Office of Tenant Protections N2N Rally
In my personal life, I volunteer with Neighbor to Neighbor (@neighbortoneighborma) which works to improve our local cities and collective wellbeing by shifting the current balance of power. Our Holyoke chapter gathered yesterday to demand an Office of Tenant Protections. This office would:
Create a public registry so you know who is responsible for maintaining safe and sanitary conditions
Take a proactive approach go ensuring quality housing with bi-annual and pre-lease inspections
Make legal counsel available to tenants who have questions and concerns
Make sure renters and owners know their rights and responsibilities
Be a one-stop shop for tenants who need better living conditions or are fighting discrimination Holyoke has large renting population.
Holyoke is a low SES, minority majority city with a huge Puerto Rican immigrant community, making it a rife with potential exploitation. Neoliberal deregulation has made housing a commodity when it should be a human right. Our mayor, Joshua Garcia, committed to creating a committee that would explore creating such an office, which is a great first step, but since then, nothing has been publicly done. We gathered to share and listen to stories of those renting in Holyoke. Similarly aligned organizations, like the Tenants Union of Western Mass (TUWM), joined us in solidarity.
“The Board of Health is not fully staffed,” said health director Sean Gonsalves who's struggled to keep up with housing complaints. “Due to post-pandemic budget cuts, one of our inspector positions has been defunded for two consecutive fiscal years. I am optimistic that the City will restore that position this upcoming fiscal year.”
“Our budget is a moral document. What we value and what we think is important, we’ll put money toward [...] If 64% of the residents in this city are important (the amount renting), we’ll find the money to make sure they live in dignified, safe housing." - Katie Talbot, N2N organizer.
Speakers like Ashley Stackow advocated for funding for community land trusts, cooperative ownerships and affordable housing. Others, like Nev Caproa shared the struggles of surviving rising rent costs, especially as a disabled person who's now faced the difficult choice between safe housing and disability aids.
After Tuesday’s rally, former mayoral candidate Gloria Caballero-Roca told The Shoestring that Holyoke is experiencing a rapid increase in commercial interest and development that has the potential to drastically change the city. The renewed attention could make life better for everyone in Holyoke, or push out its most vulnerable residents.
“These are the first steps towards gentrification…. People who have lived here, who were born here, and who have gone through a lot of struggle, they’re still here making Holyoke what it is,” she said. “It’s only fair that we poor people come together, organize and mobilize and demand that the powers that be listen to us.”
I love my town and while I have the privilege of safe housing, this human right isn't extended to all my neighbors. If you're curious about how to get an Office of Tenant Protections, email N2N to get involved in your local chapter.
I'm thrilled to put my time behind work like this. It's been humbling to grow in power with my fellow N2N folks. While "the work" is calling, rallying, organizing, showing up for each other, listening, running for local office and so much more, it has felt absolutely incredible to see my peers get excited to see themselves in positions of power. While there are fair and valid critiques of making rallies "instagramable," there is something powerful about providing pictures to folks who, because of financial barriers, are rarely professionally photographed. And to be able to document my community when they're feeling strong and empowered does matter. Seeing them share these images with their own words about power, I have to believe that creates a strong ripple effect for growing our collective strength.