Testimony of Jerry Halberstadt and others in favor of H3868, “An Act to create the office of the tenant advocate in the Office of the Attorney General,” prepared for the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, December 5, 2023
To the Honorable Chairs James B. Eldridge and Michael S. Day, Vice Chairs Lydia Edwards and Christine P. Barber and members of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.
We urge your favorable evaluation and positive report on H3868, “An Act to create the office of the tenant advocate in the Office of the Attorney General,” a bill proposed by Representative Sally Kerans and Senator Lovely.
H3868 is an essential and urgently needed protection for the rights of tenants when landlords fail to prevent hostile environment harassment. “Hostile environment harassment” is unwelcome conduct creating a situation that makes it difficult or impossible for victims to have the peaceful enjoyment of their residency. The Office of the Attorney General has asserted that it is unlawful for a housing provider not to protect tenants from harassment.
We all want safety and peace at home. Yet people who live in public or subsidized housing have no assured protection from bullying, mobbing, or hostile environment harassment, attacks that make it difficult or impossible for tenants to have the peaceful enjoyment of their homes.
Hostile environment harassment festers in public and subsidized housing for elderly and disabled people, and there is a lack of oversight and accountability that could assure their rights. Research by the Commission on Bullying included a 617-person sample statewide survey on bullying, mobbing, and harassment in housing covering 92,000 units in 1,400 developments for elderly and disabled. Almost half of respondents reported bullying where they live. 30% of respondents reported indicators of hostile environment harassment. Only 16% of victims who sought help got a successful resolution.
H3868 is modeled on the Federal Fair Housing Law rule on hostile environment harassment that confirms that the housing provider is responsible for protecting the rights of tenants in specified classes to a peaceful home. H3868 will protect all tenants in public and subsidized housing for the elderly and disabled tenant.
H3868 will establish the office of the tenant advocate with the mandate to provide oversight and accountability and thus protect the right of tenants to the peaceful enjoyment of their homes.
Additional background information is available at Tenant Advocate: Resources.
Now is the time to protect the right of all tenants to have the peaceful enjoyment of their home, free of harassment. We urge you to give H3868 a favorable review and endorsement.
Thank you for your consideration.
Jerry Halberstadt, Coordinator of the Stop Bullying Coalition, tenant in subsidized housing, 01960
Barbara A L’Italien, Executive Director and CEO, Disability Law Center, Inc.
Doreen Wade, President, Salem United, Inc., 01970
Elsabel Rincon, Founder and President, Welcome Immigrants Network, 01970
Jo Ella Tarbutton-Springfield, Community leader, Commissioner of the Northampton Public Housing Authority and tenant in public housing, 01060
Rene Spencer, tenant and Commissioner of the Wellesley Housing Authority, former Board Member of the Mass Union of Public Housing Tenants, 02481
Susan Bonner, Former Legislative Chair of the Board of the Mass Union of Public Housing Tenants, 01908
Arlene Germain, Co-Founder, Board Member, and Facilities Workgroup Leader at Dignity Alliance Massachusetts www.dignityalliancema.org and Co-Founder and Former Executive Director of the Massachusetts Advocates for Nursing Home Reform www.manhr.org
Don Rivard, Past President, Charter Street (Salem) Tenants Association; Former Board Member and Treasurer, Mass Union of Public Housing Tenants. Rivard lives in Salem public housing.
The following individuals testified in person on December 5, 2023 to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary:
Representative Sally Kerans
Pamela Goodwin, former tenant in public housing, current tenant in subsidized housing, a key participant in the work of the Stop Bullying Coalition and in several other advocacy groups.
"We need a line to report harassment and abuse. We need enforcement."
Iris Weaver, a senior & disabled woman in public housing suffers abuse and threats from management.
"I don't feel safe being myself where I live."
Laurie Ann Wright, an elderly disabled woman living in public housing, experienced racially-based harassment:
"We need a place to go [for help.]"
Additional support and testimony:
Kolya Lynne Smith, a 47 year old disabled person living in low-income housing was unable to testify in person due to technical issues.
"It’s long overdue to have a tenant advocate. We usually have no legal recourse, because we can't afford lawyers, so we need someone to speak up for us...Bullying in housing knows no race, religion, ability, gender, sexuality, political affiliation, or any other identity you can think of...My housing manager who bullied, harassed, and retaliated against me has recently resigned...the scars that she inflicted upon me and fellow tenants are still raw, threatening our peace and safety."
"Margaret," an elderly, disabled woman who has fought for four years to receive an essential accommodation from housing management, wrote,
"I hope what I have experienced will show the dire situation I am in to the legislators that need to pass the law in order to prevent this occurring to anyone else."