Conflict and Bullying in a HUD-subsidized Building for Elderly Residents: A Case Study

Submitted by Jerry Halberstadt on Sat, 09/03/2011 - 22:50

This is a case study of conflict in a building for elderly residents, managed under HUD programs.
A group of residents seeking their rights under HUD rules encountered severe opposition including bullying and harassment from management, staff, and other residents. People familiar with tenant organizations around the country report that many HUD buildings have similar issues.

People live in a building. There need to be systems to care for and manage the residents as well as the building structure and plumbing. While inspections by HUD give close scrutiny to alarm systems, plumbing, and other aspects of the physical plant, there are no inspections of social conditions. When a handful of residents can control others through bullying, people are deprived of the peaceful enjoyment of their homes. Worse, bullying is a source of stress and can be a cause of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and depression, thus creating or exacerbating chronic disease.

During the last three or more years, management condoned and/or encouraged a regime of harassing and bullying by the custodian and a small group of bullies, the “Guardians” in an elderly apartment building, “Bleak House" in the village of "Riverby.” Residents were kept in fear, had no way of getting redress or support, and some terrorized people were driven from the building. A new Tenant’s Association confronted this situation. The Guardians then mounted a fierce, unrelenting campaign against the Association, using tactics of bullying, harassment, and abuse. Management took no action when residents and the Association complained. Management took the position that there were two groups competing for control of the building. They dismissed the accusations of bullying, even after the state made bullying illegal including among unrelated people living in an apartment building.

The source of the conflict was a coalition comprising a core of 3 residents, the “Guardians;” the on-site maintenance worker; and the manager, who together maintained inappropriate social control through the use and tolerance of bullying and harassment. The Guardians considered themselves to be maintaining good social and moral order in the building, and that they were protecting the management from criticism or change. They fought against the introduction of any rival leadership or organization, and would isolate and attack anyone that was either vulnerable or a threat to their rule; they opposed the work of the Tenants’ Association. The Guardians organized social functions for their members (meals, mutual assistance, support when sick, etc.) and shared a belief system that involved constant criticism of non-members. Members of the Guardians would receive considerable support and rewards, and be subject to serious sanctions if they were not affiliated. Management seems to have enabled and supported this system because it provided, without financial expense, information (although biased) about events in the building, and an effective system for maintaining order. At the time of this writing, a new management team has promised to work with the Tenants' Association to deal with these problems.

The factors leading to the emergence and persistence of bullying include:

• absence of good managerial supervision and/or adequate trained staff on the premises;
• management relying on maintenance personnel or groups like the Guardians for information, advice, and intervention;
• failure of social service agencies and their staff (social workers, activity directors) to carry out their responsibilities and intervene to stop bullying, even when required by law and professional obligations;
• failure of HUD to provide an effective, responsive ombudsman and lack of oversight over management;
• attacks on the ability of the democratic tenants’ association to advocate for the needs of residents.

Failure to take care of the social needs of people in a group setting can lead to severe problems, including inappropriate social controls through bullying, but such problems can be minimized or avoided by appropriate staffing and management systems. Management needs to set strict limits on inappropriate behavior and must never condone bullying, even when the bullies seem to be enforcing management goals. Residents need to be empowered to recognize bullying, taught how to deal with it, and encouraged to intervene. They need to be supported by management and, when necessary, by social service agencies, the courts, and the police. A strong Tenants’ Association can be a catalyst for change. Management needs to work with residents instead of trying to limit or control an association of tenants.

Social service agencies need to address their responsibilities to protect the dignity and rights of elders. Bullying and elder abuse are illegal under state law.

HUD should have programs of oversight, education, and an effective, resident-oriented ombudsman function to assure professional management and to protect the rights of elderly residents to a dignified life in a peaceful community. When HUD does property inspections, the very first step should be a meeting with the Tenants’ Association to assess quality of life issues, including relations among tenants and relations between tenants and management.

“Bleak House” in “Riverby” is one apartment building of an administrative complex, the “Riverside Manors,” comprising several HUD-sponsored elderly housing buildings owned by Charitable Landlords (a national non-profit) and managed by a for-profit management subsidiary, CL Management, Inc. The Riverside Manors are scattered in 5 separate municipalities north of Boston, MA. Bleak House is home to about 100 people.

The study can be obtained as a PDF file on request, please use the site contact form/email. Contact Photoluminations and kindly indicate the basis for your interest.

The author of this study is not known, although we suspect it was composed by "Harold," a former resident of Bleak House whose professional work was in social science. For more information on the source of the "Harold Manuscripts" and notes on HUD programs, please see the Reference Notes at the end of Harold's detective story. Foul Weather: a locked building mystery

Copyright© 2011 Anonymous & Jerry Halberstadt All rights reserved.

Names, characters, places,and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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