ATTLEBORO — A tenant from a city-subsidized apartment who was allegedly bullied and evicted and a member of the Attleboro Council on Human Rights are among witnesses scheduled to testify today at a state legislative hearing in Boston.
A disabled woman identified only as “Margaret,” who said she was abused by fellow tenants in Attleboro, will be among those speaking on a bill that would prohibit bullying in disabled and senior housing.
The bill, which is backed by the Stop Bullying Coalition and the Massachusetts Alliance of HUD Tenants, will be the subject of a hearing before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Housing.
The problem of bullying has been reported in many subsidized housing programs in the state, including in Attleboro, Boston, Mattapoisett, Peabody, Salem, Somerville and Topsfield, according to Jerry Halberstadt, a public housing tenant who authored the bill.
The bill would be similar to the state’s school anti-bullying law mandating reporting of abuse and requiring that housing managements create anti-bullying plans for their sites.
Residents will be represented by Mike Kane, executive director of the Massachusetts Alliance of HUD Tenants.
“Bullying and the toxic social climate that results is a major health and safety issue for vulnerable tenants, not only in Massachusetts, but nationwide,” said Kane, who is also executive director of the National Alliance of HUD Tenants. “The legislature can set an important precedent by adapting its successful framework for addressing this problem in our public schools.”
The Sun Chronicle, in several reports last year, documented multiple complaints of alleged bullying among tenants in public and private subsidized housing developments.
One resident who had complained of bullying at the Gardner Terrace senior housing complex eventually was evicted.
Jerry Halberstadt, an elderly resident of a Peabody subsidized apartment, wrote the bill, Senate 604, and is the coordinator of the Stop Bullying Coalition.
“It is shocking to see elderly and disabled persons who are lucky enough to have affordable, subsidized housing become the victims of bullying,” he said. “They are subject to terrible stress, leading to emotional and physical disease, and can even be unfairly evicted.
“Anyone who is ‘different’ and anyone who stands up for their rights can be told, ‘We’re going to get rid of you.’”
“Despite the fear of retaliation, victims are finally coming together to demand that the commonwealth remedy and prevent bullying,” he said. “We need oversight to assure that tax money intended to provide safe shelter should not be misused to harm people by bullying.
“Management must be accountable,” he said.