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Mass. Senate Approves Bill To Create Rent Control Board For Berkshire County Mobile Home Park

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A piece of legislation that would set up a rent control board in a Berkshires mobile home park has been approved by Massachusetts’ state Senate.

In February, at a special town meeting in West Stockbridge, voters approved a home rule petition to establish a rent control board for regulating evictions, rent adjustments, and occupancy standards for mobile home parks.

West Stockbridge Town Administrator Mark Webber said that residents of the Mill Pond mobile home park submitted the petition to the town select board after the park transferred ownership, but it was not in direct reaction to any specific event.

"It was just something the tenants' association wished to do and the selectment supported that," said Webber.

A similar petition was also approved by voters in 2012, but the recommended legislation failed to pass the state legislature. Under state law, the formation of a rent control board must be approved by lawmakers and signed by the governor.

State Senator Benjamin Downing sponsored the legislation to create the board, passed by the Senate Monday.

The previous version of the bill that passed the Senate last October failed to clear the House before the end of the session. Downing said this time he’s confident that the bill will make its way through the House and end up on the governor’s desk. The House version of the bill is sponsored by 4th Berkshire District State Representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli.

"We think we have a strong case to make, we feel like the citizens of West Stockbridge have spoken, and we feel like we'll be both able to convince all of our colleagues to move this thing on and onto the governor's desk," said Downing. 

The bill is similar to a piece of special legislation signed in 1987 to create a mobile home rent control board for the Berkshire County town of Cheshire. If the legislation is signed into law, West Stockbridge will establish the board, and it can begin providing protections to tenants and serve as an intermediary between the tenants and park owners.

Meanwhile, some 30 miles away in Williamstown, negotiations are continuing to transfer ownership of the Spruces mobile home park, partially destroyed in 2011 by flooding associated with Tropical Storm Irene, from current owners Morgan Management LLC to the town. The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office has been involved in talks with Williamstown and Morgan Management. Williamstown Town Manager Peter Fohlin told WAMC he would not reveal any details until a plan is finalized, which he said could be submitted to the town selectmen by June 24th.

Williamstown has agreed to accept a $6.1 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to acquire and close the damaged park, and provide assistance to park residents.   The town’s final acceptance of the grant would not solve the issues surrounding finding a suitable location to build replacement affordable housing for the residents of the Spruces, an ongoing subject of debate in Williamstown.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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