Recent Article Appears in Socialist Worker About the Fight for the Rights of the Tenants at Lyman Terrace:
Throughout my first months as mayor, a major priority of my administration has been the redevelopment and revitalization of Holyoke’s downtown. One issue in this effort has galvanized public attention and stirred emotions like no other: the redevelopment of Lyman Terrace. Most everyone concedes that the current state of the Lyman Terrace buildings is unacceptable; its structural flaws and health risks are many and varied. Given the common ground and goals we share, the debate over how we improve these conditions has become polarized beyond what it should be.
In a previous letter, I articulated my vision for a diverse, densely populated, vibrant, and prosperous downtown, with quality housing for all who seek it. Such are the principles that guide my decision-making. I understand that those principles could have been made clearer from the outset, and for that, I take full responsibility. I would like to take this opportunity to change that, and to update Holyokers on the steps my administration is taking to move forward.
It is important to note that the Holyoke Housing Authority (HHA) owns the property at Lyman Terrace; the City of Holyoke does not. And several months ago, in an effort to expedite the improvements to Lyman Terrace, the HHA informed me that they would be seeking improvement proposals from private developers. Furthermore, they informed me that they were seeking permission from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to demolish all or part of the housing complex were such a need to arise. As part of an administrative process that would enable the HHA to access federal funds for demolition, I signed their request for an environmental assessment.
Per the request of the HHA, I have since evaluated the proposals for the property’s improvement by a few developers. As yet, I have not been satisfied by those received. The ones I have reviewed would reduce the population of the neighborhood, take significant time to even begin the improvements, and have been generally misaligned with my guiding principles for the downtown. Upon further exploration, I also became dissatisfied with the HHA’s tenant relocation plan; Lyman’s tenants need to have better protections at the local level if we wish to keep as many residents as possible in Holyoke.
The shortcomings of this process have awoken genuine concern, fear, and resentment among many in the community. Considering the longstanding neglect of Lyman Terrace at the local level, such reactions are perfectly understandable. Furthermore, equating urban renewal with urban removal has been a widely practiced strategy across our country; and, as such, skepticism of our own project is warranted. We are now tasked with avoiding these only too common pitfalls, and how we do so collectively will say a great deal about who we are as a community.
As mayor, my responsibility is first and foremost to the people of Holyoke – and I cannot allow this process to be executed carelessly. I am thus announcing the following steps to realign the renovation of Lyman Terrace with the principles I have outlined above.
As of today, I have asked the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to suspend the HHA’s request for a demolition review. I cannot in good conscience support any demolition of Lyman Terrace – total or partial – until our citizens have ample opportunity to have their voices heard regarding the community needs there. I will not seek approval for any action until a comprehensive plan, crafted with community input, is in place. This policy will affect lives in tangible ways, and people should have every right to reclaim the stake they have in our city’s future.
I have reached out to housing experts outside of the city for their support in assisting the HHA. As a result, I can proudly announce a partnership between the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency, the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, and the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development. To the HHA’s credit, they have demonstrated good faith in following my lead moving forward; they have agreed to work closely with these organizations. Through rigorous community involvement – especially of Lyman Terrace’s residents – these organizations will assist our city and the HHA to develop a comprehensive plan for the area bordered by the first level canal, Lyman Street, Dwight Street, and High Street.
And finally, I am calling on the HHA to be more responsive to the immediate needs of Lyman Terrace’s tenants. Planning for Lyman’s future does not mean ignoring its present, and there is no reason that the basic upkeep of the property should be neglected.
It is important that we get this right. And in order to so, we must take advantage of these new partners and the resources they will provide. Coming up with a plan for this part of Center City will be a community effort. We will use our new resources to guarantee our citizens a seat at the planning table – by holding public hearings, providing interpreters, and whatever else is necessary to ensure their voices are heard.
I do not know what a renovated Lyman Terrace will look like when this process is completed; that will depend greatly on the input of residents, businesses, and property owners. What I do know is that the plan must be consistent with a long-term vision for our downtown as a diverse, densely populated, vibrant, and prosperous place. The rehabilitated complex should properly connect to its surrounding amenities. Furthermore, it should include key components that the current property lacks: more green spaces, sufficient parking, and a community center.
