire Housing Development Corporation and our housing Consumer Education Center, which can be accessed online at either of our websites bcrha.com or bhdc.org.
Brad, is there anything else about housing during the COVID-19 pandemic here in Berkshire County that you want to get out there?
Well, I think I just want to again reiterate that we know that on the most fundamental or foundational level, that if people are displaced, and we’re not able to address what was already a percolating crisis and is now something that could be much more dramatic than that, if we’re not able to address that effectively, we’re talking literally about a public health crisis, where people could end up homeless, putting the general public at risk or creating overcrowded situations, which would put the general public at risk and increase the likelihood of more people contracting the virus. So I think, even if you’re not directly impacted by housing instability, everyone has a stake in trying to make sure we promote housing stability for our neighbors and our friends and everyone else in the community. And I think we have to look at both the financial resources and some sort of incremental moratorium legislation so that we can continue to evaluate this and keep people stable in their current living environment.
Are there any municipalities in the Berkshires or elsewhere who are pursuing a model to address this concern that you think is particularly good?
I think that, both- I know there are a number of communities that have invested their Community Preservation Act resources and stimulus money like CDBG-CV, which is just alphabet soup to everybody else, but which are funding that has come in through the federal government that they have discretion how to allocate. And a number of these communities, including Pittsfield at the top of the list, has allocated, I know Pittsfield has allocated around $200,000 for direct financial assistance to these households that face this housing instability. I think they’re dependent on groups like my organization and Berkshire Housing Development Corporation to develop programming and a more comprehensive, holistic approach to address this crisis.