Renters continue to advocate for more rights and protections

Renters across western Massachusetts have been advocating for more rights and protections against landlords, management companies, and even government agencies.
Published: Nov. 16, 2023 at 9:15 AM EST|Updated: Nov. 16, 2023 at 9:16 AM EST
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HOLYOKE, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) - Renters across western Massachusetts have been advocating for more rights and protections against landlords, management companies, and even government agencies. Their efforts so far have shown results in the city of Holyoke, but for one group of renters, that’s just the start.

Renters have been organizing and demanding to have just as good quality of life as homeowners. That’s one of the main goals of Neighbor 2 Neighbor, a local organization that is advocating for change.

“The conversation around quality of life for renters is never part of the decision-making conversations, so it’s vital that organizations like Neighbor 2 Neighbor are organizing tenants and making sure that the conversation of quality of life for renters is continuing to be had,” said Katie Talbot with Neighbor 2 Neighbor.

Talbot is the lead organizer for the group.

“We’re just like adding some new blood into the conversation and the reason it’s so important is because tenants never get talked about. In Springfield, we make up 46 percent of the city. In Holyoke, we make up 64 percent of the residents in Holyoke and we never get talked about,” Talbot added.

One person who is part of that 64 percent in Holyoke is Iris Espada.

“Housing is a human right. It doesn’t matter where the money comes from. You have to have a safe place to live for you and your family,” Espada said.

For Espada, who has been renting for more than 10 years in western Massachusetts, working to get more rights and protections is crucial, especially when tenants have to deal with harsh living conditions. Other tenants told Western Mass News that they are living through their own set of challenges, like rent prices going up.

“I don’t think there’s anything getting cheaper than what I’m in, you know what I mean? The most affordable place that I can be in and other surrounding areas, rents are astronomical. Sometimes, a three bedroom is almost $2,000 a month and that’s more than what I make alone,” said Anna Smith, a renter from Springfield.

Espada, Smith, and many members of Neighbor 2 Neighbor have been working tirelessly to be included in the decision-making conversations about housing across western Massachusetts. They have done this through canvassing, rallies, and leading many conversations with city officials, whom they said have the power to enact the changes renters like them want.

“We are your constituents too. We are here too. We are taxpayers too. There is no landlord that is going into their savings accounts to pay the property taxes. It’s my rent that’s paying that’s paying that property tax, so I’m a taxpayer too, right?” Talbot noted.

Their work is already paying off. With Espada leading the way, Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia created an Office of Tenant Protections. It’s a project divided into four categories.

  • A landlord registry, which would be a public data base with information of who owns a building, who is the acting landlord, how many code violations the building has, and even how many times tenants who’ve lived in that building have been taken to court.
  • It would also include “Know Your Rights and Responsibilities” workshops, done four times a year in collaboration with local agencies.
  • Annual and pre-lease inspections in all rental units in order to have certificates of occupancy, which could be beneficial for both renters and landlords.
  • Legal support offered for tenants, which is a proactive approach for renter’s protections.

Garcia told Western Mass News this new office will start offering these services in 2024. We also reached out to other cities and towns to ask what type of protections they have for renters. South Hadley told us they perform yearly inspections. We also learned, in Chicopee, the health, building, and fire departments perform comprehensive inspections when a tenant requests it. They operate and manage 1,199 units of public housing and deal with 538 privately owned apartments.

Neighbor 2 Neighbor said they want the creation of Holyoke’s tenant protection office to start being the norm, not just in Holyoke, but across the state. In the meantime, they said they’ll continue gathering and working to get others to join their efforts.

“I see hope, like people said, at the tunnel, at the end, you see a light. Sometimes it’s a train, but this time is a beacon of hope and I am very proud to be part of this movement and to be proud of this organization and I know change is going to happen. Keep pushing, just keep pushing,” Espada added.