The revitalization of our downtown depends on the energy of the people who live there and love our city, not merely the buildings that line the streets. Holyoke was built to accommodate 60,000 people. Growing our population must entail keeping people in Holyoke, not forcing them out. It is true that some tenant relocation is inevitable as we improve Lyman Terrace; but in the event of such relocation, the HHA needs to have a plan that gives as many residents as possible the option to relocate in our city. And when the improvements are completed, those residents that wish to return to the redeveloped Lyman Terrace should have priority placement to do so. These folks are the ones who have worked for years to maintain and beautify their homes, and they deserve a fair chance to reclaim the improved neighborhood.
I know our city is up to this task. We understand the stakes. Indeed, our resolution of this issue will say a great deal about who we are as a community. Working together, we can ensure not only an improved downtown, but also a more just and decent community for us all to share, and to which we all may contribute.
Pioneer Valley GRP Resolution, June 28, 2012
Whereas decent, affordable housing is essential for equitable and sustainable communities;
Whereas the relocation and reoccupancy plans proposed thus far for Lyman Terrace, Holyoke, are inadequate for meeting varied tenant and community needs and unfairly target and further marginalize a vulnerable population;
Whereas tenant and community involvement in planning has thus far been inadequate;
Whereas current living conditions require significant improvements; and
Whereas preserving and rehabilitating existing structures is more cost-effective, more environmentally responsible, and more conducive to maintaining cultural heritage and a sense of place than wholesale demolition and new construction;
Now be it resolved that the Pioneer Valley Green-Rainbow Party opposes the demolition and disposition of Lyman Terrace housing project and supports more inclusive processes for developing better plans.
7:00pm until 8:30pm
Media Education Foundation Frances
Crowe Community Room,
60 Masonic Street, Northampto
Reprinted with permission, a letter from John Brigham, who teaches at UMass and lives in Holyoke, on tearing down Lyman Terrace:
April 24, 2012
TO: Holyoke Historical Commission
I recently moved to Holyoke after 30 years in Amherst. I teach at the University of Massachusetts in the Political Science Department.
The attractions of Holyoke were its history and its dynamic and diverse population. Tearing down Lyman Terrace would go against both of the things that attracted me to the city.
I have lived in New York City in both Brooklyn and Manhattan. I have visited the “First Houses” on the Lower East Side and the former industrial district that is now SOHO. I know what it means to preserve the physical structures that tie the present to the past. I also read the wonderful article on Lyman Terrace published by Amy Hewes in the Social Service Review from the University of Chicago in 1942 that tells of the hope for the then new housing project.
I also have a lifetime of experience with the attractions of diverse populations. My entire career at UMass has spanned a transformation of my department from one that was predominately white and almost entirely male to one with a more diverse faculty. I do not oppose change that honors who we are.
While Holyoke is neither NYC nor UMass, there are lessons from both places about how we build for the future. Caring about our past and our residents seems like such an obvious thing that I sometimes think a proposal like that for tearing down Lyman Terrace is just a bad dream.
Yet I know the reality. There are interests that would demolish our history and remove those who inhabit our historic buildings. But history shows that there can be serious political and financial repercussions for destroying the historic and social fabric of a city.
In response to Mayor Morse’s statement on Lyman Terrace, I’d like to address a few false ideas and assumptions on his part, present a better vision, and suggest some ideas towards developing a better plan to realize that vision. One characterization Morse gets right is that the issues are complex. Unfortunately, his analyses and proposed solutions do not reflect that complexity. I can’t hope to cover it all here, but I’ll try to avoid replicating the problem of glossing over important considerations, and therefore my response will not be brief. To avoid cluttering the home page, I’m putting my response to the mayor in as a first comment to this entry.
