Rules, but with a heart

Last modified: Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Sitting on the front porch to enjoy flowers planted with one’s own hands is among life’s pleasures. For Mary LaFogg, 81, who has lived for five years in Dickinson Court, an Easthampton Housing Authority apartment complex on Liberty Street, that’s a pleasure she will miss this summer.

With new leadership at the Easthampton Housing Authority, which manages state-funded apartment units and single-family homes for low-income, disabled and elderly residents, its officials have combed through their books and renewed a commitment to regulations that long had been unenforced.

We think some of them may have gone unenforced for a reason. They make no sense.

Flower gardens are being uprooted and replaced with grass, which is simpler to maintain. Hanging plants and other mounted decorations are not allowed on porches due to a prohibition against mounting things inside or outside apartments because it damages the buildings. Barbecue grills are forbidden, even at Glad Acres, a group of 31 subsidized single-family homes clustered off South Street.

In addition to Glad Acres and Dickinson Court, the authority manages Cliffview Manor off Allen Street and Sunrise Manor for Seniors at 17 Paradise Drive. All told, the authority is in charge of 188 units where some of the city’s most vulnerable residents live.

Easthampton Housing Authority Executive Director Jane Sakiewicz, who assumed the position in October, acknowledges relations with tenants have been difficult at times as she and members of the authority’s board of trustees tightened up operations. But Sakiewicz defends the rules as reasonable, saying her agency is responsible for 188 units, which means “there has to be a structure so all people can enjoy their homes.”

That reasoning may apply to activities — such as smoking and loud music — that would interfere with the ability of some tenants to enjoy their homes. We fail to see how it applies to planting a flower bed.

Sakiewicz and authority Vice Chairman Edward Swinicki said another reason they acted to enforce long-forgotten rules is in response to what they said is a crackdown by the state Department of Housing and Community Development in the wake of a scandal at the Chelsea Housing Authority.

Let’s be clear here, the Chelsea scandal had nothing to do with flower gardens, mounted decorations, or barbecue grills. It’s stretch to try to connect the two.

Former longtime Chelsea Housing Authority Executive Director Michael E. McLaughlin is serving a federal prison sentence after he pleaded guilty of filing false reports to state and federal regulators to hide his out-of-bounds and unauthorized $360,000 annual salary. That case had nothing to do with a director easing restrictions to make tenants’ lives more enjoyable.

To their credit, when tenants complained, authority officials took steps to install metal brackets so tenants who want to fly flags can now do so. Community gardens are also being created so tenants can exercise their green thumbs.

We urge the authority to reconsider some of the other regulations with an eye towards continued compromise. For example, if tenants want to plant flowers in front of their units, maybe they can take responsibility for cutting grass around the flowers to make it easier for lawn mowing.

Community gardens are great, but they are not the same as planting a flower bed in front of one’s home to enjoy every day. For some elderly or disabled tenants, getting to a community garden plot may not be an option.

In other words, perhaps the rules can be flexible.

These apartments are people’s homes, and for some of them, it’s possible this could be the last place they live.

As LaFogg told the Gazette last month: “This is kind of a short life and you can’t have any flowers to look at?”

We think what LaFogg wants is not too much to ask for.


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