Saturday June 11, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The Berkshire County Consumer Advocates Inc. office will close on July 1, but it will continue under the umbrella of the Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority.

Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office recently awarded a $45,000 grant to allow the housing authority to expand its consumer mediation and education services, effective July 1.

Coakley told The Eagle she credited Lillian Marcantel and Berkshire County Consumer Advocates for their years of service, and said her office is looking forward to working with Brad Gordon, the new executive director of BCRHA to make the consumer services transition successful.

"These programs provide many free services and assistance for those who need help, and I am happy to announce that these services will continue to be available in Berkshire County," Coakley said.

Gordon said the grant will help BCRHA expand on the services that Berkshire County Consumer Advocates already established, from seeing people through small claims to credit counseling, to helping business improve their merchant-consumer relations.

"This fits right in with our mission to provide household stability through early intervention and prevention strategies," Gordon said.

Coakley said the complaint process often results in lost time and money for consumers.


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But Coakley said local mediators have "been very effective in getting on the phone on behalf of the consumer and trying to get that money back for them."

Currently, Gordon said his organization is working to build capacity to provide the new consumer services, and will appoint an existing staff member to this department on a near full-time basis.

The regional housing authority is also working on a new website for its organization, which will help direct people to resources, access assistance and download claims forms. Like the attorney general’s office, it will also work to warn Berkshire County residents about business scams and fraudulent activities in the area.

Eventually, Gordon said the BCRHA will plan public education forums and do additional outreach to help locals.

As the transition continues, Berkshire residents looking to file a new consumer complaint should call the attorney general’s Public Inquiry & Assistance Center Hotline at (617) 727-8400.

After July 1, residents can call BCRHA at (413) 443-7138, ext. 213, for assistance.