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On May 2, the Holyoke Historical Commission voted unanimously to impose demolition delay for 123 Newton Street. The property is privately owned but abandoned, and the City planned to use HUD CDBG monies to tear it down. This was not an emergency demolition for public safety but a routine demolition application which therefore rightly came before the HHC for review. In the discussion leading up to their vote, Commissioners said they were glad they had a new tool to recommend for preservation efforts – quicker acquisition and auction of abandoned properties by the City.
On May 16, the City Solicitor issued a legal opinion on Holyoke’s demolition delay ordinance, an opinion which contradicts both the text of the ordinance itself (and even explicitly acknowledges that it does so!) and twelve years of precedents. It claims that because the HHC had known of the possibility of demolition longer than six months ago, it could no longer impose a delay, even though the very trigger for a delay – notice of a demolition application provided via the Building Department – hadn’t come before the HHC until just before their May meeting. This new interpretation totally subverts the purpose and power of a delay ordinance and sets a terrible precedent for other historic buildings in the city. Guess which other properties have been mentioned to the HHC as possible candidates for demolition longer than six months ago, but for which the HHC hasn’t yet seen a demo application? That would include Mater Dolorosa’s steeple, Lyman Terrace in its entirety, 399 Appleton (a brick Victorian which the YMCA hopes to raze to make a parking lot), and others. If the HHC tries to impose a delay on any of those properties now or at any time in the future, their owners now have new grounds (grounds which didn’t exist at all before) to sue the city to lift the delay or to recover any losses experienced because of a delay. Any owner of a Holyoke property greater than fifty years old would be smart to send the HHC a letter indicating the mere possibility of a partial or full demolition some day; as long as any work would commence at least six months from the date of the letter, the HHC would be powerless to do anything about it. In the City Council’s lengthy questioning which led to the solicitor’s confirmation, I don’t remember anyone asking about basic reading comprehension or understanding the significance of precedent, but unfortunately those councilors who expressed reservations about confirming an attorney who believed and behaved as though she didn’t have to play by the rules and could put loyalty above doing the right thing (hiring a friend for a city job without ever posting the position) are now vindicated: apparently the attitude and behavior weren’t a one-off after all. Elizabeth Rodriguez-Ross, shame on you.
Armed with this ridiculous opinion — which was obtained at Mayor Morse’s request and presumably his direction — the mayor ordered demolition of the building without delay, and so it began. In taking his oath of office, Morse swore to uphold the ordinances of the City of Holyoke; in this case, he has not done so. On that inauguration day and since, the mayor has called for unity, but he should be reminded that it is not sycophants, friends or allies who keep a politician honest. It would have been better to have asked for integrity over unity. If demolishing that building were truly so important to him, the mayor could have attended (or sent a representative to attend) the HHC’s meeting to make the argument for demolition over preservation in a public meeting in accordance with Open Meeting law. (For the record, no one outside the HHC showed up to support or oppose demolition or delay for the two properties addressed May 2.) I understand the mayor is young and inexperienced, and there’s a learning curve to be expected, but it’s certainly feeling like it isn’t too soon for this Morse voter to hope he’s a one-off. Alex Morse, shame on you.
On June 28, the City Council Ordinance Committee took up a proposal from Councilor and Committee Chair Rebecca Lisi to update the demolition delay ordinance “to bring it in line with current city practices.” How about instead insisting the City’s practices get and stay in line with its ordinances?! There is room to improve the ordinance, but before getting to that, allow a moment’s digression to explain why the Committee took up the matter between 10 and 11 pm, by which time all councilors not on the Committee, all media representatives, and almost all members of the public had left.
Mayor Morse had called an emergency meeting of the full City Council during the previously scheduled time for the Ordinance Committee meeting in order to secure funding for the new arts position. I think the arts position is a good idea, and it’s exceedingly rare that I agree with Linda Vacon about anything (we’re about as far apart on the political spectrum as we can get and still both be Americans who value democracy), but she is sometimes the only voice of common sense in the room, and that night offered one of those moments: “Mr. Mayor, this is not an emergency.”
