MLRI’s Housing Unit initiatives protect the basic rights of public housing tenants and low-income tenants in private rental properties. MLRI also advocates increasing the number of public housing units in the state and advocates against the destruction or neglect of those units which currently exist.
Bringing Vacant State Public Housing Units Back Online:
Two years ago, MLRI played a lead role in unearthing vacancy data from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) which showed that there were thousands of vacant state and public housing units out of circulation. MLRI successfully used this data to raise awareness among policy makers about the importance of allocating state revenue to bring this housing back into use. That campaign led to unlocking $2 million from the state’s public housing portion of the Affordable Housing Trust fund to bring over 200 units back online.
In early 2012, the Governor and DHCD launched the Commission for Public Housing Sustainability and Reform. With a seat on the Commission, MLRI requested updated vacant unit data while urging the Commission to recommend an increase in resources to bring all vacant units presently accounted for back into use. In June, the Commission adopted our recommendation and called for the restoration of 1,000 vacant units. In October, DHCD released a public notice announcing an additional $2 million for a more formal Vacant Unit Turnover Initiative to bring 200 more units back online. Thus far the campaign has resulted in 400 units being brought back online.
With an estimated 17,000 homeless children and families in the state on any given night, and state emergency shelter services operating above capacity, it is imperative that we bring as many of these permanent housing resources back online as quickly as possible. Bringing these apartments back online will not only provide a safe and stable living environment for thousands in need, but will substantially increase the amount of rental income a housing authority has and will also result in substantial savings for the state over the long run, as fewer individuals and families will be forced to rely on state homelessness services.
Empowering Public Housing Resident Organizations:
Successful management of public housing requires meaningful resident participation. While laws recognize resident involvement is critical, MLRI has played a lead role in working the Boston Resident Training Institute (BRTI) to breathe life into these laws. BRTI, a resident-driven initiative, supported by MLRI and the Massachusetts Union of Public Housing Tenants, provides education, training and technical assistance with and for public housing residents to empower communities and create change from within. MLRI provides technical assistance to develop and deliver nine core trainings focused on state and federal laws, local policies, and organizational issues. Through interactive training presented by residents to residents at their developments, BRTI and MLRI work collectively to remove barriers that impede public housing leaders from participating.
In 2012, MLRI worked with BRTI to develop what may be the first of its kind in the country, the Tenant Participation Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Boston Housing Authority (BHA) residents, private property managers and owners in mixed finance developments. Working in collaboration with Greater Boston Legal Services, BRTI, and BHA’s Resident Empowerment Coalition, MLRI worked to properly vet the memo with resident leaders. Over the course of three meetings and through interactive participation of seven of BHA’s nine mixed finance developments, a tool was developed for residents to negotiate the support they need to start and sustain their tenant organizations. Residents are now beginning to negotiate their own MOUs.
In 2011, MLRI took the lead in working with BRTI, staff at the Boston Housing Authority, and other community groups to develop a new pilot project in Boston called the Public Housing Service Corp. In January 2013, BHA hired five public housing and Section 8 residents to become the first Housing Service Corp members. They are being trained to serve as organizers and support staff for local resident organizations in order to build resident capacity to lead.
Protecting Tenants in Foreclosed Properties:
MLRI has played a critical role in preserving tenancies and preventing neighborhood destabilization and widespread property abandonment caused by the foreclosure crisis. MLRI’s housing advocates worked with federal officials to help secure passage of the federal Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act (PTFA) in May 2009, which states that, among other things, 1) all tenants in a foreclosed property are allowed to remain in their homes for the duration of their existing lease; 2) all tenants without an existing lease must be given a minimum 90-days notice before they can be brought to court on an eviction case; and 3) post-foreclosure owners must take over the leases and contracts of Section 8 tenants and those tenants cannot be evicted except for good cause until their leases terminate.
Over the past couple of years, MLRI has worked in collaboration with numerous community-based advocacy groups and local legal services providers to educate tenants about their rights under the new law, preventing widespread tenant displacement and an increase in homelessness. MLRI has worked with the MA Attorney General’s office to ensure compliance with and enforcement of the PTFA provisions that protect tenants in foreclosed properties from threats of legal action by foreclosing lenders.