Rent aid offered in Williamstown to those in need

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WILLIAMSTOWN — At a time when millions around the globe are looking at empty fridges and empty bank accounts with the rent already past due, an aid program to help local renters stay in their homes has been launched by the Williamstown Affordable Housing Trust.

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program will grant $500, or up to $1,000 for extreme cases, to people who earn 100 percent or less of the area median income, with households earning less than 80 percent of the AMI considered priority cases. Many locals are earning far less, considering the number of businesses that had to close down, at least temporarily.

Tom Sheldon, chairman of the Williamstown Affordable Housing Trust, said $18,000 allocated during town meeting last year will be awarded to applicants who qualify. About $2,000 will be paid to the Berkshire Housing Development Corp. to administer the program.

Officials are afraid the fund won't last long.

"I'm afraid our allocation will not be enough to meet demand, but we'll see," Sheldon said. "It may be gone quickly. I would predict that there is demand for more than the $18,000 — perhaps significantly more."

During town meeting this year, Sheldon said, the trust will be seeking more funding to aid local renters.

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He noted that in 2010, there were 648 rental units in Williamstown, compared to 2,288 owner-occupied residential units. He expects that the number of renters in town will show a significant increase in the 2020 census figures.

The rental assistance program started on Wednesday. Applications are available at berkshirehousing.com or by calling BHDC at 413-499-4887 to leave a message. Paper applications are available at the Williamstown Food Pantry at 53 Southworth St. (Saints Patrick and Raphael Parish) and at the Williamstown Post Office on Spring Street.

Area median income is based on government figures and household size. The 100 percent level of AMI for a household of one is $55,230; household of two, $63,120; household of three, $71,010; household of four, $78,900; household of five, $85,212; household of six, $91,524; household of seven, $97,836; household of eight, $104,148. Households over 100 percent of AMI are ineligible.

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Applicants must reside in Williamstown and must have been adversely affected by the pandemic.

Liz Costley, a member of the board of the Williamstown Affordable Housing Trust, said that nearly all the restaurant workers who live in town, as well as many others, lost their jobs on the same day.

"I'm so glad we could see the need and utilize the funds in ways that can help our most vulnerable families and individuals," Costley said. "Obviously a lot of folks are making hard choices on what to pay and what to put off."

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She said that the ultimate goal is to prevent people from losing their homes and fall into homelessness in the midst of a deadly pandemic.

"Once you lose your housing, it's a downward spiral," Costley said. "Keeping people in their homes is a critical piece in keeping people healthy and uninfected."

Bridget Spann is a community outreach organizer at First Congregational Church Williamstown and has been in contact with a number of families of immigrants who live in town and have lost their jobs. But because they are not citizens, they are not eligible for unemployment or other government relief.

"Many immigrants contribute to the economy and pay taxes, but they have no safety net," Spann said. "They have nowhere to go and the well-being for so many is at risk."

"There is no doubt people out there are suffering — and the rental population is kind of forgotten segment in Williamstown," Sheldon said. "So I'm pretty confident this will be a high-demand situation."

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.


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