Back to the issue of demolition delay….the Ordinance Committee used the opportunity of ordinance review to assign blame in all the wrong places and to fail to ask for accountability where it was due. Councilor Vega demanded in a most hostile tone to know why the HHC had voted for a delay on 123 Newton Street’s demolition when other historically valuable properties had previously been allowed to progress to demolition without delay. If he’s arguing that the building had no value warranting preservation, he could have attended the HHC’s May meeting to argue that case. And if his intent wasn’t to blame the HHC for doing their job correctly (as they did with 123 Newton Street) but instead to ask why they hadn’t been more aggressive in the past, he’s had two and a half years on Council to address that issue. But he might remember that the City’s streamlined acquisition and auction process is only newly available as an alternative to demolition. So instead of directing hostility towards the party that is in compliance, why not demand to know why the interpretation of the ordinance has been changed and why city planners aren’t helping the HHC explore preservation alternatives? Of course, asking those questions would require confronting the mayor, who recently endorsed Vega’s campaign for state representative. So I guess that’s never going to happen. Shame on you, Aaron Vega.
Continuing the theme of misdirected blame, Councilor Alexander faulted the HHC for not working on a preservation plan sooner. But the language of the ordinance is very clear: the preservation planning period begins with the imposition of a demolition delay, which can only be triggered after receipt of notice from the Building Commissioner that a demolition permit has been applied for. Rather than blaming the HHC for complying with the ordinance, blame the ordinance’s authors (ahem…that would be the City Council), and blame city planners for working always and only towards demolition plans (where the HHC could only be stepping in as a hostile party under the terms of the ordinance) but never towards preservation plans (where the HHC’s input could have been sought sooner in the process). In regards to 399 Appleton, Alexander charged the HHC with an obligation to assist the YMCA with finding alternative solutions for its parking needs. Nonsense! Besides being an entirely specious issue (there’s always plenty of on-street parking available nearby), finding solutions to businesses’ parking needs is the task of the planning department, with its multiple, full-time, paid professionals and interns, not the part-time volunteers of the HHC. Again, addressing the issues correctly would require confronting paid, full-time professionals and everybody’s BFF’s: the YMCA management, the new head of Planning, and the mayor. But apparently it’s easier just to beat up on volunteers and ask them to work both harder and outside their purview. Shame on you, Gordon Alexander.
I will give credit, however, to Alexander for two things: first, for describing the City Solicitor’s legal opinion on the demolition delay ordinance as “not worth the paper it’s printed on,” and second, for defending the timeline for imposing a delay (when demolition is sought is exactly when a delay would be needed!) even while suggesting the preservation planning process should begin sooner. The ordinance should be improved with mechanisms for an earlier preservation planning period and clearer timelines for steps. Also, the language for exemption for properties identified by a now-defunct committee should simply be eliminated — already, emergency demolitions for public safety are exempt, and that is the only exemption truly needed. Council should use this review as an opportunity to strengthen the ordinance and the autonomy of the HHC, not to water it down to make destroying the city’s architectural heritage and built capital easier for Holyoke’s paid officials.
Earlier in the evening, the Committee took up the structure and by-laws of the HHC and its relationship to Wistariahurst Museum. Alicia Zoeller (of the Office of Community Development) made a worthy suggestion for getting the HHC professional assistance for their work. Unfortunately, no councilors and no one else present had the integrity or temerity to mention the elephant in the room, to ask the question whose answer is critical for determining any changes to the HHC structure and for assuring future compliance with the letter and spirit of a demolition delay ordinance and historical preservation efforts: can seven part-time volunteers, who all serve at the appointment of a mayor, be an effective check against the power of that mayor and the mayor’s administration? Particularly when the culture of government in this city has been and remains strongly tilted towards demolition and against preservation?
