02 Nov Your Turn
What Construct Has Meant to Me
By Elizabeth Rosenberg
When we moved to Southfield in October 2011, having just retired after twenty-three years as a librarian, I was adrift. We didn’t know anyone in the Berkshires and it was a very long winter. Then came the beautiful spring — and into our life a dear new friend, fellow New Marlborough resident, Paul Moritz.
Paul talked about his involvement with Construct, a non-profit organization whose mission was to provide affordable housing and support services for residents of South County. Impressed with everything he described, I gladly accepted his invitation to meet Construct’s board of directors. Little did I realize the impact that meeting would have on my life here.
I have had a wealth of experience with non-profits — and have served on a number of their boards. But Construct’s board, I discovered after joining it in 2014, was harder working and more dedicated than any of them. From organizing two major fundraisers each year, Mayfest and our Fall Walk, to serving on a variety of committees, such as the real estate committee, which evaluate properties, we are a hands-on board.
So what does Construct do? Have you seen the three white buildings on Route 23 near Koi? This is Forest Springs our newest affordable housing with eleven units for families. Have you passed the house at 41 Mahaiwe Street with the Construct sign? This building, once the South Berkshire home of Hevreh, now contains Construct’s office space, as well as transitional housing for the homeless. Compared to New York City, the homeless are invisible in South County. Some live in their cars, others camp out in the woods. But they are here. We have five transitional rooms for men and five for women, and that isn’t enough. The waiting list has over eighty names. (Similarly, Forest Springs residents were drawn in a lottery from a waiting list of ninety families.)
Construct is responsible for the Pinewoods complex in Stockbridge, a combination of twenty-five affordable housing units and five at market rate. We own several other properties throughout South County, but far too few for the number of people who want to stay in the Berkshires. Many grew up here and want to stay but can’t afford the prices. Some are public servants or seasonal workers who would like to live here year round, but can’t afford the rents.
Every town by state law is required to provide 10 percent of its housing dedicated to affordable housing. Unfortunately, very few meet that requirement. New Marlborough does not, despite the fact that 8.5 percent of its residents live below the poverty level and 20 percent are classified as low income. Currently, there are more than five hundred households on Construct’s waiting list for affordable housing.
When I say Construct changed my life I really mean it. Board members have become close friends. And, just as importantly, Construct gives me hope that in these troubled times we can contribute to helping people change their lives. I’ve seen the change first hand. On Thursday mornings I staff the front desk at the office, and women who lived in the transitional housing often share their stories with me. Some women’s lives were not that different from mine, except they fell on difficult times and found themselves in situations they could never have imagined.
One, for instance, was an only child, who grew up in a comfortable home; her father owned his own business. She attended college and graduate school and was hoping to pursue a career. When her father died suddenly, she was surprised to learn the family’s finances were not as solid as she had thought. Her life spiraled downward: her mother became ill, then she, herself, fell ill; when her mother passed away she became homeless.
This example is not unique. A significant percentage of the homeless population encounter circumstances that are beyond their control. The counseling that Construct’s staff provides helps them get back on their feet to lead productive lives contributing to our community. One staff member counsels our tenants about budgeting, debt reduction, credit repair, and savings. Another provides GED training. We work with outside agencies to help those who live in our housing cope with mental health issues. Surprisingly, we do all this — plus manage our properties and produce events — with a small full-time staff and a few part-timers.
People have asked me why I am involved with Construct when there are so many charitable organizations in the Berkshires. I say that I have been very fortunate in my life. And it is one thing to write a check to an organization. But it’s entirely different when you get to know people who need the basics — food and shelter — and you can do a small part to help them achieve what every individual should have.
Please contact me if you are interested in getting involved in this wonderful organization. Check out our website www.constructinc.org. You will be helping our community
Elizabeth Rosenberg, a resident of Rhoades and Bailey Road, has been president of Construct since 2015.