NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Housing Authority is having difficulties collecting rent during the eviction moratorium
Program Manager Lisa LaBonte told the board on Monday that 70 or so tenants are refusing to pay rent.
"I can give you an update on that, but it is not a pleasant update," she said. "We still have a number of people who think they don't have to pay because they know we can't do anything at this point."
LaBonte said the state's moratorium on evictions was supposed to expire this week but has been extended. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control on Monday extended the eviction moratorium implemented because of the pandemic through June 30, 2021.
"That ties our hands for another two months," she said.
She said out of the 70 tenants refusing to pay, 20 of them owe a "substantial" amount.
LaBonte said those who refuse to pay are the usual suspects.
"Generally, people that aren't paying are the ones we always have to fight with," she said. "But now they aren't just doing anything."
The Housing Authority has offered to match rent payments up to 50 percent to spark some sort of intake, however, this still didn't sweeten the deal for these tenants.
LaBonte said the Housing Authority's attorney has been asked reach out to these tenants.
"A message with a lawyer letterhead might have a little more weight to it," she said.
Executive Director Jennifer Hohn said now they are exploring providing free internet to all tenants, they could consider denying access for those refusing to pay rent.
"I am hesitant to give them more than what they are already getting," Hohn said. "How can we offer that when they aren't paying their rent?"
Commissioner Kate Merrigan was hesitant to take away the internet but agreed it was worth looking further into.
"It is tricky because we think of it as a core utility," she said. "The internet is everything, you can't do anything without it."
In regard to the internet, Hohn said she has hit an impasse with U.S. Housing and Urban Development and Verizon. She said now that the Housing Authority plans to undergo a RAD conversion, HUD is unwilling to accept extended contracts.
The Housing Authority looks to cut a deal with Verizon to install a cell tower on one of the smokestacks at the Greylock Apartments.
Verizon has offered to take on maintenance of the tower and pay the Housing Authority nearly $28,000 annually to lease the tower, which should help cover internet service for all tenants.
The smokestack is in bad shape so maintenance is a major concern of the Housing Authority, Hohn said.
"It is like a monkey on our back," she said. "It is just so old ... it wasn't safe 30 years ago, and it is not safe now."
She said she will continue to work with HUD and Verizon.
In other business, LaBonte reported that at the last COVID-19 vaccination clinic, 115 tenants and staff received a dose
"That is great news," Hohn said. "I don't think a lot of people would have gotten it if we didn't bring it to them. It was pretty amazing."