New Year, Same Tidings: Housing is a Human Right

This featured guest piece is an excerpt of our January 2024 newsletter.

Dear Colleagues:

Happy New Year from the MCSW! There’s a lot to speak about together as we head into the new year and where it intersects with my work both on and off the MCSW Commission. As the executive director of Arise for Social Justice, a grassroots nonprofit that focuses on the rights of poor and low-income folks, we fight to change local and national issues and policy. As a state commissioner appointed by the MA Caucus of Women Legislators, I show up every day knowing that representation matters. It is important to me to see and be seen. To allow others to imagine themselves in positions of power, with the ability to make lasting change to the policies that guide our lives.

I often say, I live in the messy intersections where race, class, gender, politics, culture, and the law often collide. We work to advance the needs of all women and girls across the Commonwealth, and yet, all those needs are not identical and often land in that same messy intersection. When policy makers don’t understand or live in those intersections, entire communities can and have been harmed.

As the MCSW Treasurer & Chair of Finance Committee, it’s important to me to be clear about the reality that we’re facing right here in our own backyard. Statistically, women and children face the highest rates of poverty and in the Commonwealth. The 2020 Commission report which studied the Impact of COVID-19 and Related Policy On Massachusetts Women and Girls, the data showed that it is Black and brown women and girls being the most impacted across every sector we can think of – housing and food insecurity, child and elder care, and more.

While wearing my social justice hat, feeling the impacts in my community both in Springfield and at the Statehouse, and fighting to dismantle the systems and institutions that cause us harm, there is a deep understanding that to advance the needs of women and girls across the Commonwealth, we must start with those who are the most impacted. Only by centering those most marginalized can we ensure all of us can thrive. If we can make the conditions better there, the conditions of everyone else improves. While there are no trickle-down economics, there is a glow up in the care of those who find themselves at the bottom of our society. All boats rise when we invest in women and children as economic drivers of society.

But try as we may, I also know that we cannot out fund bad policy. Currently, our nation, which includes the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which is the ONLY state to have a right-to-shelter law, is experiencing a housing crisis. Not because we have a shortage of housing, but because there is a shortage of policy that would protect tenants and keep people housed. The commission is not a partisan entity, and yet these are partisan issues. How do we advocate for change while remaining true to our objectivity? Only by working together, and hearing all voices, can we rebuild systems that work for real people to meet the needs of the modern age. It’s not partisan, it’s just good policy.

We must create the conditions that support people being housed, instead of upholding policies that don’t – which actually saves us money and builds wealth for individuals and communities in the long run. We can learn from other states and implement what works best for us – from rent control, to sealing eviction records, to holding slumlords accountable, by limiting property sales to out of state corporations and entities that require you to make 3x the rent to live there(yet the rent is 3x higher than a mortgage), – only then will we begin truly codify housing as a human right and treat it as such – not as a commodity.

Housing is a human right, and that’s why I’m proud that the MCSW is hosting our first public hearing of the year – entirely virtual – to discuss the housing needs facing the women and children of our state. Join us on January 25 to make your voice heard. Your stories and lived experiences directly inform the policy priorities of the MCSW, allowing us to make change to the systemic issues that impact us all. Register here now.

Happy New Year to all!

In Solidarity,

Tanisha Arena

MCSW Treasurer, Chair of the Finance Committee

Executive Director, Arise for Social Justice