The following was submitted to last week’s public hearing of the Lyman Street Study Committee, which is examining the possibilities for a historic &/or conservation district for the Lyman Street area (Mater Dolorosa church and Lyman Terrace housing complex are among the structures that could potentially be included):
Testimony to the Lyman Terrace Study Committee
April 26, 2012
My name is Max Page. I am a Professor of Architecture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I write about the history and theory of historic preservation, and am Director of the UMass-Hancock Shaker Village historic preservation program. We train students to restore historic buildings and to advocate for our common historic resources
When people hear a historic preservationist is speaking, they assume we are only interested in saving pretty old buildings.
I certainly do believe that beautiful architecture and outstanding examples of types of buildings are essential to maintaining our history and creating pleasurable cities and towns. Without the evidence of the past, and without examples of past achievements in architecture, our cities towns would be lifeless. Even as we build for today, we must maintain continuity with the past. Lyman Terrace is indeed important as architecture. Dating to 1939, and coming out of Roosevelt’s New Deal, the project is an outstanding example of early public housing. Just because there have been decades of neglect should not prevent you from seeing the strength of the construction and the quality of the idea behind Lyman Terrace.
But, frankly, I probably wouldn’t be getting involved in this struggle if I thought this was only about trying to preserve beautiful architecture.
Historic preservationists are ultimately interested in preservation of communities. We believe that by honoring the past – by protecting the key buildings and landscapes of our communities, telling their stories, and keeping them in use – we build a more sustainable and just world.
If you preserve Lyman Terrace you will are making a commitment to the idea of affordable public housing in the heart of your city. You will make a commitment to build a new Holyoke without pushing the poor and people of color to the margins.
If you choose to demolish it you will tearing down a lot more than architecture.
I arrived to live in Atlanta in 1996 just after the city had wiped away Techwood Homes, one of the very first public housing complexes in the country. They did it for all the reasons some in Holyoke are proposing to tear down Lyman Terrace – they said it was run-down, that there were “better” uses for the space, and so on. They put up Centennial Plaza, a glitzy, underused park for the Olympic Games. They never replaced all of those housing units and those they did were built beyond the city center, reinforcing segregation in the city. What they tore down in Atlanta – and what you are threatening to do here — was a commitment to affordable housing for working people in the heart of that major city.
Don’t do that in Holyoke. Honor your past. Don’t wreck it.
Available online here: http://issuu.com/elsollatino
The main editorial in this edition sets the Lyman Terrace issue in the context of Holyoke’s history with redevelopment issues and how they’ve affected the Latino community here. The guest editorial is copied below with permission:
The great irony of the Holyoke Housing Authority (HHA) plan to demolish Lyman Terrace is that it uses the poor conditions of the development — conditions resulting from decades of neglect by that same Housing Authority — to justify demolition and privatization. In this context, it is not surprising that tenants are discontented with their housing. But is the solution to demolish housing that’s basically sound but needs significant renovation? To thrust tenants onto a shrinking affordable housing market with little hope of finding better housing at affordable prices? Or should tenants and other members of the community have been included in planning long ago, so they could work with the HHA to come up with an effective and sustainable plan to save and improve Lyman Terrace?
We oppose the HHA’s proposed demolition of Lyman Terrace, a public housing development in Holyoke, for several reasons: residents were not sufficiently consulted, the relocation plan is inadequate, demolition without guarantee of rebuild will significantly reduce the supply of affordable housing in the city and region, demolition and rebuilding carries a higher material, energy and carbon impact than renovation, and lastly, as one of the earliest federally funded housing projects in the country, Lyman Terrace represents New Deal and working class people’s history worthy of preservation while the brick and copper exteriors contribute to downtown Holyoke’s visual sense of place. The architecturally-distinct buildings reflect a period in American history when citizens and their government provided good housing to neighbors who could not afford adequate homes on the private market. This is a noble ideal to emulate today.
The residents of Lyman Terrace have not had effective representation, which made it impossible for them to be full participants in the process of deciding what happens to their homes. The Tenant Association (TA) at Lyman Terrace was not tenant-run. Not only were HHA property managers and staff present at all TA meetings, but they informed the TA president when and where to have those meetings. In addition, the HHA set a context where genuine input from the residents was near impossible. Both the failed HOPE VI applications and the demolition and disposition plan were presented to the tenants as inevitable. Asking tenants if they want better housing without being reasonably sure that the residents will actually get something better after demolition is unfair and coercive.
