helping our neighbors in need
Updated: Apr 3
On Friday, March 31, I participated in Berkshire Community Action Council (BCAC) Anti-Poverty forum. My takeaways from the forum -
Working to reduce poverty and its impact on the lives of individuals, families and children requires a multi-faceted support.
Wow! The great people and organizations supporting those who need a helping hand are amazing. They are supporting job skill development, adult education, food security, transportation, housing, affordable childcare, financial literacy, affordable housing, and substance disorder/mental health programs.
The words that resonated throughout the day - community, collaboration, coordination.
It takes all hands on deck to provide a framework of support so that everyone has the opportunity to grow and live and develop to their full potential.
A few highlights for me included:
Nancy Wagman's, Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, presentation that spotlighted the growing income disparity since 1970's and positive impact that Covid emergency measures made on childhood poverty, in particular. The income of the top 1% more than double since 1980, while the bottom 90% only saw 29% increase. 40% of kids in some of neighboring communities live in poverty.
Cindy Shogry-Raimerdescribing the financial literacy and support programs offered to everyone not just clients of Greylock Federal Credit Union. They have many financial programs for our communities delivered in person or online.
Amy Hall, Child Care of the Berkshires, explained how the shortage of child care workers, expense of childcare, lack of transportation, impact of service disruptions due to Covid restrictions all lead to a negative impact on the work force, income levels, our businesses and struggling families. Paying for care for 2 kids, costs a family earning the area median income almost 40% of their income.
Brad Gordon, Berkshire Regional Planning Authority informed us that rents have risen 20-30% in Berkshire County, and the price of a single family home as risen 30% in the past 3 years. Only 14% of the housing stock is affordable yet 25% quality for affordable housing. There is a 3-7 year wait for Section 8* housing, the federal government program for low incomes housing assistance. If you are earning minimum wage, its takes 55 hrs per week to afford a one-bedroom apartment.
Gordon mentioned changing zoning, such as to allowing higher density housing in town centers and accessory dwelling units (ADU), will help with the housing situation. Williamstown Planning Board is currently preparing warrant articles that support higher density. And an ADU bylaw was passed a few years ago.
What are the implications for our local government and the select board? I'd like to see all of our volunteer committees and Town administration coming together to develop a collaborative plan from the municipal perspective. Can Town Hall play a greater role in directing families and individuals to area resources? Should/can we leverage our ties to state offices to support aid policies? Are there ways we can work in concert to make a bigger impact?