Progress Report of the Stop Bullying Coalition

Couple on bench under tree at sunset. "And none shall make them afraid."
And they shall sit every person under their vine and under their fig-tree. And none shall make them afraid.
We have a vision and plan for a home that is safe, secure, and peaceful, protecting us from bullying and harassing. The storms of mobbing and hostile environment harassment are the worst threats. When a community harasses and bullies a victim, and the landlord initiates, condones, or ignores these attacks, that is mobbing. When victims are unable to have the peaceful enjoyment of their residency, that is hostile environment harassment. We need to create protection for victims and hold landlords to account for their illegal behavior.

Thanks to each of you who has helped and supported our efforts, we have laid the foundation stone— people have become aware of bullying. To deal with mobbing and hostile environment harassment, we have a proposal and a plan. Now we must complete the task. We must all work together, as in a traditional barn raising, to create a secure home that will protect us all. We must advocate for the needed change and new legislation. We can do this.

We have achieved important victories. We came together as a Coalition, we partnered with our legislators on Beacon Hill, we passed the resolve to create the Commission on Bullying, and we served on the Commission. We worked hard to carry out research, to identify communities that don't have bullying problems as well as to better understand the dynamics of bullying. Based on our research, we helped to organize, design, test, distribute, and to analyse the first statewide survey of bullying in housing. The Commission has used our efforts, incorporated much of our work in the formal Report to the General Court, and proposed some solutions. Nevertheless, our most important research discovery and recommendation was not accepted.

The Commission failed to confront the impact of mobbing—the situation where the landlord and their agents condone, ignore, or participate in bullying. Where mobbing exists, no effort by tenants to remedy the situation can succeed, and any attempts are likely to cause retaliation and harm for anyone who stands up for their rights.

The Commission did not endorse our proposal for an effective solution that will “protect tenants from harm and preserve their rights,” as the General Court, our legislature, defined the goal in the enabling legislation that created the Commission.

Some say that we did a lot but we didn't solve the problem. We say, we did a great deal and we have more to do.

In order to truly achieve the goals of the Commission on Bullying and “protect tenants from harm and preserve their rights,” we need to advocate for effective protections including action by the Commonwealth to first, immediately investigate complaints of bullying and second, hold accountable before the law those landlords who fail in their obligation to assure peaceful enjoyment.

Report of your Coordinator and Commissioner

I am pleased to present a summary report of my service on the Commission to the Stop Bullying Coalition.

I have completed my service as Commissioner appointed by Governor Charles Baker (October 14, 2016-December 31, 2017) to represent the Stop Bullying Coalition (the Coalition) on the Commission to Study Bullying (the Commission). It has been a privilege to carry out this task on your behalf, and my appointment represents a hard-earned recognition and honor for the Coalition and for every person and group that has partnered with us.

This report is based in part on research which I had undertaken on behalf of the Commission, as Chair of the Research Committee. I created this Committee because my appointed role as leader of the research group had been reduced to a contributor role on the survey, but I was determined to complete the other assigned task, to better understand the conditions that give rise to bullying. Although I had kept the Chairwoman informed of that ongoing effort, and provided timely progress and final reports, however, important aspects of that research report were not incorporated in the Report of the Commission. And it was not accepted as an attached part of the consensus Report of the Commission, nor as a minority report. Nevertheless, to fulfill my obligations to you and all who had assisted in the work, I used my right as a Commissioner and a citizen to present that report to the General Court. The report was timely submitted to the General Court on December 31, 2017.

As a Commissioner, I would be remiss in my obligations to the Governor, the General Court and the tenants of public and subsidized housing if I did not insist on giving the General Court the benefit of my committee’s work and recommendations for their due consideration. This report incorporates our findings, conclusions, and recommendations for policy and for legislation, as supported by research, testimony, expert advice, and published literature. Also included is our preliminary report on the survey research—Jerry Halberstadt and Marvin So, Statewide Survey on Bullying of Tenants in Public and Subsidized Multifamily Housing.

The plague of bullying

One symptom of the structural failure of public policy and the system of administration of public and subsidized housing programs is the plague of bullying and mobbing in multifamily public and subsidized housing in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and indeed, nationally. Today, there is no agency empowered to intervene on behalf of all victims of bullying, harassment, and mobbing; and few options for a victim to seek justice. Tenants of public and subsidized housing, the elderly and people living with disabilities, are deprived of their rights and their well-being.

Bullying is a plague that infects the multifamily public and subsidized residential communities of elderly people and persons with disabilities. Targets of bullying are denied their rights, despite every landlord’s legal obligation to assure peaceful enjoyment—the right of each tenant to enjoy the use of their home and common spaces without interference. Mobbing consists of community bullying that is initiated, condoned, or supported by the agents of the landlord, those in charge, including in order to get rid of the targeted victim. Mobbing is a form of assault that inflicts psychological injury that can create long-lasting psychological and physical symptoms. Mobbing is a much more sophisticated way of doing someone in than murder—and it is legal.

