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Tenants unite in North Adams to press for changes in Ashland Park units

The oustide of the North Adams Housing Authority

Residents recently formed the Ashland Park Tenant Organization to work on issues at their North Adams Housing Authority building.

NORTH ADAMS — In the seven years Gail Bell has lived in the Ashland Park apartments, she has seen increasing problems in the building.

“Right now it’s the elevator,” Bell said, sitting in the lobby of the 126-unit Ashland Street building. One of the elevators was broken for about a week, North Adams Housing Authority Executive Director Jennifer Hohn said, and has been fixed after a part had to be ordered.

Bell worries, though. “God forbid there’s an emergency and the other one goes down,” she said, pointing out that many residents need the elevator to navigate the building. The property is designed for the elderly and disabled, the North Adams Housing Authority says on its website.

Bell is not alone with her concerns. She and other residents of the property formed the Ashland Park Tenant Organization this spring. Bell was elected vice president.

“We are very tired of the issues here,” said Karen Gazaille, the organization’s president, who has lived in the high-rise for more than a decade. She has a three-page list of issues tenants would like to see addressed, from building safety to maintenance.

In mid-June, officials received notice that the group formed, Hohn told the North Adams Housing Authority Board of Commissioners at its meeting Monday.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled,” Hohn said. “We’ve wanted a tenant organization for a long time.” Gazaille nodded her head in agreement as Hohn spoke.

The authority will review the information the group submitted, Hohn said in a follow-up interview, and make sure the group is inclusive and open to everyone.

The newly formed organization is for residents of Ashland Park — one of the four properties the North Adams Housing Authority operates. But Gazaille hopes to expand it in the future. Recent group meetings have drawn about 20 residents, Gazaille said.

“It’s a slow process,” she said. “We’ll get there.”

Everyone is welcome at the meetings, and the group posted fliers advertising the gatherings on every floor of the building, she said. The goal, Gazaille noted, is to work with the housing authority. “To try and get things done here.”

Its members have concerns about security in the building, like unauthorized people walking in at night behind another tenant who opens a locked door. “People don’t feel safe,” Bell said.

Police officers visit the building several times a week and the property uses a security camera system, Hohn said in the follow-up interview. The authority has hired a company to patrol the building at night, starting Friday, “during prime-time hours which most incidents occur.”

The association is also asking that the housing authority office staff not conduct any business related to tenants in common spaces like a hall.

“No one in the lobby should hear what I am talking to the office about,” Gazaille wrote in a list of concerns she had and that residents brought her. “This really is an infringement of rights of privacy.”

Important conversations are not held in the halls, and if a resident requests to have a conversation in a private room, “we’ve never denied them that access,” Hohn said.

Other association concerns center on building amenities.

In the winter, tenants say, the building does not produce enough heat to adequately warm the apartments.

Hohn said the authority’s staff checks apartments when there are temperature complaints. “I’ve never been in anybody’s apartment that’s been cold,” she said.

“Having a list of complaints is not a reason to form a tenants’ association,” Hohn said. “We take complaints every day and do what we can to solve them.”

The building’s units are in “great shape,” she said. “There’s always going to be people that aren’t happy. When you’re dealing with that many residents, it’s difficult to make people feel like you’re listening to just them. We try to do our best.”

Hohn told the commissioners Monday that she has 90 days to formally respond to the group’s notice.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6272.

Reporter

Greta Jochem, a Report for America Corps member, joined the Eagle in 2021. Previously, she was a reporter at the Daily Hampshire Gazette. She is also a member of the investigations team.

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