Easthampton Housing Authority gets first tenants organization in history 

  • Left, Brad Riley, and Tom Peake, Easthampton city councilors, meet with left, Denise “Dee” Ducharme, and Jae Couture, residents of Cliffview Manor in Easthampton, about forming a tenants association in March 2022. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 7/3/2022 12:42:20 AM

EASTHAMPTON — Four Easthampton Housing Authority residents are now serving as officers for the first local tenants organization since the authority was formed in 1948.

At the June 25 election, Denise “Dee” Ducharme was elected as president, Deb Dominguez as vice president, Theo Cooper as treasurer and James “Jimm” O’Donnell as secretary.

The four were the only candidates on the ballot and a total of 28 people voted, according to District 3 City Councilor Tom Peake, who has aided tenants in helping to create the local tenants organization.

“The tenants of our public housing properties deserve an organization which can advocate on their behalf and this election was a critical step to making that happen,” Peake said. 

There are 213 adult tenants living in 188 units at housing authority properties that include more than 50 buildings citywide, according to Easthampton Housing Authority Executive Director Deborah Walker.

In addition to Peake, At-Large City Councilor Brad Riley said several months ago residents from the authority also reached out to him sharing their experiences of unfair housing practices for senior citizens and people with disabilities with a call to action which he “wholeheartedly” supported.

“The choice to form an LTO is not unlike other democratic processes in our communities such as electing city leadership or forming workplace unions. It gives a voice to the voiceless,” Riley wrote in an email. “Together with elected officials and appointees from the Affordable and Fair Housing Partnership, we volunteered to hold an election on their behalf. Their election and the support from our city sponsored committees is a testament to Easthampton’s culture of civic engagement and public service.”

Much of the effort to form the local tenants organization was led by Ducharme, a resident of Cliffview Manor. In a previous interview, she alleged that property managers, including Walker, have created a general atmosphere of intimidation and have provided poor customer service.

“They’ve been in fear of getting eviction notices if they speak out,” she said. “And I cannot just let this go. I have to do something.”

As she did previously, Walker declined to comment on the advice of the Easthampton Housing Authority’s attorney, she wrote in a statement.

However, Walker did share a letter from tenant Patricia Yell, who expressed her support of the administration regarding the formation of the tenants organization and complaints that she’s heard “popping up.”

In the June 14 letter, Yell wrote that she has enjoyed her 30-year tenure as a resident of the housing authority and voiced a general appreciation for the staff and administration.

“These people are going door to door asking people about their gripes and dislikes about the people that run this place. How long have these people lived here that are on these ‘ballots?’” she wrote. “Isn’t there enough big problems in this world right now we should be focusing on? Why don’t these new tenants find something to do with their lives instead of crabbing and finding faults. Maybe they need a hobby.”

Throughout the formation process of the organization, Peake said residents were sent flyers from the authority about their efforts. In one flyer, it outlined state laws regarding tenant organizations and resident participation.

“The Housing Authority is sending this notice out due to the large number of tenants that have called the office feeling bullied or confused by a group that is forming this organization,” the flyer reads. “As stated above, such groups are for the benefit of all tenants, not only those that may have personal dislike for some staff members or other tenants. This can be a good thing! You might want to think about taking an interest in who may be speaking on your behalf or not. It is your choice and no one should be pushing you to join or vote. Your home is your safe place.”

It further stated that a local tenants organization is “not meant to be for complaints only” and residents “do not have to join” as it has nothing to do with residency or leasing.

From here, Peake said the duty of officers will be to meet and adopt some bylaws and apply to the city’s housing authority for recognition.

“I’m really happy and inspired to see local tenants collectively organizing to make their voices heard,” he said. “I think whenever you have a situation where there is an imbalance of power — whether in a living or working arrangement — and you can organize to make sure that your voice is heard and you address problems as they arise, I think that’s a positive thing.”

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, your leading source for news in the Pioneer Valley.

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061


Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy