WILLIAMSTOWN -- Community members, town officials and local organizations have begun collectively tackling the issue of housing residents of The Spruces Mobile Home Park displaced by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene.
About 30 people met at the First Congregation Church -- United Church of Christ Monday evening to begin the process of finding temporary and long-term housing for an estimated 150 people.
"It's a big problem," The Rev. Carrie Bail, pastor of the First Congregation Church, said. "There are probably at least 70 people staying in hotels, and there are also people who are under-housed who are staying with family."
While getting these people into long-term housing -- whether it's returning to The Spruces or relocating -- is the goal, there is going to be a gap in which temporary housing will be necessary, she said.
"The funds here at the church and the Community Fund for the Spruces will run out at some point," she said.
Robin Lenz, coordinator for the Interfaith Emergency Response Team, said while some people have already relocated, those who lived in The Spruces are part of the fabric of the Williamstown community, and it's important not to lose them.
Some ideas presented at the meeting for filling the gap between immediate and long-term housing needs included letting people live in the rectory of the former St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in North Adams, or possibly converting a mill
A total of 273 people in The Spruces were displaced by the storm last month. While 11 mobile homes had been cleared by the town for occupation as of Monday, residents of the remaining 214 homes still have yet to be allowed to move back into the retirement community.
Town Manager Peter L. Fohlin said there are about 75 homes that appear to have not been invaded by floodwaters, and 150 that appear to have been flooded.
"The best way to think of the 75 and 150, is the 150 are really questionable as to whether they're economical to repair," he said. "The 75 have varying degrees of damage in which some are economical to repair and some are not."
He added that those numbers lead to the conclusion that it wouldn't be wise to plan for all Spruces' residents to return to the park.
Wendy Penner, chairwoman of the Williamstown COOL (Carbon Dioxide Lowering) Committee, asked if a decision had been made as to whether the goal was to get Spruces' residents resettled or find housing for them elsewhere.
Cynthia Clermont-Rebello, president of The Spruces' Tenants Association, said residents are returning home day-by-day, but it was the older section of the park where many homes didn't sustain much damage.
"It's not wise to plan for Spruces residents for the long-term. I think it would be wise to make other plans for residents of The Spruces for affordable housing," she said.
Denise Gilliam, who is with FEMA's long term community recovery program, said voluntary agency liaisons will be there to support the Williamstown community as it moves forward in recovering from Tropical Storm Irene.
"This has got to be your community's recovery. We have no desire to take over everything. We are here to provide a supporting role," she said.
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