I’ve used up my four “shames” (though I’m sure it would be easy enough to find four more), but there’s also still the matter of a councilor (I believe it was either Vega or Alexander, but I honestly don’t remember which) grilling the HHC about structural integrity, a concern that is entirely the responsibility of the full-time, paid, professional Building Commissioner, who can seek an assessment from the City Engineer (also a full-time paid professional), and not the responsibility whatsoever of the volunteers who comprise the HHC, whose duties are solely related to historic assessment and preservation planning. Was it simply too uncomfortable to direct that question to the BC (who was sitting silently in the same room before the Committee), given that the BC is husband to the Committee’s Chair and an appointee of the current mayor? Just so I’m clear, I believe the BC did his job correctly — he provided notice of the demolition application to the HHC and did not order an emergency demolition for a structure where it wasn’t warranted — but if councilors believe otherwise or have questions about those decisions, they should be asking them of the BC, not the HHC.
Mayor Morse has been very effective at developing a cult of personality, and that can have some benefits (it’s yielded Holyoke some positive media attention, for example), but it also carries significant risks. If knee-jerk opposition (opposition without considering the merits of an issue) is wrong, and I believe it is, knee-jerk support is at least as wrong and probably more dangerous. Unfortunately, the councilors elected in the interests of progress and change continue to demonstrate they value political loyalty and unity over accountability, patronage and Leichtigkeit-des-Cocktails-trinken-zusammen over the checks and balances essential to democracy. They and Rodriguez-Ross wreck their own reputations by behaving indefensibly as they try to provide cover to the mayor for this mess. In place of another shame, I’ll say a pox on all your houses – may a wrecking ball soon visit, may you receive a certificate to relocate out of Holyoke, and may your wealthier new neighbors exert a positive moral influence on you (as if!), a moral influence that’s obviously sorely needed (unfortunately, too true).
Meet the New Holyoke, same as the Old Holyoke. And in some cases, worse.
“We have become a Nazi monster in the eyes of the whole world, a nation of bullies and bastards who would rather kill than live peacefully. We are not just whores for power and oil, but killer whores with hate and fear in our hearts. We are human scum, and that is how history will judge us…No redeeming social value. Just whores. Get out of our way, or we’ll kill you.” - Hunter S Thompson
Reprinted with permission, a letter from Sonia Gonzalez, President of the Lyman Terrace Tenants Association:
April 22, 2011
Residents Advisory Board
To Whom it May Concern,
With all due respect that you may deserve I would like to explain my worries that us tenants have about Lyman Terrace in Holyoke.
On February 17, 2012 we received notice from Holyoke Housing Authority about the demolition on Lyman Terrace. They stated that this will not cause a “significant impact.”
This statement as residents from Lyman Terrace has offended us and has disrespected us because we are human beings. We feel that this decision that was made by the Holyoke Housing Authority along with the approval of Mayor Alex Morse is discriminatory because the majority of us that leave here are Hispanics.
This will be a significant impact to all of us emotionally. I would like to explain the impact that this will have.
The majority of us that live here are seniors in which our children and grandchildren have been raised here. This has been our home for decades.
There are also young adults that are raising their children here.
Holyoke Housing Authority did not notify us with enough time about their decision about the Lyman Terrace demolition. They did not meet with us to hear their options; they just made the decision without caring about our thoughts and feelings. They did not give us any options.
The only meeting that they had with us about the demolition of Lyman Terrace the administration of Holyoke Housing Authority and other individuals that are involved with the demolition. They basically ran the whole meeting in a way that for the residents was impossible.
The only question that they made to us was “Would you like better living?” We felt as if they were making fun of us and it was offensive because they are not sure if they find something for us after the demolition.
In this are there are adults that are disabled, Along with other individuals that have several other medical conditions, there are also children that have several medical conditions and they do not have transportation. The treatments that these individuals receive are in the Holyoke Health Center which is located very close to us and we go see our doctors without any problems.
We live close to the businesses that are here in Downtown. In these businesses we buy food, clothes, and all of the things that we need for our children, grandchildren and for our homes. This will cause a significant impact to us as residents but as well as the business owners in which the majority of their sales are from the Lyman Terrace residents.
