I am enjoying the challenge of being a Commissioner, because it gives me a chance to work on your behalf, partnering with dedicated public servants. We need your input and support to solve the problem of bullying and thus make our public and subsidized housing healthy and safe places to live.
Hearings of the Commission on Bullying
Our hearings were held in the context of the Olmstead planning process Listening Sessions. The Commonwealth is studying how to improve policies to assure that people living with disability have support to live as independently as possible in the community.
In the Commission hearing in Boston, people who testified on the Olmstead plan detailed significant problems they faced in obtaining their rights and needed support. A blind person complained of being unable to find housing because landlords did not want her service dog. A mother of an adult son living with autism detailed her full-time struggle to assure that her son could live in the community. And one gentleman testified eloquently through an American Sign Language interpreter—thus reminding us of how much human talent can be released when people living with disability or age are respected and honored. There is much to do!
And testimony on the problems of bullying in housing reminded us of the challenges of life for disabled as well as elderly persons in public or subsidized housing. The Stop Bullying Coalition was represented by Jonathan Gale, Bonny Zeh, and Pamela Goodwin. Gale spoke of his experiences as a blind grandfather raising two grandchildren in public family housing. Zeh talked about her life and challenges in an urban high-rise public development. Goodwin has been fighting against alleged bullying and unfair tactics by housing officials and residents in a rural public housing authority, and spreading the word about the Stop Bullying Coalition in central and western Mass. As a Commissioner, my job was to listen. Although I took the earliest bus to the hearing in Springfield, by the time I arrived the hearing was over. I was surprised to learn how few people had come to testify.
The Commission needs your ideas
The Commission remains eager to hear your stories and suggestions for resolving the problem of bullying in multifamily housing. The only way we can change things for the better is to engage with you, to learn from you what are the problems, and your ideas on how to fix things. Who can know better than we who live or work in multifamily housing?
One angry, frustrated witness in Springfield asked why the Olmstead plan was being revised, when the original promises of the first plan had not been fulfilled. I can appreciate that many people feel that there is no use in testifying because they believe that nothing will be done.
I say, if people do not testify and participate to assist the Commission, then indeed, nothing will be done. But look at what a few people have been able to do: Together we brought a coalition into being, worked with our legislators, and passed a law to create the Commission.
At the first meeting of the Commission I was in a room with some 30 legislators, senior administrators of state departments, and advocates for residents. All of these decent people are dedicated to serving the public, many in senior leadership roles based on their expertise and decades of experience, and they are all eager and willing to work on our problems. And each has probably forgotten more than I will ever know about the realities of administering public and subsidized housing. I am so grateful for their willingness to help.
So I say to you, please join in the work of making better policy for the Commonwealth, the door is open for you to enter. Let us make use of our rights, we are privileged to live in a Commonwealth where we, the people, can help make the policy and the laws.
Our mandate as a Commission is to propose public policy recommendations and legislation necessary to protect tenants from harm and preserve their rights. The Commission needs research data on prevalence and conditions to support any requests for resources to combat bullying, whether for training, resident service coordinators or other initiatives.
The way the Chairwoman of the Commission, Linn Torto, has organized our work is that one working group will study the sources and extent of bullying, another will research and summarise best practices, the present legal framework will be examined, and our recommendations and findings will be the basis for the Commission to present policy recommendations and draft law(s) to the legislature.
I am honored to be the coordinator of the Working Group to do research on Conditions and Prevalence in public and subsidized housing for elderly and disabled. This comprises essentially two related kinds of investigation.
ConditionsBy studying a small number of housing developments, we seek to identify the conditions that enable bullying to spread and take over, and those conditions that may suppress and end bullying.
We will try to count the number of developments with bullying compared to all developments. We will have to do this work with such information as we can gather, because a comprehensive study would require experts, resources, and time that we don't have. But our pilot study will be a landmark first and can prove a guide to more complete research, but more important, help to demonstrate the need for new policy, resources, and action by the Commonwealth.
