Testimony for the Joint Committee on Housing
S900-H1407—Bullying in Housing
September 15, 2021
Good day, Honorable Chairs and Members of the Committee, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am Jerry Halberstadt, the Coordinator of the Stop Bullying Coalition.
On behalf of tenant victims of bullying, we are still, after 7 years of advocacy, seeking relief to protect tenants from intimidation, fear, stress, loss of rights, and even the loss of a home.
As the only tenant to serve on the Commission on Bullying, I took to heart the charge of the legislature: “...to propose public policy recommendations and legislation to protect tenants from harm and preserve their rights.”
Despite helping to guide the first state survey of bullying in housing; and comparing peaceful and toxic communities; and evaluating the alleged remedies, I was nevertheless refused the right to publish a minority Commission report advocating to assure the rights and safety of tenants.
Now we petition you for laws that will provide relief.
Today we support the bill of Senator Lovely S900, and of Representative Honan, H1407—to provide training, guidelines, and resources. The bills rely on the owner/manager to assure the peaceful enjoyment of all tenants.
We must also have oversight, protection, and hold landlords to account when they fail to collaborate with tenants and build a healthy community.
What are the differences between a peaceful and healthy vs. a toxic community?
The most salient difference is in the policy and practice of the landlord and their agents, including management, staff, and service coordinators. Where the landlord does not act to prevent bullying—tenants have no protection and the community is toxic. Many interventions fail in such conditions.
S900/H1407 proposes compassionate management: establishing trust and improving communication and understanding. Another method is assertive: intervening to stop inappropriate behavior by warnings and sanctions. The assertive method is effective even against group bullying and mobbing, where compassion fails.
S900 and H1407 may improve the administration of housing programs, and we urge the Committee to incorporate and strengthen the protection, oversight, and accountability concepts found in S1084, the ombuds bill.
There must be oversight and legal action on behalf of tenants to judge owner/managers by their results in providing effective relief for victims.
At long last, with the ongoing partnerships with our legislators and the advocacy community, we shall have our right of peaceful enjoyment.
Thank you for your consideration.
Jerry Halberstadt, Coordinator, Stop Bullying Coalition; living in subsidized housing, Peabody
Bonny Zeh, Co-founder of the Stop Bullying Coalition; Federal Public Housing, Somerville.
Mary Margaret Moore, former Executive Director, Salem Center for Independent Living.
Susan Bonner, Leader in Nahant Public Housing, Legislative Chair, Mass Union of Public Housing Tenants.
Anonymous, living with disability in Boston, in subsidized housing.
Lori Bermani, living with disability in Salem Public Housing.
"Margaret," living with disability in Attleboro Public Housing, formerly evicted from subsidized housing and made homeless in retaliation for her advocacy on behalf of disabled tenants.
Lynn Costello, living in Lowell Public Housing; community organizer, mental health advocate.
Chris Hoeh, living with disability in Jamaica Plain, member of Dignity Alliance Mass (DAM), advocate for accessibility
Kolya Lynne Smith, Housing Without Harassment; living in subsidized housing, Boston.
Attorney General Advisory: All Tenants Have a Right to Be Free from Harassment and Intimidation
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.
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.
Jerry Halberstadt, Community Norms, Social Distancing & Bullying https://stopbullyingcoalition.org/norms
Jerry Halberstadt and Marvin So, Statewide Survey on Bullying of Tenants in Public and Subsidized Multifamily Housing, 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
Extensive articles and resources at http://StopBullyingCoalition.org
Our advocacy relies on the experience of leaders in the disability and housing communities, including: Mary Margaret Moore, former Executive Director of the Independent Living Center of the North Shore and Cape Ann; Susan Bonner, Legislative Chair of the Mass Union of Public Housing Tenants; and tenants in subsidized and public housing all over the Commonwealth who seek their rights, including Lynn Costello; Margaret, the woman evicted in retaliation for her advocacy for tenants living with disability who testified before this Committee while homeless; and Pamela Goodwin, who chose to be homeless to flee the hostile environment of Upton Public Housing, where she had striven for the rights of tenants. Recently we have found understanding, common values, and support with members of Dignity Alliance.
We have enjoyed working in partnership with our elected officials: Senator Joan Lovely, Representatives Tom Walsh, Brad Hill, Kevin Honan, and many more. Their dedication to serving the needs of their constituents is inspiring.