A lot of our children go to Dr. Marcella R. Kelly School which is located at 216 West Street, Holyoke. In Holyoke we have the school zones and the students that live in Lyman Terrace have to attend this school. There are students that have been attending this school for many years and if we have to leave our homes this will affect the education of our children and grandchildren and it will also affect the school.
Another excuse that they are giving for this decision is that it is because of the community, drugs ect. These situations are everywhere. I would like for you to know that we call the police and they do not come. When they hear our Hispanic accents they speak to us very sarcastically and they ignore us. It is not our fault it is the Holyoke Police Departments fault.
The people from the Holyoke Housing Authority stated that the apartment are very deteriorated, we live very happily in our homes and if in one way or another they are deteriorated it is the Holyoke Housing Authorities fault because they do not fix things the way that they are supposed to. The workers that they have for maintenance here do not care about doing a good job. We have gone to the main office of the Holyoke Housing Authority to give complaints about something that needs to be fixed and they reply that we do not have to worry because those projects are going to get demolition. Did they purposely not give these projects the proper maintenance so they have an excuse to demolition these projects and take us out of our homes?
Many years ago when Mr. Murphy was the director of the Holyoke Housing Authority, they gave money so that they can put up new windows in the apartments. Only one apartment from the project got new windows. Where is the money that was supposed to go into putting up new windows in Lyman Terrace? Where is the money that they are receiving in order to maintain and better Lyman Terrace? These questions we are making them to the director Rosaline Dean and the sub-director Matthew and they have never given us an answer. We would like that there be an investigation about this done.
They are offering us Section 8 but they are not sure if they will have those vouchers. We are not going to live in the streets with our children and grand children because that is what the personal of the Holyoke Housing Authority and the Holyoke Mayor want. There are not enough living areas in Holyoke to place all of us. Is it that because we are Hispanic they want to make us leave Holyoke?
The personal at the Holyoke Housing Authority say that these projects are not historic. These projects are one of the first projects that were federally funded in the state. Lyman terrace represents the history of the New Deal and they should be preserved. Lyman terrace has been built for 72 years. The evaluations that the ERR made are not fair and they are not the correct information they only used the information from 1982 and when Lyman Terrace only was 42 years old. Did they make these evaluations with the purpose to believe that there is another reason to leave us without our homes?
Please I hope that you hear us because we have not had correct presentation to help us. We are human beings that are now affected emotionally because we do not know what is going to happen to us and our families. We have been treated as if we were objects and as if we do not have any rights. We deserve respect; we pay our rents, when there are elections we go out to vote. Also when we need help from the people that we voted for they have left us alone and have not helped us. We are Hispanic and the personnel form the Holyoke Housing Authority have disrespected and humiliated us. They are emotionally abusing the residents in Lyman Terrace.
With all due respect,
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.
For those who haven’t already seen these publications about Lyman Terrace, they are a fascinating look at the concerns of the day and provide important context for understanding the history of this New Deal public housing complex.
From 1942, this piece includes information about the people displaced from the tenements razed to make way for Lyman Terrace; the author was from Mount Holyoke College: http://api.ning.com/files/V89jqQsqrROgt84B3Ph6tWKOR*eIgQ4JFuZmGSLw2EGQZINgSHezItFcSzY7XCl8QE8l4bI7alwr*d4YFvS*vqNXOMeQM8X2/LymanTerraceHewes1942.pdf
And from 1940, this Springfield Republican article includes wonderful descriptions of the design & building materials: http://holyokemass.com/2012/02/22/fine-living-quarters-for-holyoke/
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.