We will need many people to take the survey online when we complete it (it takes only about 10 minutes and you don't need to give your name), and we need help getting the word out to people in housing across the Commonwealth. We will work through various organizations for help in reaching their clients or members. We will seek information from all the stakeholders, from the housing provider and staff, management, maintenance, resident service coordinator, residents, and even from local service agencies. In this way we will create a patchwork of information to help us assess the extent of the bullying epidemic. If you would like to know the general plan of the research, write to me for a PDF copy; ask for the "Research Plan."
Submit your ideas
Please submit your issues and ideas about bullying in housing and what should be done. Although the Commission does not have the resources for more hearings, you can still be heard. You can file a short statement on the Commission web site, you can write to the Chairwoman, Linn Torto, or you can send me email, and I will forward any information I receive to the Commission. See below for all the contact information.
Slides that describe the Olmstead Planning Process:
Short link: http://tinyurl.com/y7xgq2rh
Invitation and form to submit written comments online (1500 characters).
Question 5 - Bullying poses a problem for vulnerable tenants in some public and subsidized, multi-family housing. What are some policies, practices, or other solutions the Commonwealth should consider in order to address this issue?
Short link: http://tinyurl.com/y738seel
You may also submit your comments in writing to:
Chairwoman Linn Torto Commission on Bullying Executive Director Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness (ICHH) Executive Office of Health and Human Services One Ashburton Place, 11th Floor Boston, MA 02108
As a Commissioner, I will be pleased to accept your comments of any length, and will forward them to the Commission. If a group wishes to sponsor a listening session, and I can get transportation, I will be pleased to meet and to hear your concerns and report back to the Commission.
To share or to compete in public space?
Farhan Samanani, an anthropologist, presents a very interesting essay about different ways to use urban public spaces, the commons. This is very relevant to the issues around sharing, fairness, and access to common areas in multifamily housing, issues that when not resolved can lead to conflict and bullying.Common resources alone do not magically foster harmony. Rather, they create interdependency. The more our lives are lived through public spaces and other commons, the more entwined we become. But the flip side is that if we forget to trust in this entanglement, it shrivels... Soon, our public spaces end up belonging to the users who can assert the most forceful claims, while the rest of us retreat. In the process, we forget how to talk to one another, and we forget that finding common ground is possible.—Farhan Samanani, "Common ground" "When we think of urban public space in terms of competing rights, we create a battleground. Is there a better way to share?" In aeon.co, a free online magazine. http://tinyurl.com/ya9zqsx4
Keep up with news of the Commission on Bullying. Please sign up to receive your own free copy of future editions of the Newsletter of the Stop Bullying Coalition at http://StopBullyingCoalition.org/subscribe Please enter your ZIP postal code so we know what areas we are reaching. You can opt out at any time.
Meeting of the Working Group on Conditions and Prevalence
Review the plan of research, discuss and improve the draft survey, and explore how to implement the survey research. An agenda will be provided along with the confirmation of the time of our meeting. While the main focus of the meeting will be the discussions among the Commission members, we welcome attendance by interested observers in person or by conference call.
The committee to assess the prevalence and scale of bullying will meet on July 17 from 10:30am-12pm
100 Cambridge street in Boston in room B on the second floor.
Please note that there are two 100 Cambridge streets in Boston, we will meet at the one intersected by Bowdoin and Somerset streets.
In order to enter at 100 Cambridge street, you will have to go through security- please make sure you have a photo ID- your name will be left at the reception desk on the second floor.
Cate Mingoya will host and facilitate this meeting of the Working Group. If you cannot attend in person, you may participate by conference call; instructions will follow.
RSVP TO Cate.Mingoya@state.ma.us, Jerry@StopBullyingCoalition.org Host: Cate Mingoya Director of Policy and Program Development Division of Public Housing and Rental Assistance Department of Housing and Community Development E-mail: Cate.Mingoya@state.ma.us 100 Cambridge Street Suite 300 Boston, MA 02114 617-573-1100