Legislature considers landmark tenant protective services ombuds
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jerry Halberstadt
Legislature considers landmark tenant protective services ombuds
At Beacon Hill, on April 30, 2019, the Joint Commitee on Housing meets to consider comprehensive groundbreaking legislation to protect elderly persons and people with disability in subsidized and public housing from bullying. Complementary bills filed by Senator Lovely and Representative Honan will create an ombuds office to protect tenants and assure their rights by holding landlords to account, and improve the administration of housing programs.
Senator Joan B. Lovely introduced An act relative to bullying in housing (S985) establishing a new statewide independent tenant protective services ombuds program to prevent bullying of tenants. Senator Lovely and Representative Kevin Honan presented An act to prevent and respond to bullying of elderly and disabled residents (S984/H1443) to improve the administration of housing programs.
State Senator Joan Lovely said, “The Commonwealth confronts a crisis of housing affordability that hampers the ability of our kids to stay in the communities where they grew up, of employees who look to find residences within reasonable commutes of their jobs, of poor people who search desperately for affordable housing, and of elderly and disabled residents who struggle to find places that they can pay for and that meet their particular needs. Senator Lovely added, “Low-income, disabled, and elderly individuals who do find suitable housing, oftentimes feel incredibly fortunate to have found anything at all. This feeling makes these already vulnerable populations even more vulnerable for abuses related to bullying, which explains why I filed the two bills that the Joint Committee on Housing will consider at its Tuesday hearing.”
Representative Brad Hill said, “No one should ever be bullied and these bills [S984/H1443 & S985] will go a long way to preventing bullying.”
According to Jerry Halberstadt, Coordinator of the Stop Bullying Coalition, “the filing of these bills is a milestone on the road to victory for the rights of the elderly and people with disability who live in subsidized or public housing. With our legislative partners, we worked to establish the Commission on Bullying, and the findings and reports of the commission helped provide the basis for these two complementary bills.”
The attorney general asserts that landlords are legally obligated to assure the “peaceful enjoyment” of all tenants, and when they fail in that duty the rights of tenants are infringed. If the ombuds office in the Department of Housing and Community Development finds a pattern or practice of bullying and hostile environment, the ombuds will refer the matter to the attorney general to hold the landlord accountable.
June Fleischmann, an experienced outreach worker in community mental health. said, “The victim fears for his very existence, fears leaving his apartment, and waits, yearning for freedom.”
Jerry Halberstadt said, “Until the landlord takes care to prevent bullying, it is simply too dangerous and futile for targets of bullying to stand up for their rights.”
Susan Bonner, Legislative Chair of the Mass Union of Public Housing Tenants, has worked with the Stop Bullying Coalition during the work of the Commission on Bullying and in developing An act relative to bullying in housing (S985). She said, “The tenant leadership of the Mass Union of Public Housing Tenants gave unanimous support for the ombuds bill in our recent convention.”
Brian Costello, the Executive Director of the Watertown Housing Authority and President of MassNAHRO, said “The landlord should be accountable for their primary purpose, which is quiet and peaceful enjoyment of the building. If residents feel their needs are not being met, then they should be able to reach out to a third party.”
Identifications & Affiliations
Jerry Halberstadt is the Coordinator, Stop Bullying Coalition. Governor Baker appointed him to the Commission on Bullying. Halberstadt has been living in subsidized housing for a decade.
Susan Bonner is the Legislative Chair of the Mass Union of Public Housing Tenants and lives in Nahant public housing.
Mary Margaret Moore is the Former Executive Director, Independent Living Center of the North Shore and Cape Ann.
MUPHT ~ The Mass Union of Public Housing Tenants is a statewide organization representing tenants living in public housing, including for the elderly and people with disability.
MassNAHRO ~ The Massachusetts Chapter of the National Association of Housing & Redevelopment Officials (MassNAHRO) is a membership association of local housing authorities, community development agencies and housing and redevelopment officials.
The Commission on Bullying was created in 2016 as a legislative study commission to bring together stakeholders and experts to develop a better understanding of bullying in housing, and to recommend remedial legislation. It met for several months during 2017. 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
The Stop Bullying Coalition is an organization of tenants, advocates, and advocacy groups with a mission of research, education, advocacy, and legislation to protect people from bullying.
Halberstadt said, “These bills are the fruit of collaboration and partnership among Senator Joan B. Lovely, Representative Hill, many supportive legislators including Representative Tom Walsh, numerous tenants, advocacy groups, and experts in law, social services, mental health, public health, management, and more. They are based on the extensive research done by the Commission to Study Ways to Prevent Bullying of Tenants in Public and Subsidized Multifamily Housing (Commission on Bullying). The Commission, which met during 2017, was the outcome of the advocacy efforts of the Stop Bullying Coalition.
Senator Lovely and Representative Kevin Honan presented An act to prevent and respond to bullying of elderly and disabled residents (S984). This bill would establish the public safety division of the Commonwealth’s office of the attorney general as the administrative agency for the creation of model plans by an interagency consultation process to guide residential community practices, including to require ongoing training and education, and to specify procedures for reporting, sanctioning of perpetrators, accountability, and for protecting victims.