Thursday, April 26th
American Legion Post 351
50 Saint Kolbe Dr.
Holyoke, MA. 01040
Informational hearing about the aspects of historic districts
Questions and answers
Map of area
Historic buildings in the area
Written statements accepted
Sponsored by the Fairfield Avenue Local Historic District Committee
Olivia Mausel- 534-4115
Sandy Parent, Wendy Weiss, Matt Chenier,
James Sutter, Peter Papineau, Charles Davignon
Carlos Vega (Nov 26th 1950-April 12th 2012)
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
The Razing of Lyman Terrace
Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. — Milton Friedman (Nobel Laureate Economist and minion of Satan)
In her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism Naomi Klein coined the term “disaster capitalism” – a concept that had existed for quite some time yet to be named. The idea being that a population can be unwittingly subdued via trauma – real or perceived – and as a result enslaved, robbed or otherwise manipulated to the profit of some external entity that is the architect of said doctrine. We’ve seen it in Southeast Asia when residents of a fishing village are relocated by the government after a tsunami and upon returning to homes that their families had lived for generations instead find a Western-owned resort hotel, their land appropriated and new “opportunities” working in laundry rooms servicing the new tourist trade. Also in 1970′s Chile where our CIA financed a police state which finally bent the will of the people to accept our brand of corporate capitalism (Obama is now doing similar in Honduras under auspices of the War on Drugs). Or in New Orleans post-Katrina when what was once public housing – undamaged by the storm – privatized and sold to the highest bidder. We can also see it in our Global-Imperial Neoliberal campaigns of “liberation” where we prop up and finance despotic regimes like the Taliban or Saddam for a couple decades then wage war on the people in order to give hand outs to the military industrial and then the contractors to rebuild what we destroyed – highest bidder in these cases are decided by campaign contributions to whichever party is in power at that time . It is mostly effective… and quite pervasive in the Post-9-11 world. The “War on Terror” being the trump suit on a myriad of distasteful policies that have robbed us of civil rights.
We are here to help you.
Well, today I witnessed it firsthand right here in Holyoke. Here’s how it works: Some years ago the Holyoke Housing Authority decides that an entire neighborhood of public housing is a “problem”. As a result of that decision the plan is to demolish the existing project of 167 occupied units to build new ones – convincing the tenants that they have funds to do this and that while the reconstruction happens tenants will be relocated temporarily. Time goes by… Since the plan is to demolish the buildings there is no reason for upkeep. Neglect becomes routine and situations worsen – the DPW is even avoiding trash pickup. Housing Authority people come by and take some ugly pictures of what they created to send to HUD with no real structural evaluation, analysis or comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of renovation/rehabilitation in comparission to demolition. On top of that they claim that there is “No Significant Impact on the Human Environment”. The solution – raze all existing structures, sell the acreage to the highest bidder and give the tenants Section 8 vouchers with “you are free to go now, good luck and goodbye”. Is it possible to add that many people to the rental market all at once? Is there not human impact to destroying a neighborhood? What about elderly and disabled that have established routines downtown with where they shop, visit their doctor and public transportation at Veteran’s park? What if these elderly and disabled people are forced into isolated areas? In the end it all reeks of racism, gentrification and another example of privatization that which was public. They are poor and dark skinned – there is no significant human impact if you don’t treat the people like humans to begin with.
I was there today collecting signatures for a petition. I talked to near one hundred people. There was a handful of folks that claimed that they did not care, that they thought that the place should be demolished… but overwhelmingly the opinion was that they liked living there and had community with others in this neighborhood. Many stated that they wanted to stay even though things were not kept up – taking it upon themselves to renovate spaces. I entered a number of units and saw homes with families… well cared for and functioning households that were maintained by the tenants. Regardless of the opinion on the Housing Authority decision, the overwhelming feeling from these people was that they were being left out of the process. As far as the claim that these spaces were “obsolete as to their physical condition”, this is a complete smoke and mirrors. Go and see for yourself and talk to some of the tenants.
A number of tenants said that they were coming to the city council chambers tomorrow night, 7pm. Be there.
Self portrait with decay.
