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North Adams Housing Authority to Install Free Internet For Tenants
By Jack Guerino, iBerkshires Staff
01:33AM / Thursday, February 25, 2021
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Housing Authority's Board of Commissioners voted this week to work toward providing free internet to all tenants.
Jason Morin, the authority's information technology consultant, told the board on Monday that he is looking at a few different options to install internet at all properties.
"There are different ways to do this and each one has its own challenge," Morin said. "We are looking at a lot of different angles."
Executive Director Jennifer Hohn said the Housing Authority looked in the past to provide limited internet access but now that the internet is essentially a utility, she felt the Housing Authority should find a way to offer it to tenants.
"People are trying to find jobs and go to school, stuff like that," Hohn said. "An internet connection is necessary and unfortunately a lot of our tenants can't afford that so we would like to offer that in the future."
New Commissioner Kate Merrigan agreed.
"I think this is a good idea," she said. "Today internet is like a standard core utility, and it makes sense to have it as part of an amenity package ... it seems like really great customer service." 
Hohn said the service itself should cost the Housing Authority nothing. She has been communicating with Verizon about the possible installation of a cell tower on one of the smokestacks at the Greylock Apartments.
She said 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 more than cover internet service for all tenants.
"That could help us in a lot of ways," Hohn said.
Morin said currently the tower only holds security system components.
As for actually providing the internet, Morin said mobile hotspots can continue to be used as they have been doing. He added that is the least favorable option.
Other options include building a separate infrastructure or going completely through Spectrum.
The commission voted to accept the plan, and Hohn said it should make the Housing Authority more attractive to new tenants. 
"We are going to have a lot of vacancies, and we are going to have to fill those units," Hohn said. "We are going to need to give some sort of incentive to live in our units, and I think that free internet has value."
Hohn said she anticipates a large number of vacancies once the eviction moratorium runs out because many tenants are not paying rent. 
"A lot of people just aren't paying their rent because they know we can't kick them out," Hohn said. "So once this ends, we are going to have a pandemic of our own because a lot of people are going to be evicted."
Hohn said the authority has offered payment agreements to all tenants and has offered to assist in Residential Assistance for Families in Transition program applications. There also was an offer to utilize Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act money and the authority went as far as to extend matching payments.
Only 15 people responded to the assistance offer.
"Some people just don't want to pay," she said. "You can't get blood form a stone."
In other business, Program Manager Lisa LaBonte gave an update on the Greylock Apartment fire.
She said although the investigation is complete, she has yet to see the report. She added that it is anticipated to cost $500,000 to repair the structure, and it likely will not be ready for inhabitation for another six to nine months.  
A fire in late January at the Greylock apartments left several families homeless. 
Hohn said they will continue to work toward finding longer-term housing solutions for those displaced 
The commission also received a RAD update, and the Housing Authority's legal counsel said once the needs assessment is wrapped up, it can hold a concept call with the U.S. Housing and Urban Development. It then could move on to the Finance Plan. This process should be wrapped up in three to six months.
Rental Assistance Demonstration, or RAD, allows HUD housing authorities to move their units to the Section 8 platform and to leverage debt and equity for re-investment without affecting tenant rights and rents, or housing authority control.
The Housing Authority also will have to release an request for proposals for a new bank partner now that TD Bank plans to close down its branch in the city.
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