Mass Union’s Policy Agenda – Summary
October 10, 2023
- Address the dangerous backlog of capital needs in public housing.
- Protect tenants during Redevelopment.
- In future budget cycles, fund the operating subsidy at needed levels.
- In state housing, increase Tenant Participation Funding to $25/unit/year.
- Enforce LTO participation regulations.
- Enforce and improve grievance regulations.
- Require resident participation in choosing LHA management agreements.
- Improve rent certification requirements in light of tenant privacy.
- Provide Access to Counsel.
1. Address the dangerous backlog of capital needs in public housing.
With our partners, Mass Union has identified $8.5 billion in deferred capital needs in the state’s public housing portfolio. Residents live with this backlog every day. Mold, pests, leaks, broken infrastructure, unsafe fire systems, backed up plumbing and sewage systems, and decades-old appliances are the norm. Fire alarms go off for days at a time. Mold is visible on walls. Asbestos goes unaddressed. The health and safety of the residents are clearly being compromised and too many units are close to unlivable.
The current infusion of about $500 million in capital upgrades per year will not preserve the state’s investment in public housing. We urge the Administration to develop a robust plan with stakeholders to ensure that the state’s 43,000 units remain online by proposing a substantial 5-year bond, by seeking additional ARPA funding from the legislature, and by making every attempt to bring vacant housing back online as authorized by Line Item 7004-9005 and as provided by Public Housing Notice 2016-34 and now 2023-17.
2. Protect tenants during Redevelopment.
In light of the capital backlog and incentives to bring private dollars into the mix, it is essential to protect tenants both during the redevelopment process and to ensure that they retain the same rights after its completion. We urge the Administration to support S. 857/ H. 1340, An Act ensuring continued rights for public housing residents. For testimony, section-by-section, fact sheet and an updated 2023 Public Housing Redevelopment Bill of Rights, which articulates the principles of good redevelopment, click here.
We further urge EOHLC to include in its upcoming new Public Housing Redevelopment NOFA that there be a requirement in the NOFA that tenants be provided with technical assistance so that they can have meaningful input into the redevelopment process.
3. In future budget cycles, fund the operating subsidy at needed levels.
Mass Union and our partners have determined that fully funding public housing would require $184 million from the Operating Subsidy. While we are grateful for this year’s increase from $92 million to $107 million, we will continue to advocate for full funding in future budget cycles.
4. In state housing, increase Tenant Participation Funding to $25/unit/year.
Tenants are key partners in the oversight of public housing. To ensure that their perspective is adequately represented in decision-making, they need to form and sustain Local Tenant Organizations. As the regulations state: “The purpose of 760 CMR 6.09 is to encourage the formation of representative organizations and to provide all residents the opportunity to be heard on and participate in matters affecting the interests of the residents.” This requires funds for expenses such as printing, translation, elections, education, training, convenings and more. The federal government allocates $25/unit/year, over four times as much as the state provides for Tenant Participation Funds, which stands at $6/unit/year.
Mass Union respectfully requests that the state match the federal allocation of $25/unit/year for this function. With Mass Union’s assistance, this relatively modest investment in oversight can have an outsize impact in tenants’ ability to provide crucial insights at their Housing Authorities.
5. Enforce LTO participation regulations.
EOHLC has issued very good regulations to allow for the formation, recognition, and participation of Local Tenant Organizations. Mass Union’s main focus is supporting tenants to make use of these regulations. In many cases, tenants run into barriers when invoking their rights to have:
- Quarterly meetings with the Executive Director (6.09(3)(a))
- An opportunity to be heard at LHA Board Meetings (6.09(3)(o))
- Prompt appointment of LTOs’ nominees to the LHA Board (PHN 2021-01)
- Participation in hiring (6.09(3)(n)) and redevelopment (6.09(3)(i))
- Negotiating Memorandums of Understanding between LHA and LTO (6.09(3))
- Allocation of their Tenant Participation Funds (6.09(3)(c))
- Office (6.09(3)(d)) and meeting space (6.09(3)(f))
- Their LTO by-laws (6.09(2)(d)) and other policies posted (6.09(3)(l))
Tenants routinely ask what the recourse is when Housing Authorities fail to comply with 760 CMR 6.09. We seek EOHLC’s input and help in addressing this situation.
6. Enforce and improve grievance regulations.
Similarly, tenants often encounter barriers when they attempt to file grievances, which is their regulatory right. A functioning grievance process is essential to resolve matters in a fair, prompt and reliable way.
Many tenants are unaware that there is a grievance process or fear retaliation if they file a grievance. Executive Directors sometimes fail to “accept” grievances when tenants initiate them, and the process does not move forward. Tenants raise concerns about grievance hearing panel members not being perceived as impartial, as the regulations require. Some Executive Directors have also appointed themselves as the grievance officer at their Housing Authority, in violation of the regulations. It is unclear what steps residents can take when a grievance procedure is not in place or not properly operating.
Mass Union requests that EOHLC issue a notice clarifying the existing grievance regulations including clarifying that 1. grievance panel members must be impartial; 2. LHA staff from other LHAs should not be allowed to serve as grievance officers or on panels; and 3. if the grievance process repeatedly fails to produce fair and prompt determinations then EOHLC will deem it deficient and determine a plan of action. EOHLC should also ensure that every Housing Authority has a grievance policy on the books and that it is posted and publicized according to the regulations. These metrics could be part of the PMR.
7. Require resident participation in choosing LHA management agreements.
Tenants have a right to participate in the hiring of any staff with whom they have direct contact, including Executive Directors. More and more, Housing Authorities are choosing to enter into management agreements in lieu of hiring their own EDs. However, there is no provision for resident participation in the negotiation of such agreements, despite the fact that tenants are demonstrably impacted by them. EOHLC should ensure that tenants have a voice when their Housing Authority is considering entering into such an agreement as either the party being managed or doing the managing. Both sides of the coin impact the allocation of resources at the HA, and thus the welfare of tenants.
8. Improve rent certification requirements in light of tenant privacy.
During the rent recertification process, tenants are often asked to provide bank statements. In some cases, they are instructed by the Housing Authority to include all pages and refrain from redacting personal information, such as account numbers.
Mass Union supports fair and transparent rules for rent recertification and we ask EOHLC to issue guidance to clarify that an LHA may only ask the tenant for bank statements as third-party verification in the event that the “LHA finds that the initial documentation provided by the tenant is not adequate.” In other words, LHAs should not automatically ask tenants at the first instance to provide 12 months or years of bank statements. Guidance should require the LHA to make a clear finding that the documentation provided by the tenant was not adequate. In addition, guidance should limit the LHA requests for bank statements to 2-3 statements and make explicit that the tenant may redact the bank statement to only show relevant income information and may redact other information on the statement that is private.
9. Provide Access to Counsel.
Mass Union is part of the broad coalition supporting Access to Counsel, which includes municipal leaders. Every week, Mass Union gets calls from tenants facing eviction and there is nothing we can do to help. Access to counsel for very vulnerable tenants who face eviction is a life changer, and could potentially also help those tenants before court during grievance proceedings. In virtually 100% of public housing cases, Housing Authorities have legal representation, while 95% tenants do not have the benefit of legal representation. Tenants in public housing are scared and intimidated when they have to go to court alone. We urge the Administration to support Access to Counsel bills before the Legislature in order to provide equity in representation.