Dear Senator Lovely and Representative Walsh,
In the remaining time before the end of this legislative session, can we please establish the ombuds office, possibly by an amendment to S900/H1407?
For a decade, the Stop Bullying Coalition has been seeking a way to protect elderly and disabled tenants living in subsidized and public housing from bullying and mobbing.
In this time we have seen and experienced the loss of our rights, ongoing aggression leading to depression and trauma, and the loss of our homes by eviction. The downstream impacts are life-threatening and horrible.
In partnership with legislators, tenants, and advocacy groups we have testified, created the Commission on Bullying, served on the Commission and led landmark research.
One clear conclusion was that the landlord is legally responsible for preventing bullying and mobbing, and that tenants have no way to assure their rights and be protected. The Attorney General says—it is unlawful to prevent others from enjoying their rights as citizens and tenants.
The Commission, however, refused to value the problems that bullying and mobbing created for tenants and instead focused on helping landlords and state agencies. The report of the Commission is the basis for S900/H1407 which may well provide support for landlords of good will to better manage their properties.
However, there are many landlords who fail in their responsibilities to tenants, and another approach is needed to hold them accountable. HUD housing programs are notorious for the lack of effective oversight (http://stopbullyingcoalition.org/rights). There is no assured intervention when a public housing program is infected with mobbing. That is the reason that we continue to seek the creation of an independent ombuds office that can hold landlords to account. The ombuds is the essential complement to S900/H1407.
The need for oversight
- Bullying and mobbing likely found in many subsidized and public housing complexes for elderly & disabled; based on survey for Commission on Bullying
- Landlord is legally responsible: Mass Office of the Attorney General; HUD Office of Fair Housing
- The only remedies are administrative, which are not working; and civil actions and legal counsel, that tenants cannot afford
The need for reporting and protection by independent agency
- Mobbing is the result of landlord failure to act (private landlord or housing authority)
- No one in local community can act, and local officials are sometimes drawn into joining the mobbing
- Tenants, individually and in groups, fear eviction and can be harassed for their protests
Creating an independent ombuds
- In Office of Attorney General, budget from that office (See H1412)
- Accept complaints & reports, investigate, seek suitable resolution
- Ombudsman has administrative and legal authority over subsidized and public housing complexes for elderly & disabled
- Ombuds must have ability to enforce or to refer to enforcement in civil court
- AG goes into court on behalf of tenants to protect their established rights:
MGL c.12 Section c. 12, §§ 11H-J
Please see below for references & resources.
Thank you for your consideration.
All the best,
Coordinator, Stop BullyingCoalition
Former Board Member & Chair of the Legislative Committee, Mass Union of Public Housing Tenants
References & Resources
For the social dynamics of mobbing, see: Janice Harper, PhD., Bullying and Mobbing in Group Settings
Social Aggression, Bullying, and Mobbing Pamela Goodwin, a tenant in subsidized housing in Greenfield, initiated and organized a panel presentation on social aggression, bullying, and mobbing that was held on Saturday, April 30, 2022 as part of the 51st annual spring convention of the Mass Union of Public Housing Tenants (MUPHT ) in Marlborough MA. Goodwin responded to a groundswell of concern among tenant leaders about bullying and mobbing.
Jerry Halberstadt, How to Stop Bullying & Mobbing, 2018
Excellent reporting, part of a series on housing. Dowd, William J, It was a dark, dark time: A pair of bills that aim to address what a tenant advocate called 'a plague of bullying' in public housing languish atop Beacon Hill. Wicked Local, November, 2021
For a review of legal protections and judicial remedies, please see pages 60-69 in our minority report, Jerry Halberstadt, To Stop Bullying: Protecting Elderly and Persons with Disabilities, A Handbook for Change in Housing (Peabody: Togethering Press, forthcoming) This is the Minority report of the Commission on Bullying, (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) filed with the Legislature on December 31, 2017.
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
Testimony, 2021 http://stopbullyingcoalition.org/testimony2
Testimony, 2019 http://stopbullyingcoalition.org/201904testimony
Testimony, 2019 http://stopbullyingcoalition.org/ombuds
Testimony, 2015 http://stopbullyingcoalition.org/S709-TESTIMONY
Experience of Pamela Goodwin http://stopbullyingcoalition.org/open-letter-retaliation
“MGL c.12 Section c. 12, §§ 11H-J. Whenever any person or persons, whether or not acting under color of law, interfere by threats, intimidation or coercion, or attempt to interfere by threats, intimidation or coercion, with the exercise or enjoyment by any other person or persons of rights secured by the constitution or laws of the United States, or of rights secured by the constitution or laws of the commonwealth, the attorney general may bring a civil action for injunctive or other appropriate equitable relief in order to protect the peaceable exercise or enjoyment of the right or rights secured.”
“M.G.L. c. 12, §§ 11 I Any person whose exercise or enjoyment of rights secured by the constitution or laws of the United States, or of rights secured by the constitution or laws of the commonwealth, has been interfered with, or attempted to be interfered with, as described in section 11H, may institute and prosecute in his own name and on his own behalf a civil action for injunctive and other appropriate equitable relief as provided for in said section, including the award of compensatory money damages. Any aggrieved person or persons who prevail in an action authorized by this section shall be entitled to an award of the costs of the litigation and reasonable attorneys' fees in an amount to be fixed by the court.”