Photo by Sage Orville

Today, Mayor Joshua Garcia announced that he will be working on creating an Office of Tenant Protection in Holyoke at a rally at City Hall organized by Neighbor to Neighbor. 

For the past year, Holyoke tenants have been calling on the mayor to create an Office of Tenant Protection that will help maintain safe and dignified housing for renters in Holyoke. Backed by Neighbor to Neighbor, creating this new city office has been the focus of tenants’ local efforts to address the housing crisis. 

At the Renters’ Rally, originally planned to continue to call for local and statewide solutions to the housing crisis, Mayor Garcia announced that he will work on creating the Office of Tenant Protection and thanked tenants for their advocacy. 

Residents applaud the mayor’s decision to create an Office of Tenant Protection. 

“The last 50 years of decisions have created the current housing crisis. We are going to need to be creative and relentless about addressing it,” said Christiana Haramut, a member of Neighbor to Neighbor who spoke at the rally. “The Office of Tenant Protections is a local solution and I look forward to being involved in the building of this office in collaboration with the Mayor and his team.”

While the details still need to be worked out, tenants’ vision is that the office would bridge the gap between current legal protections and the lived experience of being a tenant, helping renters access the resources they already have. That includes a public registry of who owns the housing, so renters are clear on who is responsible for maintaining safe and sanitary conditions. It would also be a resource for renters to turn to when questions or concerns arise.

Renters make up 64% of the population in Holyoke. 

Even in the celebration of the mayor’s announcement, residents maintain that we need more and stronger action to stop the housing crisis. A key message from the rally is to Senator John Velis, with residents telling him that he has our support as he fights for housing at the state level. 

The key policies residents are backing are 1) rent control, 2) tenants’ opportunity to purchase, which would give tenants the right of first refusal when landlords put their homes on the market, and 3) the zero carbon renovation fund, which would support housing renovations that retrofit our old housing stock, municipal buildings and schools – a real solution that addresses the intersections of housing and climate justice.

“It shouldn’t be legal to be kicked out of my home because the new owners want to line their pockets. I’m a human being, I’m not just a rent check,” said Melodi Johnson, a member of Neighbor to Neighbor who spoke at the rally. “There is state legislation that if passed would protect renters like me: Just Cause Eviction laws, that state there needs to be a reason to evict a tenant.”

“My landlord tries to be involved in the constant upkeep of the building, but essentially they just don’t have the manpower nor the money to do it efficiently,” said Christiana Haramut. “The zero-carbon renovation fund would create the funding needed for a landlord like mine, schools, and the city of Holyoke to address the quality of my unit.  This fund is slated for cities like Holyoke to address our old buildings and bring them up to the 21st century.”

“There has been a switch in our country from landlords who care about the service they are providing to corporations who are creating blight and causing homelessness,” said Katie Talbot, Lead Organizer with Neighbor to Neighbor, who organized the rally. “We won’t stop until everyone has safe, dignified, secure housing.”