Our progress

The Stop Bullying Coalition is succeeding in our ongoing efforts to remedy the failures that cause such continuing harm. We can be proud of our trail-blazing achievements in leadership, advocacy, and legislation. We earned a seat at the table at the highest levels of Massachusetts government. As advocates, we created partnerships with tenants and stakeholders in housing, we partnered with advocacy groups, and as citizens we partnered with the legislators on Beacon Hill. Together, we passed a law to create the Commission on Bullying to study ways to prevent bullying, and the Governor signed the enabling legislation. When the Governor appointed me as Commissioner to represent the Stop Bullying Coalition, it was recognition and an honor for the Coalition.

The Commission on Bullying

The Commission began to work late in May of 2017. The Commission has now submitted its final report. In seven months the Commission gathered testimony and carried out extensive qualitative research into the conditions that foster bullying. The Commission has facilitated a partnership between the outreach efforts of the Attorney General and a number of state agencies, with a view to informing people of their rights and helping them find legal representation. The Commission has recommended new legislation designed to engage all who live or work in housing communities to develop and follow plans of action to reduce and prevent bullying. Despite the lack of funding, the Commission nevertheless designed and distributed a statewide survey, and then collected and interpreted the answers of 617 respondents, thus obtaining an initial snapshot of the scope and prevalence of bullying and mobbing. The outreach efforts of our Coalition brought in 38% of the responses, demonstrating the commitment of our growing network.

Finally, with the assistance and partnership of Marvin So of the Harvard School of Public Health, we were able to independently measure the prevalence of bullying and even in a preliminary way, of mobbing in our sample. And there is more to be learned from the survey data.

The Coalition believes that the Commission did not go far enough. We must press forward, not only to advocate for the positive outcomes and recommendations of the Commission which we do support, but to initiate the additional and complementary changes that are urgently needed to bring more certain relief. We have only begun our work. In order to truly achieve the goals of the Commission on Bullying as set forth by the General Court, to “protect tenants from harm and preserve their rights,” we must assure that there will be effective protection of the rights of tenants to have the peaceful enjoyment of their tenancy and to be safe from social and psychological abuse and injury. The research that we have done with the collaboration of tenants, landlords, managers, resident service coordinators, Commissioners as well as expert consultants, and reinforced by the findings of experts in workplace mobbing leads to this reasonable and logical conclusion—victims of bullying and mobbing have no protection, and although landlords and their agents are legally responsible to assure peaceful enjoyment, there is no way to hold them to account.

Legal remedies

Aggrieved tenants frequently are unable to obtain legal counsel, despite the lists of attorneys and agencies often handed out to people seeking help. Therefore, because the Commission had been informed that there were already sufficient legal remedies, we explored this discrepancy. If there are already legal remedies, why are people still victimized? We reached out to attorneys with expertise in housing law and public interest law, legal aid, and pro bono (free) law services to get information about existing legal remedies. There is very little justice that anyone living in public or subsidized housing could afford. Nearly all current legal remedies either are limited in scope to classes protected under civil rights and may take years just to get a hearing, or require a civil action, and a court case can quickly cost more than the annual income of a tenant in public or subsidized housing. There are very few legal remedies that a layperson can initiate and complete; the legal system is too complex, even for a person without significant disabilities. The availability of legal aid and pro bono legal services to help is severely limited, including by lack of funding.

New laws and/or vigorous enforcement needed

These research findings and investigations lead to the reasonable conclusion that the Commonwealth should step in to protect victims and to hold landlords to account. For that relief promised by the enabling legislation for the Commission to become a reality, the Commonwealth must create and enforce laws to provide rapid relief and protection to all victims and to hold landlords to account for their responsibility to assure peaceful enjoyment.

We must address two key points with legislation and/or vigorous enforcement of existing law to achieve these basic goals:

  • victims of bullying/mobbing/harassment must have rapid relief;
  • landlords must be held accountable when they fail to maintain housing that gives all tenants their peaceful enjoyment, such as observed under conditions of mobbing and hostile environment harassment. Hostile environment harassment consists of bullying and harrassing victims and is unwelcome conduct that makes it impossible for the victims to have peaceful enjoyment.

These protections are the essential foundation so that we can actually protect and empower tenants, rather than expose them to continuing harm. Therefore, on behalf of the victims of bullying and mobbing, we appeal to the General Court, the Governor, tenants of public and subsidized housing, advocates, and professionals as well as the general public—let us now act together to remedy this evil.

The most direct and economical way to achieve these ends may be to follow the example of Missouri, and amend existing statutes to empower one or more existing agencies to investigate and remedy the situation in response to complaints by victims. We therefore propose to define bullying, mobbing, and hostile environment harassment as illegal and to require existing agencies to act accordingly to protect residents who are targets of bullying and mobbing, and hold landlords to account.

Our principled position

The Stop Bullying Coalition did endorse the consensus report of the Commission. We propose additional remedies that complement and support, rather than conflict with, those recommended in the consensus report. Our position is based on our qualitative research findings that were a basis for the design of the Commission’s survey research, and much of the consensus report. I intend no criticism or disrespect of the work done by the Commission on Bullying, nor of the consensus Report of the Commission. The report of the Stop Bullying Coalition, originally intended as a report on research conducted on behalf of the Commission, but not accepted or endorsed by the Commission, nevertheless is an essential complement to the consensus report of the Commission, and should be considered together with it.