Halberstadt commented that, “An act to prevent and respond to bullying of elderly and disabled residents can provide guidance and direction to assure that landlords and management will know how to prevent bullying and be able to work with tenants to improve community life. However, the oversight function of the ombuds office is essential to assure that the landlord and management are effectively preventing bullying and mobbing and thus enable the positive impact of the methods proposed by the Lovely-Honan bill, S984/H1443.”
Mary Margaret Moore
Mary Margaret Moore, an early and constant supporter of the educational and advocacy efforts of the Stop Bullying Coalition and a strong advocate for the rights of all people, said, “At every level of society and even in the highest levels of government, we see evidence of the lack of social control that leads to sexual abuse, bullying, and mobbing, and that extends to harm the elderly and people with disability even in their homes. We need initiatives to address these problems. We need to empower tenants and give protection and relief to victims of bullying.”
June Fleischmann is an outreach worker with 25 years’ experience in the field of community mental health. Her work includes advocacy, education, outreach, and other supports to connect people to community service providers. Fleischmann said, “ Deliberate and systematic intimidation, when allowed to continue unchecked, is an acknowledgement that the bully has the support of the social institutions that were created to keep people safe, and of lawmakers, since our laws define which behaviors merit censure, even punishment. Bullying has been noted, recorded, editorialized, defined, but remains difficult to eradicate, because it hides in plain sight, in our culture, in our social order. Perhaps we have become accustomed to working with a broken compass, constantly adjusting for ‘normal’ hostility, something to be expected, when people must live next to ‘strangers.’ Managers, administrators, advocates, safety personnel, and others may care, but are unclear about how to resolve and protect ‘targets.’ They get stuck on ‘who provoked whom,’ and meet with advisors and mediators, who also do not know how to address the problem and wish the victim would just avoid the bully, because the matter is complicated and, after all, they fear they ‘can only do so much.’”
“The bully, however, feels justified, has support from friends, and fears nothing.”
“The victim fears for his very existence, fears leaving his apartment, and waits, yearning for freedom.”
Lynn Costello, a tenant advocate who lives in Lowell public housing, is working to educate and involve people to prevent bullying, respect differences, and create a better community. She said, “The stress caused by bullying can make an existing mental health condition worse, or create a new mental health problem.” Caught up in a situation of hostile environment harassment, she was forced to move for her own safety. She said, “I am living in a housing complex as a woman with mental illness. A few years ago I nearly had a breakdown because two groups of tenants in our complex were fighting all summer long. I got caught up in the middle of the feud and eventually had to move out of my building. If the management had taken an interest in the problems earlier, the bullying that had taken place wouldn’t have reached such terrible levels. We definitely need the protections this bill will provide and then maybe more. I am urging our government officials to take these matters seriously. People’s lives and their health are at stake.”
Bonny Zeh, who lives with disability in federally funded public housing, helped to found the Stop Bullying Coalition and started us on the path of advocacy for legislation. She said, “As someone who has been a target of mobbing in subsidized housing (organized bullying by a group of tenants), I am grateful that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is taking this problem seriously. We must remember that, for every person who steps forward and who actively tries to get this behavior stopped, there are many, many more who suffer in silence. Most victims of bullying don’t realize that there are, albeit limited, resources that might help get this problem stopped. Together, landlords, building managers and residents can create a culture of civility, where everyone—that includes landlords and their employees, contractors, residents, and visitors—is treated with dignity and respect. In order to accomplish this, we need both support and oversight from the Commonwealth.”
- Attorney General Advisory: All Tenants Have a Right to Be Free from Harassment and Intimidation https://tinyurl.com/yyrjkzza
- Stop Bullying Coalition, Stop Bullying and Build Safe Community for Elderly & Disabled Tenants in Public and Subsidized Housing
- Harper, Janice, Bullying and Mobbing in Group Settings, Statement presented to the Massachusetts Commission on Bullying, August 7, 2017. http://stopbullyingcoalition.org/harper-mobbing
- S.985, An Act relative to bullying in public housing, Joan B. Lovely https://malegislature.gov/Bills/191/S985
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
Final Report of the Commission to Study Ways to Prevent Bullying of Tenants in Public and Subsidized Multi-Family Housing, (Boston: Commonwealth of Massachusetts), 2017.
Jerry Halberstadt, (Commissioner’s Minority Report to the Legislature) To Stop Bullying: Legislative Remedies to Protect Elderly and Persons With Disabilities in Subsidized and Public Housing. A Report of the Stop Bullying Coalition, (Peabody: Togethering Press, 2018). Available on request in PDF format at no charge.
FR–5248–F–02 Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Environment Harassment and Liability for Discriminatory Housing Practices Under the Fair Housing Act, Final Rule published in the Federal Register on September 14, 2016, CFR Citation: 24 CFR 100, p. 63075
Extensive articles and resources at http://StopBullyingCoalition.org