An Act Relative to Eligibility for Cooperative Housing Corporations (Massachusetts)
An Act Relative to Eligibility for Cooperative Housing Corporations Senate Bill 596 and House Bill 1143
Since 2007, both ArtistsUndertheDome.org and the Massachusetts Artists Leaders Coalition (MALC) have been fighting to keep our Commonwealth’s artists coops and our coop housing of all kinds safe from unneeded and harmful regulations. We are once again this legislative session fighting to protect all coops on a state-wide level. The push for these changes is from one person who was turned down from being a coop member by a Boston coop board. He and his lobbyist have been trying to pass these problematic and harmful reforms on a state levell (ie filing state legislation and amendments to the state budget and other bills). Each time we have fought hard to stop them from moving forward.*
The legislation has been filed by by Senator Finegold and State Rep O’Flaherty
Under current state law (Chapter 151B, Section 4), all forms of housing including coops are forbidden from discriminating on the basis of race, heritage, sexual orientation, religion, marriage status, ancestry, disability, veteran status, or gender. Given the protection of Chapter 151B, this legislation is not needed. However, like all forms of housing, co-ops can select not to sell (or rent) to students, sex offenders, or those with poor reports from prior landlords or neighbors, etc. If passed, co-ops would be the ONLY form of housing in Massachusetts forced to sell to any applicant that meets financial eligibility standards.
Coops differ from condos in the maintenance of the building; the whole building is owned by shareholders in a coop, who are able to avoid arguments over who should finance repairs for common areas and to be sure their residential standard of living remains at the level they have chosen. They share the risk together. If someone defaults it impacts all the co-owners.
At the end of this Call to Action, I have included key background information such as where to send your testimony, how to address it, talking points, a chart and news articles about this issue.
Please share this call to action with as many MassachusettsResidents that you can. We need to generate as many calls/emails as possible opposing this legislation as possible.
Kathleen Bitetti- Artist, Co-founder of ArtistsUndertheDome.org and MALC
*On a personal note I have been at every State House meeting for this issue and I have testified at every state hearing against these bills. No other citizens, except the man behind this legislation and the legislators who sponsor his legislation, have testified or have sent in written testimony in favor of these proposed changes to coop laws. In fact, many people have consistently testified/sent in testimony against it- including the Mayor of Boston, Massachusetts Cultural Council, low income and senior housing advocates, those who live in coops, and many State Senators and State Representatives. The Governor vetoed this legislation in 2008 and it has never made it back to his desk thanks to all of our efforts.
Key Back Ground information/Talking Points: TalkingPoints.pdf (these were written to stop Boston anti-coop legislation but apply for the state legislation as the language is the same)
Chart to show how discriminatory these proposed changes are to Coops: Chart.pdf
Key articles on the issue:
Bay State Banner Editorial (See highlighted part): BayStateBanner.pdf
Boston Globe Editorial: GlobeEditorial.pdf
Other articles for background:
TALKING POINTS (Note you don’t have all or any of them for your email/letter, but if possible try to put them in your own words)
Talking Points gathered from the past hearings:
1. The legislation does not offer adequate protection to existing and future artists co-ops which are used by artists for the creation of artists live/work spaces to enable artists to not be gentrified out of a community/geographic area. Nor does it protect limited equity housing co-ops. The legislation creates "communities of interest", but leaves them open to expensive legal challenges that could cause them to lose their coops. It requires these coops to give a written reason for denial.
2. By not allowing adequate protection of artists co-ops or limited equity coops, This legislation will negatively impact the state’s creative economy sector. It will do this by hindering efforts to protect, grow, and sustain artists communities which are one of the key foundation of a healthy creative economy.
3. Under current state law (Chapter 151B, Section 4), co-ops are currently forbidden from discriminating on the basis of race, heritage, sexual orientation, religion, marriage status, ancestry, disability, veteran status, or gender. Given the protection of Chapter 151B, this legislation is not needed.
4. Senate Bill S00593 will not remedy any problem, it will only create undesirable ones and negative unintended consequences. This legislation is both unnecessary and destructive to the economic interests of the Commonwealth.
5. This legislation drastically changes existing state law for Cooperative Housing and could impact other state housing laws.
6. This legislation would in effect make it illegal for co-ops to do thorough background screenings of applicants via professional, work, and/or personal references or criminal background checks. This holds for "the communities of interest" as well.
(The legislaton purports to exempt artist coops (those organized under a community of interest) or limited equity coops (affordable housing coops). However, the bill doesn’t allow those types of coops to use any other criteria for eligibility if they meet those first two (meeting the financial criteria) and then one of the other two criteria. So you could have an individual who is seeking to get into an artist coop and they are in fact an artist who also meets "the community of interest criteria" and financial criteria – then the coop would have to accept them regardless of any other circumstances- such as they are also a level three sex offender, they have a history of suing people, etc. Artist coops and all other coops for that matter, like landlords dealing with renters, should be able to select their members on whatever basis they want as long as they aren’t discriminating against a protected class in voliation of Chapter 151B Section 4).
7. The bill, in its current form, does not take into account the issues of when there is more than one eligible candidate for an available co-op unit and/or if there is a waiting list. Seldom is there only one person/family applying for a co-op unit.
8. Income should never be the only measure for co-ops (especially if they are not a defining themselves as a community of interest) because financial acumen is no indicator of an appropriate moral or ethical character, nor does it predict suitability for responsible membership in a community.
9. Decisions based solely on financial criteria are unfairly discriminatory. For example, women generally make less money than men, whites make more than people of color and people with higher IQ's usually make more than those with lower IQ's. There is nothing equitable about income as a sole determinant for membership.
10. Any co-op board could craft a narrow and complex financial application hurdles that would virtually ensure those whom the co-op board felt "undesirable", however unfairly, could be excluded. Financial criteria alone cannot be the sole basis for making a decision for membership in a community.
11. This legislation sets up an unfunded mandate for the Secretary of State to do outreach to existing co-op owners about the new law. Any legislative directive/mandate should be funded.
12. It should be mandated that the Secretary of State will collaborate with the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development (EOHE), the housing advocates, co-op advocates, and the artists advocates on the language used for the printed communication to existing co-ops on the law change. The resulting printed document should also be given out for free to anyone who wishes to establish co-op housing in the state. The document should be posted both on the Secretary's website and the website of EOHE. This effort needs to be adequately funded.