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Berkshire Housing Tells Tenants It Is Addressing Silk Mill Mold

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The property manager for the Rice Silk Mill told tenants there that it's taking the reports of a mold infestation seriously.

Ten days after an article was published on last month, Berkshire Housing Services sent a communication to the occupants saying actions were being taken to address the mold and urging residents to come forward with concerns.

"We want to assure you that the health and safety of our residents is of the (utmost) importance to us," it reads. "All concerns and issues are taken seriously, investigated, and addressed in a timely manner."

The missive was shared with iBerkshires by a tenant. Berkshire Housing was asked on Tuesday to comment and this article will be updated if it responds.

The city's health inspectors cited one woman's apartment for a "mold-like substance in the HVAC vents" at the end of December. However, the tenant, who did not wish to be identified, says she has lost thousands of dollars in moldy belongings and had to move into a new apartment with close to no furniture and no recompense.

"We still have a long haul to go," she said. "I have practically nothing and I don't know where to get funding from."

The tenant had moved out of the unit late last year and has since found a new apartment on her own. She said several advocates from the complex and Berkshire Housing had been very helpful but the nonprofit corporation overall had not been even though she repeatedly asked to be moved. 

iBerkshires received about a dozen reports in December from tenants of the Spring Street apartment complex reporting illness and loss of personal belongings. Tenants also sent photos taken of vents, areas, and items that appear to have mold on them.

Berkshire Housing said it is "coordinating with an expert in the field of building sciences, who is a specialist in mold assessment" and will continue to work with him and follow any of his recommendations.

Residents had asked not to be named for fear of retaliation and said efforts to resolve the situation with Berkshire Housing had been unsuccessful.

In the communication to tenants, Berkshire Housing encouraged feedback and reported being proud of the work it does to support residents including families, individuals, and vulnerable populations, and "we want to continue to serve you in a manner which you all deserve."

"We also want to reassure you that in no way will management seek retaliation against our residents with respect to your bringing concerns to our situation," it reads. "We encourage all residents to contact us with their thoughts, questions, concerns, or opinions. Feedback is welcome and will be used to improve our response and services."

The woman who was moved to a different location has a child with a chronic illness who she said has not been able to live in the Silk Mill unit for a year. She moved there in 2020 with her son, who developed middle-ear disease, an infection caused by blockage from conditions like allergies or colds and she believes the mold has exacerbated his condition and caused him to lose 50 percent of hearing in his right ear. She says her own health is suffering from being exposed to the mold. 

She said she is filing a suit against Berkshire Housing and that even though the managers reported cleaning out the mold, her belongings were not cleaned and placed into new containers as promised. 

"My goal is to continue to advocate for the people that have zero to no voice or no recollection on what to do," she said. "If these resources were put into place properly in a manner that was accessible, then I wouldn't have an empty apartment on top of it either."

A correction order was issued by the Health Department on Dec. 29 after an inspection the previous day. On Monday, Director of Public Health Andy Cambi said there is still an outstanding order on the property.

Cambi has explained that mold itself is not cited as a violation but rather the condition of chronic dampness that is causing it.

iBerkshires reached out to the Tri-Town Health Department, which serves Lee, Lenox, and Stockbridge, for its mold enforcement process.

Director James Wilusz said citing for chronic dampness is an appropriate enforcement mechanism, as there is no regulatory standard that requires enforcement once a certain level is reached. For mold, the recommendations of a specialist are used.

"The sanitary code that we follow, which is a state regulation, gives us discretionary power to cite chronic dampness," he explained.

"So my inspectors walk into a unit and they see moisture droplets on the inside of the window, for example, we see softened sheetrock, we see signs of spore activity. That's enough for us to cite it."

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West Side Residents Build Ideal Neighborhood At Zoning Session

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

Program manager James McGrath opens the session at Conte Community School.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Residents mapped out a West Side they would like to see during an input session this week, utilizing multi-use properties to create robust density.

Held at Conte Community School on Monday, this was the second meeting of a project to examine zoning in the neighborhood. The Department of Community Development, in partnership with Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, has been working with an urban planning and design consulting team on the effort that will conclude on June 30.

"This is a really important project for your neighborhood," Park, Open Space, and Natural Resource Program Manager James McGrath said.

Multifamily houses with spaces to accommodate a small business were popular. A community center, church, year-round farmer's market, and even a place to draw in commerce appeared as elements on the tabletop street.

An emphasis was also placed on the amount of immigrants coming to the area in need of housing.

Max Douhoure, community outreach coordinator for Habitat, explained that he grew up in Africa where people liked to live together, which his build reflected.

"I wanted to improve their conditions," he said. "That’s what I did."

During the first meeting in November, the team heard desires for businesses and commercial uses — including a need for small, family-owned business support. The session provided an overview of what zoning is, what zoning can and can't do, how zoning can improve the community, and the impact on residents.

"Today's exercise is really about creating spaces in buildings and on properties to do a combination of residential [uses] that meet the needs and commercial uses that meet the needs of the neighborhood,"  Emily Keys Innes, principal of Innes Associates explained.

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