REC Conference focuses on Public Housing and Public Health

Tenant leaders from multiple BHA communities came together recently for the Boston Housing Authority's annual Resident Empowerment Coalition (REC) conference at Roxbury Community College.

The event, organized by the BHA's Center for Community Engagement and Civil Rights, was as much a celebration of resident participation in housing as it was a venue for disseminating practical information, so that tenant leaders can communicate this knowledge to other residents in their own communities. With great food and music, it was also a spirited social event to boot.
In the wake of ongoing federal budget cuts due to the 2013 sequestration, tenant participation has become all the more important to maintaining and improving the quality of life in public housing communities across Boston. Conference participants and BHA administrators alike acknowledged the need for a symbiotic relationship between administrators and tenants, where the success of one depends upon the success of the other.
In his opening remarks, William McGonagle, Administor of the BHA, also discussed the importance of linking new policy initiatives in public housing to broader social concerns, especially public health. McGonagle explained that this is not only accurate -- the ultimate goal of BHA policies is to increase the health and quality of life of tenants -- but also helps garner support for BHA programs at a moment when there is a "mean spiritedness" towards public housing in general and issues surrounding it, such as immigration. If unconvinced by the need for public housing, he suggested, government officials may be more responsive to the need for public health. 
The BHA's sustainability plan, the focus of one of the conference's five workshops, provides an example of how public housing and health can be effectively linked. Reducing energy usage in public housing communities is vital for the economic future of the BHA, as more than half of the BHA's annual budget is currently spent on utilities. But, as BHA Energy Manager Dan Helmes and others on the BHA "green team" pointed out in this workshop, these efforts are also fundamental for improving the health of tenants. Relatively simple changes such as banning smoking in buildings (effective in 2012) has had an appreciable impact on levels of particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and nicotine in BHA buildings. Healthier BHA buildings and residents, in turn, increases the city's healthfulness overall.
McGonagle and others emphasized that improving the health of BHA housing communities is a collective endeavor; BHA administrators cannot do it alone. The extent and enthusiasm of the participants in this conference demonstrated that tenants themselves are more than willing to contribute to these efforts for the sake of bettering their communities. 
Blog post by Jeanne Haffner, a guest writer for the Boston Housing Authority. She is a lecturer in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University, where she teaches on the history of environmental science, environmentalism, and urban planning practice in Europe and the United States from the nineteenth century to the present. In 2013, she published her first book with MIT Press, titled The View from Above: The Science of Social Space, which explored the impact of aerial photography on ways of analyzing and responding to the problem of social housing and the suburbs (banlieues) in postwar France.


| 7/30/2014 3:40:11 PM | 0 comments


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