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.
Holyoke, MA, 01-August-2012: Attorney Peter Vickery on behalf of a group of Lyman Terrace residents filed a lawsuit today at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination against the City of Holyoke and the Holyoke Housing Authority which manages the 167 unit public housing project where the tenants reside, located in Ward 1 Holyoke near High, Lyman and Front Streets. The expectation is that the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination will file an injunction in Superior Court to stop the planned demolition of Lyman Terrace. A total of five legal claims are presented in the complaint: Violations of the Federal Fair Housing Act 42 USC § 3604; Federal Environmental Protection Regulation 40 CFR Part 7, Subpart B; Article 1 of The Massachusetts Constitution; and Massachusetts General Law 151B § 4 & 121B § 32.
Introduction to the Complaint is as follows: The City of Holyoke and its Housing Authority have decided to seek permission to demolish Lyman Terrace, a public housing project in the downtown area. Because most of the Lyman Terrace residents are Hispanic, the destruction of their homes – and the residents’ relocation away from Holyoke – would have a disparate impact on a protected class and would, therefore, constitute unlawful discrimination. Complainants are asking the Commonwealth to seek and injunction from the Superior Court to stop the demolition.
Attorney Vickery comments: ”We are asking for an injunction to stop the demolition of Lyman Terrace. This is a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood that the commonwealth considers an environmental Justice Community, meaning that government has to meaningfully involve the community in land-use decisions to ensure equality and equity. Our legal basis is the anti-discrimination law, which prohibits land-use decisions that have a disparate impact on certain protected classes. We are saying that demolishing Lyman Terrace would be unlawful because it would have a disparate impact on Hispanic people. We are absolutely not accusing the mayor or anyone in city government of racism or bigotry.”
For more information please contact:
Full text of the complaint:
For more info about Lyman Terrace see HERE.
Link to the Lyman Terrace Facebook page see HERE.
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 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.
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.
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
I’m sick of people putting down others without knowing anything about them or where they are coming from. Not everyone that lives in Lyman Terrace is uneducated or on welfare. Many of the residents there are working individuals who pay market rate rents much as they would do in any other apartment in Holyoke or elsewhere. Despite the exsisiting deplorable conditions they choose to remain living there because they like it, the area, its proximity to many conveniences that might otherwise be unavailable to them, including transportation, health care, downtown shopping etc.
I was the 1st President of the Tenants Association at Lyman Terrace and I became a teacher. I now have a BA in education, an MA in Linguistics, a teachers state certification and a myriad of other credentials that others who did not live in a housing project and were raised in a home of their own may not have. I lived there for many years and my children were all raised there. My daughter is a probation officer in Spfld, who graduated from Mount Holyoke with a BA, Springfield College with her MA and is a home owner Holyoke. One of my sons is an licensed electrician, has his DCL trucking license, is a 5 star chef and owns his own home in 16 acres. I have another son who lives in Florida who owns 2 businesses of his own. I have another son who is a Barber. These children are all products of the projects and we are all of Hispanic ethnicity. So as you can see not all people that live in projects, especially Hispanics, are on welfare and uneducated.
The Plight of the Hispanic PR in the US is not an easy or pretty. Those who migrate here from PR come here to find better job opportunities, living conditions and further their education by giving their children the opportunities they never had just like most people who come here from other countries do. Many come here giving up everything the have, own and are familiar with thinking it would be an improvement to their lives. Instead what they find is a hostile environment that does not accept them because of the color of their skin or don’t speak the language. They can’t find jobs because of these same reasons. Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the US. It has been so since 1898. They are Americans by birth. Yet they have never known what it is to be free and independent. They have always had to depend on another country or nation for support so they have an identity crisis. Many feel like they don’t know who they are or where they belong so they become transients moving constantly from place to place and never really establishing or settling down in any one place. Many keep moving back and forth from PR here, NY, Florida hoping to find a place where they are finally accepted and welcomed. Others yearn to go back to where they came from because although they did not have much especially a secure job, they did have acceptance. Ironically those of us who were born or raised here are not even accepted in PR. The consider us Americans or Newyoricans. So where do we belong.? It seems like nowhere.
Yes this is just the tip of the Iceberg. So unless you have walked in our shoes please don’t make assumptions about who or what we are. We are lot more than a lot of others who have had it all and still haven’t gotten anywhere. We have nothing and still we continue to strive to be better, to find a better way so that our children don’t have to go through all the struggles we had had to encounter. When I still had not finished my education I still managed to move forward and help all those I could in the community, helping to establish housing corporations, educating the low income sector regardless of their ethnicity, black, white or Hispanic, helping the homeless, registering people to vote, and improving my community in every way I could. So again, I implore you don’t make assumptions or take about people when you in fact have not been there and don’t know where they are coming from, where they have been or where they are going. Especially when you yourself have done nothing to help your fellow man. I’m tired of it.
Valencia Miller 25 West Ct