So who are the residents of Lyman Terrace? Many are young working adults for whom housing costs exceed affordability for wages earned. Others are senior citizens or disabled. Many are young children whose schooling would be disrupted by mid-term relocation and whose daily presence playing together in the courtyards under the watchful eyes of numerous adults belies the HHA’s claims that these are “indefensible spaces.” The great majority are Latino, so any relocation plan which drives residents from their community can be seen as racist as well as gentrifying.
Relocation shouldn’t be considered without certainty of portable Section 8 vouchers and the real ability for tenants to use them. Western Massachusetts lost hundreds of rental housing units to tornados, floods, fires, and bankruptcies while the foreclosure crisis and a weak economy added pressures to the rental market. Yet when asked, the HHA could not quantify how many eligible units will be available for relocatees. Section 8 housing choice is an empty promise if market realities mean families will be forced to leave their community whether they wish to or not.
Similarly, luring tenants out by suggesting future return is deceptive. Low income housing has been destroyed in far greater numbers than has been rebuilt. Prior inhabitants have not been the beneficiaries of demolition and new construction. And in the case of Lyman Terrace, there is no rebuild plan yet to evaluate.
The demolition of Lyman Terrace will be detrimental to the residents, and it contradicts an inclusive vision of downtown (re)development for the city of Holyoke. Downtown businesses depend on Lyman Terrace residents, who constitute a source of revitalization. Better property management — including renovations, maintenance and policing — would address problems for the surrounding community, erase stigma, improve quality of life for tenants, and yield economic benefits for area businesses. We all deserve better from the HHA.
There is an assumption that since there are many vacant properties in and around downtown that affordable housing will not be in danger in Holyoke. But how can we be so sure? The HHA is not making any commitment to have those 167 units replaced at the present site. If this site is lost, who is to say we will see those units replaced as affordable housing in a prime location? We would like to see all of Holyoke’s citizens able to live downtown. Demolition and privatization of Lyman Terrace would be a big step in the wrong direction.
Marcella Jayne, Lyman Terrace tenant
Preston Smith, associate professor at Mt. Holyoke College
Susan Van Pelt, Holyoke resident
Reprinted with permission:
6 March 2012
I write to associate myself with those who are seeking to preserve the Lyman Terrace Housing Project in Holyoke. I will restrict my remarks here to its preservation, leaving the question of further action for another day.
It is troubling, to say the least, that the otherwise conscientious Massachusetts Historical Commission relied upon incomplete and biased information to reach its decision against preservation. Its critics and Ms. VanPelt in particular have drawn attention to the flawed procedure and I see no need to rehearse their claims here. It is enough to observe that the project itself reflects an important moment in policy formation dating to New Deal social programming in the name of easing the plight of the working poor. The project embodied the most advanced thinking on public housing policy in the worst economic crisis in the nation’s history. It was an ingenious partnership between Federal and state government and its stands as a monument worthy of preservation. That we would opt for a different policy today is no argument for wiping out such an important emblem of our common past. By that reasoning, we would not preserve Mt. Vernon or Monticello or any other historic house.
Of course, no one of the stature of our first or third president lived at Lyman. Instead, it housed ordinary people whose labor made Holyoke a leading site of the First Industrial Revolution. In recent years, historic preservationists at the National Park Service have sought to rectify the obvious imbalance in preservation by seeking to preserve the living quarters of working people. Lowell is the best example of its enlightened policies. By preserving Lyman, the city of Holyoke would align itself with the such a sensible policy. It would also allow this generation to repay our debt to the sons and daughters of hard toil.
We historians have long sought what we call a useable past, a past that tells us who we were at a certain point in the historical continuum and what we might to do to guide us through the current day, one way or another. Lyman is a fine example of such a past. It marked a policy at once more humane and salutary than the high-rise, high-density public housing projects that succeed Lyman and that have since succumbed to the bulldozer. Lyman showed a better way. It makes no sense to erase from memory such an important structure.
Bruce Laurie, Professor of History Emeritus, University of Massachusetts Amherst