The Commission has chosen to advance solutions that are reliably reported to be incomplete in the context of mobbing, and can expose residents to additional harm. Based on the evidence of research findings and the opinions of experts, I propose a fundamental solution to protect individuals and stop mobbing, thereby creating a secure context protecting everyone from fear, retaliation, and intimidation within which other solutions can succeed.

  • The consensus report of the Commission incorporates significant portions of the research I did or helped to organize and interpret.
  • I am not attacking the Commission report—I voted for and subscribed to it.
  • I do not reject the policies or legislation proposed by the Commission—I voted for and subscribed to them.
  • I do, however, propose consideration of additional findings and recommendations which should not be discarded because they are new. We must provide rapid relief and protection for every victim of bullying and especially of mobbing and hold landlords accountable.

The road ahead

The Stop Bullying Coalition is determined to use our rights of petitition for redress of grievances, and continue to advocate on behalf of the many brave and dedicated tenants and advocates who looked to us for action. We must consider all opinions, perhaps especally those of the elderly, those with disabilities, and those who are poor. Together we have demonstrated that citizens of our Commonwealth can use their democratic rights to participate in and have an impact on their government.

It has been a great honor for me to represent the Stop Bullying Coalition on the Commission on Bullying and to have the support and assistance of many citizens, stakeholders, and experts who eagerly participated in our effort to document, understand, and to remedy the problem of bullying. The work of the Commission was an important beginning towards assuring the safety, well-being, and the rights of tenants in public and subsidized multifamily housing. The Stop Bullying Coalition will continue on that journey. Yes, we are grateful for the privilege of having served, proud of what we helped to accomplish, and no, we’re not satisfied. We have only begun to show what we can do when we work together.

Jerry Halberstadt

January 2, 2018

Peabody, Massachusetts

To Edie Stephenson, Leader and Advocate

A note of appreciation

Below is an extract from a letter I have sent to Edie Stephenson, a tenant in public housing in Missouri. Thanks to Edie's advocacy and partnership with her state representative, the Missouri law for the protection of elderly and people with disability was amended in 2016. It now includes bullying as a kind of abuse, and the whole system of mandated reporters, investigators, and remedies can now address bullying. There remains more work to educate the public and to train landlords and their agents, and to train agency staff in their new responsibilities. Edie is working on those issues. Perhaps what she has accomplished in Missouri can be adapted for use in Massachusetts.

Dear Edie,

We here in Massachusetts admire your courage and strong advocacy on behalf of elderly and people with disabilities. Your leadership is a beacon that we strive to follow. Your advocacy efforts have already achieved new legal remedies that are trail-blazing. You are continuing to push for education, training, and enforcement to assure that victims of bullying and harassment will receive timely relief and protection. And to have landlords to be held accountable for allowing a hostile environment with bullying, mobbing and harassment.

I applaud your efforts seeking essential further steps for effective implementation in order to protect elderly and people with disabilities, including tenants of public and subsidized housing, from bullying, harassment, and mobbing. You are working to see a campaign of public information and programs of education and training for state and housing employees. You are pushing for the state to send notices to the landlords and managers setting out the statutes and regulations on bullying, peaceful living, and their obligations under the law. Landlords and their agents should be monitored and they should report on their efforts to comply.

Thank you, Edie, for what you do.


In memory

Shawn Joseph McDuff July 24, 1968 - December 31, 2017. Shawn served as Deputy Director of the Independent Living Center of the North Shore & Cape Ann, where he worked from 1990. He was instrumental in the agency’s work to empower people living with a disability to embrace their own path. In his advocacy work, his understanding and response on the issue of bullying was the spark that gave us light in our early efforts. I learned from him and his colleagues to fully appreciate and respect the ability and experience of every person, regardless of their limitations. May we be blessed by his memory.

Thank you, Friends, Colleagues, and Partners

Your support and help has carried us this far. We have more to do. We need your advice and your active participation. Sign up for our free newsletter so you will be alerted to our efforts and calls for advocacy. We need to work in our communities, with our legislators, and to find innovative ways to advance our cause. We need your ideas. We need your spirit. Please help in any way you can. You make a difference. This is democracy. This is what we do.

Thank you for what you do.


Jerry Halberstadt, Coordinator


I am preparing a book-length progress report on behalf of the Stop Bullying Coalition to present the achievements of the Coalition, my research findings and recommendations, and to set forth the additional advocacy and legislative tasks remaining before us.

Jerry Halberstadt, To Stop Bullying: Protecting Elderly and Persons With Disabilities in Subsidized and Public Housing. A Progress Report of the Stop Bullying Coalition, (Peabody: Togethering Press, 2018). forthcoming. Copyright 2018. Advance copies as a PDF file will be available on request, please write including your role and background, as well as your zip code.