Links to the HHA Letter of Intent:
Ward 1 City Councilor: Gladys Lebron-Martinez, 224 Elm St. 413-535-8507
City of Holyoke Office for Community Development, City Hall Annex Room 400, Holyoke, MA 01040 by first class mail, by fax to 413-322-5611 or email to email@example.com
Mayor Alex Morse: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-322-5510
Please also submit a copy of your comments to the Holyoke Historic Commission and to HUD:
Some history of this practice in Holyoke:
Draft City Council Resolution:
Holyoke City Council
February 21, 2012 Meeting
“Supporting Responsible Downtown Economic and Community Development at Lyman Terrace”
WHEREAS, The Holyoke Housing Authority seeks demolition and disposition of Lyman Terrace, one of the earliest public housing projects in the country; and
WHEREAS, Lyman Terrace, built in 1938-1939, comprises 167 units in eighteen buildings with exteriors of brick and copper on tree-lined streets in the heart of downtown. It also features a community center, a community garden, and a Boys and Girls Club; and
WHEREAS, Holyoke’s overall population remained stable over the last decade, Ward 1 (where Lyman Terrace is located) has continued to experience significant losses; the city should now be working towards population retention and growth, not further loss; and
WHEREAS, the demolition of Lyman Terrace would be a destruction of downtown Holyoke’s architectural heritage, visual sense of place, working class history and affordable housing at a time when Holyoke’s revitalization depends on preserving, rehabilitating, and capitalizing on our historic architecture and infrastructure; and
WHEREAS, the demolition of any city buildings should be premised on a structural evaluation, review and forensic analysis for commercial, industrial and residential structures as well as a full and comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of renovation/rehabilitation in comparission to demolition; and
WHEREAS, the City Council has not seen or been made aware of any such analyses for the Lyman Terrace project; and
WHEREAS, the reported presence of social problems such as crime, drugs, violence, or prostitution in the area of Lyman Terrace are artifacts of concentrated poverty that is completely independent of the buildings’ architectural design and condition and do not merit reasons for demolition; and
WHEREAS, if improving the living conditions of the current residents of Lyman Terrace is the purpose for requesting Urban Renewal funds from the United States Office for Housing and Urban Development (HUD), then a comprehensive relocation plan that is based on a thorough understanding of the current residents’ needs and demands should be included in the funding request; and
WHEREAS, such a relocation plan is blatantly absent from the current environmental review (study) that purports to have looked at the project’s “effects on people and community and determined that the project will have no significant impact.”
NOW, BE IT RESOLVED, that the City Council formally go on record in opposition to the demolition of Lyman Terrace; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the City Council submit a written letter to the Office for Community Development in opposition to the claim that the project will have “no significant impact on the human environment;” and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that in an effort to increase transparency,the City Council invite the Mayor, Holyoke Housing Authority, Office of Community Development, Holyoke Historic Commission, and Holyoke Redevelopment Authority to discuss the matter further with the council.
Oh, What A Night!
So…. it happened. The bar has been officially been raised. I don’t think that elections in this city could ever be the same after this. Yes, we have two years to shake this out and really absorb what has happened… my only hope is that now we can have more folks step forward to rid this stale environment of its collective inertia. I also hope that never again we can rely on names, political favors and yard signs as an indication of the political climate – that we have popular engagement, emotion and true spirit driving the action. I do believe Alex’s credo when he says: “This is not about my campaign, this is about Holyoke.” People need to stand up and make this true and support him in this effort. Yes, he won. Now we have work to do.
Morse won… Devine lost. Lisi held on. Tallman is a winner. That is some serious joy to be shared. Sure, we gained that jackass Bresnahan and still carry a ton of dead weight, but I do hope that we end with a council that will work with our new mayor. At-large did not have that great of a shakeup because there was not the competition, but Morse’s win is a mandate… I hope that these people see his win as affecting their political liability if they are expecting to work against Morse. …and down the road we need to challenge McGee, Vacon and run a larger field of at-large in two years to make this possible. I said that I wished that I could vote in Wards 1, 3 and 7. They went my way except for Ward 3. Purcell’s loss was the biggest disappointment here. Of course, with the at large not being contested there is no way it could have gone my way and seen Vega, Devine, Murphy, Leahy and Bresnahan as losers (in the election, that is… they are still losers)… so I am at least happy to see the exit of Devine. Purcell would have been the sole progressive voice on the committee. Sure, there are some that lean left, but he was my most politically aligned candidate. I do hope he keeps it up and is part of the 2013′s at-large contest to eliminate more of the chaff.
