Our Opinion: Fire brings home affordable housing need in Pittsfield

As fire investigators continue to sift through the wreckage following Sunday's fire that ripped through the White Terrace apartment complex off North Street in Pittsfield, and as the 24 displaced residents sift through meager options for affordable living accommodations, we hope city leaders — and aspiring leaders — take note of a rather frank assessment made by Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski (Eagle, September 12), who is leaning toward listing the fire's cause as accidental.

"These buildings are old," he said. "They've been reconstructed so many times that there's void spaces in the walls and ceilings."

The dire need in Pittsfield for safe and affordable housing has long been apparent. The fire at the White Terrace emphasizes that need must be addressed sooner rather than later.

North Adams, Adams and Great Barrington benefited from the $100 million in housing subsidy funds and state and federal tax credits that Governor Charlie Baker announced in August to bolster affordable housing stock statewide. Those communities have a number of abandoned brick mill buildings built to stand the test of time that lend themselves to affordable housing projects. Indeed, in the September 12 Eagle, a candidate has emerged to build a combination of affordable housing and office space in the vacant Housatonic School.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has called for an end to a $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program to cities and towns that, in part, helped finance housing rehab work for low-income people. Up and down Berkshire County, dozens of housing projects in hard-pressed neighborhoods have benefited from the CDGB program over the years.

With the squeeze potentially on in terms of future federal housing funds, that's even more reason for Pittsfield to put safe and affordable housing needs at the center of its agenda. Looking toward the City Council election Nov. 7, with ward and at-large seats up for grabs, we want to hear from the candidates: What are your ideas? What do you propose the city do to increase its affordable housing stock? And how do you propose these old apartment dwellings that one way or another will be continue to be needed in Pittsfield be made safer?

Thankfully, no one was killed in the White Terrace fire. But we now have 24 of our fellow citizens, including children, who need our help. To that end, The Christian Center at 193 Robbins Ave. in Pittsfield is accepting nonperishable food, clothing, shoes, household items and hygiene products. The center is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. We assume the city will take care of its own. The next step is improving housing stock for city residents, in particular for those of low income.


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