Report: Meeting with Secretary of Housing and Livable Communities

As leaders of the Stop Bullying Coalition advocating for the rights of tenants living in public and subsidized housing we have the honor of meeting and collaborating on policy with our legislators and high state officials in the Office of the Attorney General and with the new Secretary of Housing and Livable Communities (EOHLC).

Ed Augustus was appointed as Secretary on May 15, 2023. He has served as state senator and as the city manager of Worcester with additional leadership experience in education and in advocacy for children.

During a meeting at the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA) I mentioned to the secretary the problem of hostile environment harassment in housing and the bill, H3868, designed to address that issue. He invited me to meet on December 20, 2023 and at my request included Senator Joan Lovely (and her Chief of Staff, Johanna Wakelin), Representative Sally Kerans (and her Aide, Chloe Mitchell), and Pamela Goodwin, a tenant in subsidized housing and an informed and dedicated partner of the Stop Bullying Coalition. Also present was Eric Shupin, Chief of Policy, Executive Office of Housing & Livable Communities.Shupin had previously been Director of Public Policy, Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association.

The bill, H3868, “An Act to create the office of the tenant advocate in the Office of the Attorney General,” was submitted by Representative Sally P. Kerans, Senator Joan B. Lovely, with the support of Thomas P. Walsh, Samantha Montano, Joanne M. Comerford, and Natalie M. Blais.

At the suggestion of the Secretary, I opened the discussion with a summary.

We experience a national climate of division, anger, hostility; no wonder we have conflict in housing. Hostile environment harassment creates a climate of conflict and fear in housing. Tenants have a right to "peaceful enjoyment" of their home. The Office of the Attorney General says that the housing provider is responsible for peaceful enjoyment and it is unlawful not to prevent harassment. We are guided by the rule on hostile environment harassment from HUD and Fair Housing Law: that rule determines that the landlord is responsible to prevent hostile environment harassment. The survey conducted by the state Commission on Bullying found that 30% of respondents live with bullying, mobbing, and harassment; only 16% of those who seek help get relief. Each of us has lived with and/or observed the prevalence of hostile environment harassment. Tenants have no effective protection or relief, and seeking help risks retaliation. The most direct point of remedy is to make sure that the housing provider is accountable for the peaceful enjoyment of all tenants.

Pamela Goodwin described her experiences of being harassed in public housing, seeking her rights and relief to no avail, finally leading her to choose to be homeless and live in her car and tent to escape the toxic situation.

Representative Kerans and Senator Lovely spoke about the urgent need for passage of H3868, the bill which they had jointly submitted.

Augustus sees the need for additional resources to aid managers with helping people with mental health challenges. Senator Lovely’s Chief of Staff, Johanna Wakelin noted that S887 would provide resources and guidance for landlords.

S887 “An Act to prevent and respond to bullying of elderly and disabled residents” is a bill by Senators Joan B. Lovely and Lydia Edwards, Liz Miranda, Joanne M. Comerford; H1329 is an identical bill by Representatives Kevin G. Honan, Samantha Montano, and Rob Consalvo.

Each of these bills—H3868, S887, H1329— is based on the work of the Commission on Bullying. The commission was created through our partnership with Senator Lovely, Representative Honan, Tom Walsh, Brad Hill, and many other legislators, advocacy groups, and individuals.

Secretary Augustus asked about opposition to H3868 (we know of none) and the process going forward. Representative Kerans spoke about the additional steps for the bill once it is voted out favorably by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.

Secretary Augustus said he will review H3868 with the attorney general and that he is likely to favor it. He sees the need for someone to come in and help deal with the harassment.

He is visiting housing developments across the state and he appreciated our offer to assist him in his work.

We look forward to collaborating in partnership with Secretary Augustus and Eric Shupin.