Of course, I do hope that the progress we see is not “growth” and not gentrification but rather efficiency. We are a severely divided city. Downtown is not the desert that many view it as… it is an asset. We do not need “revitalization”. We have a vibrant culture that needs to be engaged, lifted up and made our calling card. It is all about perspective. The Latino community and the burgeoning artist district are our diamonds in the rough. Yeah, with the casino versus data center I will always choose the later, but I would never bet the house on some high tech computing that will possibly have military and surveillance applications. I know that this is a campaign issue, but I would be happy with neither happening. This election was about the people… Holyoke has what it needs to make it happen right now without the “jobs” mantra or this versus that bad idea.
The campaigning for 2013 has already started for many, that is the sad state of affairs in our political environment but we can only hope that the Old Guard has seen the writing on the wall and that this is the beginning of a sea change for this great city.
I dedicate this song, to you, Holyoke:
(yes, I want to make love to Holyoke… every one of you)
Industria Et Copia
H.U.S.H. is opposed to the Charter Change due to its broad reach and numerous undesirable changes. I can agree with only one measure in the proposed charter and that is a 4-year term for mayor. This could happen without the charter proposal being passed.
Read the charter for yourself HERE. (if someone could send me a translated Spanish version in PDF please do)
There exists a Facebook Page called Holyoke Charter Change NO that lays out these reasons to opposition:
VOTE NO on the Proposed Charter Change:
Holyoke cannot afford this risky proposal!
Dear Fellow Voter:
There is going to be a referendum question on this year’s ballot that proposes to change our City Charter and it has lots of fine print you are not being told about. This risky proposal would:
Weaken Voter Power:
- Voters will no longer elect the City Clerk or City Treasurer
- Voters will no longer elect a majority of their City Councilors
- Only vote for the Mayor every 4 years not every 2 years which could be problematic especially if you get someone who is not doing a good job.
Eliminate Checks and Balances:
- We already have a very strong Mayor: we should not consolidate nearly all power in one person!
- Proposes to weaken the City Council and make the Mayor even more powerful
- Mayor would appoint the Assessors, Tax Collector, Auditor and Treasurer instead of the City Council therefore eliminating the independence of their financial oversight roles.
- Abolishes most city commissions including the Public Works and Fire Commissions and gives those powers to the Mayor. Also makes the Mayor a member of most remaining commissions.
- Allows the Mayor to abolish or create any city department without the Council having the opportunity to amend the proposal.
- Terms of office of city department heads are eliminated and they would serve at pleasure of the Mayor.
- Recommends eliminating non-political civil service independence for city employees
- Allows the Mayor to appoint a majority of the future commissions who will review our city charter and our city ordinances.
Make Expensive Changes we cannot afford in these tough economic times:
- Gives the Mayor a 14% pay raise from $85,000 to $97,000 per year.
- Creates a New Chief Financial Officer position appointed by the Mayor that would likely cost over $100,000 per year.
- The proposed new charter is a risky exploration into a new form of government which no one fully knows for sure how it would work and could be the source of expensive future litigation.
Make other foolish changes:
- The War Memorial Commission would no longer be made up exclusively of veterans.
- Makes it harder for citizens to run for office and get on the ballot.
- Eliminates Residency Requirements for city department heads.
Instead of making some simple common sense changes the voters could easily understand, the Charter Commission scrapped our entire charter for a new 53 page confusing and harmful form of government. Their proposal is so complex and confusing that it reads more like mortgage then a referendum. Holyoke’s voters deserve better!
Please Vote NO on the Proposed Charter Change and protect our city!