History and Mission

In the late 1960s public housing tenant councils in Cambridge sent representatives to form a citywide organization, which they called the Tenant Senate. In the 1970s the state and federal governments began to require housing authorities to accept tenant councils and citywide tenant organizations as bargaining agents for their residents. The CHA recognized the Tenant Senate until it dissolved in the 1990s.

Then in 2007 a small group of Cambridge public housing residents approached The Mass. Union of Public Housing Tenants and began discussing how to form a new citywide organization. CHA agreed to support this effort and signed a contract with Mass. Union. In the spring of 2008 voucher residents were invited to join the planning group. Committees were set up and went to work drafting bylaws and organizing five citywide meetings to which all CHA residents were invited by mail.

The citywide meetings decided that the new group would be run by an elected Governing Board made up of 19 public housing and 19 voucher tenant representatives. Thus it would be the first city tenant organization in the USA with equal representation for public housing and voucher households. The final citywide meeting in October 2008 approved bylaws and took the name Alliance of Cambridge Tenants (ACT).

There were more than sixty candidates in the April 2009 ACT election. Several hundred CHA residents voted. The CHA executive recognized the election as confirming ACT is the official citywide representative of its residents. On May 16 the newly-elected ACT Board met, ratified the organization’s bylaws, and elected executive officers. The ACT office opened in December, sharing space with the Manning Tenant Council in Central Square. It has operated since then with an all-resident volunteer staff, despite being flooded out for three months in the summer of 2010.

Three ACT committees immediately got busy. The Technical Assistance Committee (TAC) was already a working group before the election. TAC sponsored and cosponsored many workshops; held many meetings with CHA to influence its policies and publications; and established ACT’s relations with other organizations and agencies. The Tenants Assistance and Outreach Committee (A&O) worked with CEOC to help organize new tenant councils and with CHA to monitor tenant council elections and provided backup and assistance to public housing and voucher households as well as tenant councils. In September 2010 ACT sponsored an exhibit of the artwork of CHA residents, “For the Love of Art.”

The third committee spent months developing a proposal for a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which, following the contract signed between Mass Union and CHA, was to regulate the relationship between the CHA and ACT. With CASLS legal aid assistance, ACT’s negotiating team met with a CHA team throughout 2010 to develop the final Memorandum of Understanding.

However on January 26, 2011, the CHA Board of Commissioners (BOC) unanimously rejected the MOU agreement.

In May the ACT Board unanimously rejected CHA’s substitute Letter of Recognition. CHA still recognizes ACT as the legitimate citywide agent for its residents, but otherwise the relationship is “informal,” and will proceed on a case-by-case basis.