TMC investigated for civil rights complaints

October 22, 2010
By

David Taber

Bromley-Heath tenant managers respond

JACKSON SQ.—A civil rights investigation of the Bromley-Heath Tenant Management Corporation (TMC) in response to complaints by Hispanic tenants at the public housing development “did not reveal quantifiable or verifiable evidence of unlawful discrimination,” according to an investigation report released Sept. 30.

But the report—compiled by investigator CVR Associates—did point to a number of alleged shortcomings in the tenant-directed management company’s running of the close-to-800 unit housing development. The Hispanic complainants “displayed a significant, palpable sense of fear and intimidation” when discussing the TMC with investigators, the report says, and TMC management members’ attitudes were “troubling.”

“While no significant evidence of discrimination based on race or ethnicity was unearthed, the perception of disparate treatment is very real to a substantial group of people, even beyond those who believe they are victims,” the report says. “As a professional property management entity, TMC should not and cannot ignore such a reality.”

Bromley-Heath is 50 percent Hispanic and 44 percent “Black/non-Hispanic,” the report says.

The report also says that “file and other documentary reviews revealed a lack of accuracy, consistency and accountability in the management of Bromley-Heath.”

“We are in the process of responding, of looking at all the issues that came out of the report” regarding management practices and concerns about community perception of the TMC, TMC spokesperson David Worrell told the Gazette.

A Sept. 9 written TMC response—signed by Mildred Hailey, executive director of the TMC and Millie Coaston, chair of the TMC’s board of directors—to a draft version of the report, also indicates that TMC is taking the findings of the report seriously and intends to respond to them.

In an e-mail to the Gazette, Boston Housing Authority (BHA) spokesperson Lydia Agro said that BHA officials expect the TMC to develop strategies to deal with many of the specific concerns raised in the report with a “corrective action plan.”

The BHA runs Boston’s public housing system, which includes Bromley-Heath.

In a Sept. 30 letter addressed to TMC Executive Director Mildred Hailey, BHA director William McGonagle directed the TMC to present BHA with that plan within 30 days. That letter was included in a packet of information that also included the investigation report, sent to the Gazette by the BHA.

McGonagle said the BHA would appoint a monitor to review TMC’s business practices and ensure that the action plan is implemented.

“While no illegal discrimination was found by CVR, it is clear that serious issues involving TMC management, communication and perception exist for Bromley-Heath residents and must be addressed promptly and thoroughly by TMC,” he said in the letter.

The TMC’s Sept. 9 letter indicates that, while TMC took issue with some of the report findings, the management company was thinking along similar lines prior to the release of the final report.

A wide-ranging list of 17 proposed remedies in that letter includes: Setting up staff training in the areas identified by the report; strengthening oversight of the TMC by its resident board of directors; reviewing TMC documents for possible translation into Spanish; conducting workshops to inform residents about the TMC and how it works and “developing an exciting new vision of the Bromley-Heath community that alters misperceptions of Bromley-Heath and the TMC.”

For its part, BHA is looking for specific and far-reaching remedies in the action plan, due at the end of this month.

Also, some of the friction outlined in the report may be alleviated as BHA moves forward with a federally mandated effort to implement a Limited English Proficiency Policy and Implementation Plan throughout the BHA system, Agro told the Gazette in an e-mail.

The investigation was undertaken in response to complaints from five Hispanic tenants, and a petition signed by 166 tenants. It included findings from reviews of TMC records, and interviews with Bromley-Heath tenants and TMC and BHA staffers.

The complaints include that: Hispanic tenants are evicted without cause; tenants have been harassed by TMC staff; and Hispanic tenants have been forbidden from speaking Spanish in the management office. Other allegations include: tenants have been overcharged for rent; evicted unfairly; and refused accommodation for disabilities and denied transfers.

The report did not conclude that any of those allegations are the result of civil rights violations.

It found no disparity in evictions, for example, but it did find that since a new property manager took over in January 2009, 44 crimes were committed by tenants that should have led to eviction proceedings, but “no evictions for cause have been initiated by the current manager.”

About two-thirds of those crimes were committed by “Black/non-Hispanic” residents, according to the report. Prior to the new manager taking over, 89 percent of the 35 crimes committed that should have led to evictions since 2007 were committed by black/non-Hispanic residents, the report said.

The high percentage of crimes committed by black/non-Hispanic residents “is feeding tenant perceptions that Hispanic residents are likely to be evicted for cause if they commit a crime, but crimes committed by black/non-Hispanic residents are tolerated by TMC,” the report says.

The investigation found that five black/non-Hispanic tenant families and two Hispanic tenant families have past due rent balances exceeding $2,000. “This data raises the possibility that Hispanic residents are subject to stricter rent enforcement” but, with only seven cases, the data is not sufficient to make a conclusion, the report says.

In their Sept. 9 response letter, TMC officials said information about active efforts to resolve those rent issues “was not in the files. The information was with the housing manager who was working on them.”

The report found that alleged across-the-board bookkeeping inconsistencies did not correlate to race.

The TMC response letter contested allegations of widespread bookkeeping errors and instances of documents missing from tenants’ files. The report said that 46 percent of the 35 files it reviewed were incomplete; TMC said its own review found “two or three” errors.

Worrell told the Gazette that, in its final report, CVR claimed to have requested supplementary files it had not requested, but that would have cleared up some of the investigators’ confusion.

The investigation also found significant confusion about TMC policy on the part of Bromley-Heath tenants. “During tenant meetings and interview, it became evident that Hispanic residents do not understand their rights and obligations with regard to the timely payment of rent, the eviction process, the grievance process” and other standard processes for public housing tenants. “This may be creating perceptions of unfair rental enforcement practices,” the report says.

Other allegations that TMC officials disputed in their Sept. 9 response letter included that: people with “relationships” with the family of TMC director Mildred Hailey are treated more favorably by the TMC; TMC staff is barred from speaking Spanish in the office; and “tenants can choose whom they want to meet with” from TMC staff.

And it took issue with allegations that TMC’s property manager—who is cited in the report as being the most effective rent-collector in Boston public housing—has not pursued evictions for-cause because she is a Bromley-Heath tenant and fears retaliation.

Another part of the report suggests that some tenants fear they could be physically harmed by members of the TMC management staff.

“That does not make sense to us,” Worrell said, “It is not true. Obviously, we need to do some work to make people feel more welcome.”

Founded in the early 1970s, and considered a pioneer in a short-lived national movement of tenant self-management in public housing developments, TMC is, today, one of the only tenant-run housing developments of its kind still active in the US. The BHA took control of management during a brief period in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

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