Ripples and Waves in Lowell Housing

Lowell Housing Participants in Lowell Anti-Bullying Coalition

The revolution in Lowell began on Thursday, September 19, 2019 in the Mercier Community Center at a meeting of the Lowell Anti-Bullying Coalition held to discuss the issue of bullying in housing. Lynn Costello, a tenant in the South Common Village community, worked closely with Christin Shelton, a social worker, to initiate this gathering. The participants began the process of working together to understand bullying and mobbing and to begin the task of education and taking action.

It was possible for everyone of the 14 attendees to be heard, and included all the key players: Andrew Rocha, the Executive Assistant of the Lowell Housing Authority hosted the meeting; and others included Andrea Hall, the resident service coordinator; the tenant commissioner on the Lowell Housing Authority board; as well as Robert Spinney, aide to Representative Nangle.

Tenant leaders from three of the housing communities, including tenant council members from City View Towers and Francis Gatehouse, and tenants from South Common Village, attended to share their experiences and begin considering how best to deal with the issue.

Our host, Andrew Rocha, welcomed everyone to the meeting.

"We are pleased to be a part of an initial discussion about bullying and to support Lynn Costello and Christin Shelton in this endeavor."

Lynn Costello spoke of her vision of a coalition that would bring together many organizations to join in education and prevention of bullying. She and Christin Shelton decided to begin with public housing. Lynn speaks openly about her mental illness, depression and social avoidant personality disorder. She mentioned her long experience of stressful relationships and bullying.

Lynn Costello
Lynn Costello

I have treasured Lynn as a friend and colleague for several years. In my service as Commissioner on the Commission on Bullying, I appreciated her insights and analysis of the situation in housing, and used a paper she wrote as part of the research. With Christin Shelton, we went to Boston to talk with Senator Joan Lovely, Representative Nangle, and Representative Tom Walsh, our representatives on Beacon Hill, and enlist them in our concerns about mental health and bullying in housing. Lynn has taken her vulnerability to bullying and made it into her superpower.

Christin Shelton, a social worker, talked about the relationship between bullying and mental illness: bullying and mental illness each makes the other worse. Shelton spoke about the importance of communication and conflict resolution in dealing with bullying. She saw the meeting as a chance to engage with and involve tenant leaders in the process of dealing with bullying in housing. And she saw the need to develop goals together.

I was honored to be included in this first meeting. I told how the Stop Bullying Coalition began with only two people, how we grew and got legislation passed including the Commission on Bullying; and that currently two bills on bullying based on the reports of the Commission and sponsored by Senator Joan Lovely and Representative Kevin Honan (S984/H1334) & S985, sponsored by Sen. Lovely) are being considered on Beacon Hill.

On behalf of the Stop Bullying Coalition, I urged everyone to contact Senator Ed Kennedy (617) 722-1630 , and Representative David Nangle (617) 722-2520 to press for prompt passage and that we need a revised and strong version of the ombuds bill (S985) to create an ombuds office to protect tenants and hold landlords accountable.

I presented our working definitions of bullying and mobbing that the Stop Bullying Coalition had developed and then listened as tenants shared their experiences. I was impressed by their insights and suggestions.

We learned that there is some bullying and mobbing among tenants. Andrew Rocha noted that too often his office hears about problems only when they have escalated and become serious. One of the challenges is to develop methods for learning about problems early on and to address the issues. Rocha invited anyone to call him for support.

Robert Spinney urged anyone with a concern to contact him or Representative David Nangle (617) 722-2520

We learned that the Lowell Housing Authority has a relatively small staff to serve a large population of tenants, living in 10 large developments as well as in private housing with section 8 vouchers. Andrea Hall is the sole resident service coordinator, a challenge to serve so many tenants.

Lynn Costello asked about the background of managers with respect to bullying.

Andrew Rocha explained,

"Property managers are required to be certified as Public Housing Managers. The training teaches conflict resolution and a customer service approach to management, but the training does not address bullying specifically."

A next step came out of our discussion, when a tenant suggest the need to develop a clearer definition of bullying.

How does bullying differ from rude or inconsiderate behavior? What is mobbing? And then we can begin to educate people about bullying and mobbing.

Clearly, the definition I presented, designed for policy and legislation, was not sufficient for community members and so I have a chance to learn and improve our work going forward. And I am excited to see the tenants in the room starting to gather as a force for change.

Andrew Rocha has already demonstrated that he is aware of the problem and he encouraged Costello and Shelton in their efforts to seek a solution by hosting the gathering. Summing up the meeting, Rocha said:

"We certainly realize there are instances of bullying in public housing as well as in the community that go unchecked, and often people are brushed aside rather than addressing the problem. This will not happen here. We have a great team and we seemed to get a good foothold on moving this initiative forward. I provided Lynn my suggestions for moving forward and the plan is to schedule another meeting very soon with the group we have formed."

Costello sees the effort that she and Shelton have initiated in the Lowell Housing Authority as the first step in an ambitious project to engage all of Lowell in awareness of bullying in all areas of community life.

"Although we didn't have a lot of people at the first meeting of the Anti-Bullying Coalition (ABC) of Lowell, we are aware that one stone cast into a pond can make many ripples. We have cast a few stones and created a number of ripples. Maybe at the next meeting we'll create some waves."

Lowell tenants can now become leaders in dealing with bullying and mobbing in housing; they are making a start along a journey of exploration, learning, collaboration, and action; making a few ripples and perhaps some waves.

The Lowell Housing Authority, management, and tenants are the ones who will decide how to proceed. I believe that their chances for success will be increased by creating a strong network of tenants, management, and the board, with support as needed from Beacon Hill, and the leaders of Lowell.

For further information related to the statewide Stop Bullying Coalition: