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NA Housing Authority Closes Balconies, Sets Structural Survey

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The North Adams Housing Authority Board of Commissioners voted to close all balconies on its buildings and have a structural survey done.
Executive Director Jennifer Hohn asked the commissioners Monday to consider the actions out of an abundance of caution in light of the recent condominium collapse in the state of Florida.
"We just want to make sure nothing like that ever happens," Hohn said. "It is just proactive on our part."
The study would include Ashland Park (colloquially the "high rise") and Spring Park apartments — the two larger complexes located downtown.
Hohn reiterated that there are no current structural concerns, and there are no past structural issues. The survey is only an extra level of precaution. She will bring a formal proposal before the commission at their next meeting.
A section of the 12-story Champlain Towers South outside of Miami collapsed a month ago, killing nearly 100 people. Investigators have pointed to deterioration of concrete structural supports in the underground parking garage caused by water, corrosion of steel reinforcements and the building's sinking over the years. At least eight buildings in the area with similar structures have been evacuated.
The eight-story high rise and five-story Spring Park aren't under the same conditions as the Florida condominium — there's no pool, underground parking, sinking or salt air. But both buildings date back more than 40 years. 
Connected to safety measures, Hohn asked that the commissioners vote to close the balconies on the Ashland Street and Spring Park complexes.
"We want to make sure that these are structurally sound," she said. "One main concern is is that we have people with scooters, and I am not sure if the balconies can support them. I just wanted the board to know."
She said she could not confirm if the balconies were ever designed to accommodate excess weight and scooters. She added that they are also not federal Americans with Disabilities Act compliant and that every floor would have to be brought up to code.
"It just makes sense to close them," Richard Lavigne, vice chairman, and tenant said.   
Hohn said tenants really only use the balconies to smoke.
"People go out there to smoke, and they are not supposed to anyway," she said. "So there may be push back, but I don't see anyone out there drinking coffee." 
The balconies will be closed permanently. Hohn said this isn't unique to NAHA and other housings with older infrastructure have done the same.
Tenants will be notified with signage and written correspondence.
In other business, Hohn said there are still a number of tenants who refuse to pay rent even though the eviction moratorium expires at the end of July. 
She said the moratorium has made some tenants feel "invincible." 
Some funds have been recouped and Hohn said the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) made some payments on some tenants' behalf. Also, NAHA offered to match a month's rent for the first month paid with a signed agreement, which netted out about $9,000. 
"Still the majority are not paying, some with balances in the thousands," she said in a separate email correspondence. "They will never catch up on these balances without applying for assistance from the RAFT Program or a similar source or at the very least entering into a repayment agreement with NAHA."
Hohn added that with stimulus checks connected, many tenants have more income than in the past. These additional payments are not included in tenants' income for rent purposes.

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