Linden/Chambers Tenant's Union Organizing Effort Breaks Down


- NEEDHAM, MA   After working with the MA Union of Public Housing Tenants, for over a year, the elderly and disabled tenants living at the Linden/Chambers apartments were surprised to learn that they would have to start their Election process all over. 

Organizing themselves, since last Summer 2022, the "Residents of Linden, Chambers and High Rock" attended meetings, read the rules, went to workshops and conferences, only to be told, last week, that the Union Director of Organizing, Ben Echevarria, did not think the Needham Housing Authority, Executive Director Cheryl Gosman, understood the process.  He also told me, over the phone, that I did not understand the process, as well, which was true, and that, until I could prove to him that our process was an open one, the Union would not certify the nominations.  We did not use the correct form.  Ben said he would call Cheryl.

Cheryl Gosman had questions, also, about the democratic process, and said she would not distribute the flyers and notices about the election until she was satisfied.  Two of the tenant organizers met, Monday, with the Director, who, thereafter, seemed ready to move to the next step, which was to approve the Ballot, make copies of the Election Notice and send them out to the Tenants, all of whom get the chance to vote.  Progress is still possible.

There was a Tenant organization at Linden/Chambers about ten years ago - set up and created by a past Executive Director, Assistant Director and Social Service Director.  It took 3-4 months, but the task was accomplished.   That Local Tenant Organization (LTO) lasted a few years, but fell into disarray under a resident bully, who drove everybody to quit.  Mobbing is a recognized form of elder abuse that sometimes appears in public housing. 

I do not yet know what it takes to build a group to defend the Rights of Tenants in public housing.  A Code of Conduct was crucial, in our current organizing, which is to say, rules of engagement:  1) mutual respect, 2) be a good listener, 3) no cross talk, and so on... Tenants don't always want to come out and be sociable because, not often, but sometimes the experience turns unpleasant.  At the start of one past Monday afternoon game of Bingo, in the community room, one tenant chastised another for smoking.  The second was not smoking, and reacted badly.  It got worse, and the police were called.  This is crazy town sometimes.

Things are connected.   From my vantage point, if tenants are not encouraged, they will not be disposed to join the crowd and help themselves and the community, too.  And then they will isolate and fall out of the loop, with unhealthy results.  The recent Needham Healthy Aging Assessment noted that an inordinate number of NHA residents were unaware of many of the food programs.  Its all connected.

If organizing is impossible, it may not be necessary.  A certified group of tenant stakeholders might be preferred to gain a seat at the table, but, without a certified Local Tenant Organization (LTO), tenants are allowed, nevertheless and in any case, to speak as individuals, in lieu of an LTO, or a Residents Advisory Group, or Tenants Review Board, all of which have roles to play in community re-development, if its done properly.

The tenants will have to decide what to do.

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