Ms. Linn Torto is the Executive Director, Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness (ICHH). Director Torto is the Chair of the Commission on Bullying, representing Marylou Sudders, the Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. The first meeting of the 19-member Commission on Bullying is scheduled to take place on May 25 and will be an organizational meeting. As of today, there are still two vacant positions for the Governor to fill. I am honored to be a Commissioner of the Massachusetts Commission to Study Ways to Prevent Bullying of Tenants in Public and Subsidized Multi-Family Housing, pursuant to Chapter 2 of the Resolves of 2016, and will update you on the developments.
I have been preparing a position paper to possibly share with the commissioners, and I here ask for your input. Please write to me with your thoughts on the issues and goals of the commission. I will be glad to share a PDF copy of the draft paper for your comments and suggestions. http://stopbullyingcoalition.org/contact
Bonny Zeh, our Research Associate, and I attended the March 23 Meeting of the CHAPA Public Housing & Rental Assistance Committee. Chrystal Kornegay, Undersecretary of the Mass Department of Housing and Community Development, spoke and we participated in a lively and wide-ranging discussion. We advocated for the Committee to focus on the human and social aspects of housing policy.
MASS UNION (MUPHT)
The Mass Union of Public Housing Tenants (MUPHT) held their 2017 Spring Convention in Plymouth, May 5, 6, and 7. Mass Union is the major advocate for residents of public housing in the Commonwealth. Public housing serves some 40,000 households in the Commonwealth. The administration of housing is very complex and detailed rules cover much of life; much of the conference was given over to lectures and workshops by experts. Experts spoke on a variety of topics, including for example, the requirement for management to provide translations for those unable to read or to understand English. There are four types of tenant groups that are recognized, each with different responsibilities and membership rules. Presentations covered the changing rules on tenant participation; the rights of tenants; explanations of benefits under health care, for food stamps, for legal assistance, and much more.
I was honored to be invited to give a short update on the Commission on Bullying. In my talk I noted the strong support we had received from Mass Union, one of our partner organizations. Jack Cooper, the Executive Director; as well as Susan Bonner and other board members and associates of Mass Union had testified in support of the enabling legislation, and Annette Duke (Mass Law Reform Institute) had drafted the bill which became the legislative basis for the commission. We could only have succeeded in creating the Commission by working together with them and with so many other organizations and legislators, including Senator Joan Lovely and Representative Brad Hill. I characterized the success of our advocacy work as an example of the value of democracy, and the potential for a handful of individuals to begin an advocacy effort and enlist people and organizations as partners in a coalition for legislative action.
Stephen Merritt, Executive Director of the Norwod Housing Authority, and representing the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO), spoke of the threats to housing budgets proposed by the Federal administration, and echoed the concerns of residents regarding the vital importance of a safe and secure home. Later, I suggested to him that we all---residents, managers, and landlords---need to work together to protect public and private housing.
Bullying in public housing and in private housing
At the MUPHT conference, I had a chance to meet and network with a number of the attending tenants, many of whom had experienced bullying under their Local Housing Authorities (LHA). The problem of bullying seems to be nearly universal in multifamily housing, similar in public housing to the problem in privately owned, HUD-subsidized multifamily programs.
CHALLENGES FOR THE BULLYING COMMISSION
In my view, bullying is a symptom of cultural and social forces in the residential community. A community is a social system and is the outcome of interactions among all the participants: landlord, manager, staff, social and medical services, and residents. The system and the culture must change to control and eliminate bullying. No one group can achieve the needed reforms. A solution must engage all the stakeholders, each bringing their own perspective and experience. Now the Commission brings in a wide range of stakeholders that together may bring a restoration of rights, justice, peace, and health to multifamily communities of elderly and disabled persons---improving the lives of all stakeholders.
I propose that we need surveys and research to establish facts and identify multifamily programs that demonstrate the effective creation of healthy community life, and the factors that separate healthy from toxic situations. We need to better understand the interactions among residents, the LHA, and DHCD with respect to identifying and responding problems of bullying. And the same issues among residents, management, and landlords need to be studied in privately owned, HUD subsidized housing. Any solution must be capable of adapting to a wide variety of local circumstances while yet assuring reliable remediation.
I just learned that The Governor's Council to Address Aging in Massachusetts was established last month by Gov. Baker to develop a plan to improve public and private efforts to ‘support healthy aging in Massachusetts.’ We'll look into their goals and explore possible areas of common interest.