Tag Archives: Great Brook Valley

Hooray for Ray (Mariano)!

By Edith Morgan

The times are always changing, and what was a great solution to a social problem several decades ago is no longer working as it once did: public housing.

The idea of affordable public housing worked so well to house returning World War II veterans and their families. Worcester vets and their families called our Great Brook Valley the first rung up the American ladder of upward mobility.

That has all changed. It has run its course and public housing needs to be something else, something more, as the population to be served has changed. Economic conditions, immigration, age of those in need of housing, more persons with disabilities living on their own, and the difficulty of getting jobs and keeping homes after the disastrous crash in 2008 which deprived many young (and not so young) families of their homes – all these factors changed the clientele of public housing. These changes require a new set of rules.

But established bureaucracies are not known for their flexibility, nor for their ability to change to meet new conditions.

So it was that it took a long time to become aware that many among  our current public housing residents did not share the same values held formerly by most of us. Worcester Housing Authority Executive Director Raymond Mariano is fond of telling us his own family started out in Great Brook Valley and worked their way up and out – as was expected in those days. And while my family never lived in public housing in the U.S., when we came to America, I remember my mother saying she never wanted to be on welfare ever again.

Unfortunately, in the recent decades, we have seen a growing number of residents in public housing  make little or no effort to take advantage of the opportunities offered by education, work, or good money-management techniques.

It is this group that Ray Mariano wants to help, with his “Better Life” program. The elderly and the disabled will still be eligible for public housing for as long as they need it, but those who can finish school, acquire training and become self-sufficient will be offered a path to eventual integration into the larger society to become PRODUCTIVE AMERICANS.

This week, finally, after a disappointing setback,  at a ceremony attended by state officials who lauded his ideas, Mariano got the go-ahead and will be able to implement his back to work/school program for nearly 400 Great Brook Valley families who should profit from this program.

The program’s requirements are not overwhelming: One adult in each of the targeted households will have to work and/ or go to school for a total of 1,200 hours per year, or about 23 hours  per week. There will be many kinds of support services available,  and “anyone who is making the effort will stay,” according to Mariano.

Of course, refusal to meet these standards will result in “lease enforcement.” (A nice way to say eviction.)

There is still no time limit for GBV residents, but this program should be a good step toward solving the problem of multi-generational residency in public housing. It will also satisfy those folks who remember that public housing, which is still a great idea, was never intended to last for generations but was meant to extend a helping hand to those who were struggling, new or had suffered some great setback.

I can not agree that “public housing has been a great failure.” It continues to provide so many people with a safe, affordable  roof over their heads, as they get on their feet and face a tough world. Let us not throw the baby out with the bath water …

Worcester Public Library Reaches Out to Great Brook Valley and Diverse Communities

By Gordon T. Davis

When I visited the Worcester Public Library branch location in Great Brook Valley (GBV), I did not know exactly what to expect. The trip there has made me more of an optimist about the human condition.

Going up Tacoma Street, I noticed right away the relatively new outdoor stairways of the Curtis Apartments that took the edge off of the more severe look they have.  I also noticed how clean the complex’s streets were and how well-kept the landscape was. The grass was still green!  So impressed were we that my wife and I passed right by the sign for the Worcester Public Library branch, located at 89 Tacoma St., and we had to turn around.

The library is located in a row of apartments, the construction of which reminded me of the barracks that military families used to live in during the 1950s and 1960s. When I saw them previously, they had an ugliness about them. Nonetheless the apartments were functional and efficient.  With the recent faux gabled roofs the row apartments are better looking, almost like town houses.

On the way into the library, its apartment unit was about 20 yards from the street, I waited outside and talked to passerbys about their public library branch. People were friendly and talked freely.

The first person I spoke with was Carol. She told me she uses the branch library, taking out books and going on the computers located there. Xavier, a fifteen year old young man who lived most of his life in GBV, said that he knew of the branch library but he did not have any incentive to go inside. He said he did not understand its draw. He did say that he might check it out eventually.

A teenage young lady and her friend stopped and talked. Angelique said that the library was a good place and she uses it often, but they did not go in. Because of my low vision I asked Angelique to show me which door was the entrance to the library. She seemed surprised. She pointed to the brown door immediately to my right and there was a small green sign on the door that read Worcester Public Library.  The best I can say about the door and the sign is that they were unpretentious and plain. They certainly were not eye catching. Opening the door a wonderful sight revealed itself, a warmly lit room full of children and some adults reading, using the computer, and doing homework.

I was greeted by the staff at the library: Sheila, Marilyn and Polly. Polly is the Head Librarian and she was manifestly proud of the library and its services. The library is open weekdays from 2 PM to 5 PM and to a large extent it is an after-school venue for children. There seemed to be about 40 people in the library while I was there. Polly said that was 40 people is a daily average. Most of the patrons were using the computers or waiting to use the computers.

Almost all of the people using the GBV library were, when I was there,  Black or Latino, reflecting the population of GBV. The staff is mostly White. The air of family and friendliness made me forget about the problems outside of the library. It was a refuge that made me want to stay until closing. There was a nostalgia for the branch library in Philadelphia which I used as a kid.

Among the children, there seemed to be a cooperative educational process going on, as a child computer user would ask his peers about how to accomplish certain computer function. When they ran into a very difficult problem, they would then seek the library staff’s aid. These children were eager to learn and to help each other. I am sure it made the staff happy to help in this process.

The staff also had a Story Time program in which books were read aloud. Two computers had educational program software; one for younger children and another for older kids. I imagine it would be the dream of any elementary school teacher to work there. The role of librarians in the education of children is something that deserves addition print.

Having low vision I wrote in very large letters and Polly noticed. She began to describe the services the main Worcester Library has for blind people. At first I thought she was speaking about the children, then I realized  she was speaking directly to me about my handicap. She said that she finds it satisfying to help people. It was satisfying to interview this kind person. I told her that I would take her advice and look at the services for the blind found in the main library.

The staff said that children also borrowed many books and they pointed to the shelves of books that they were setting up. There was a computer terminal near the shelves that allowed the quick referencing of books. It was all impressive and a delight to see these things in GBV.

The Head Librarian, Polly,  spoke of how books could be ordered region wide from the inter library lending system. The book most often borrowed contemporaneously is a fiction book which is popular among pre-teens.  Polly said that the library does not promote the books, per se, but helps the library users to borrow from the main library or a library in the region. She said that she was not entirely sure how a book becomes popular, but she suspected word of mouth at schools.

Adults also use the library and its computers. A lady, Ada, seemed to be doing research when I asked her if I could take her picture. She said yes, but with a condition. I had to mail her a copy of the picture via the library. I agreed. All users of the library computers are limited to 30 minutes at a time and it is first come first served. Like all library services, the GBV Branch is open to the public.

The library has a good rapport with the Worcester Housing Authority which not only provides the space, but also maintains the property. It performs repairs such as maintaining the water and heating systems. I interviewed Worcester Housing Authority Director, Raymond Mariano, about his support for the GBV Branch Library. He said, as he always does, that he grew up in Great Brook Valley.  He felt that the mobile book truck was inadequate for the residents. The truck only came once a week and it did not have the programs or services that a stationary library branch could offer. It seems that the residents of GBV are being well served by Mr. Mariano’s support of the GBV Branch Library.

The new Head Librarian at the Main Library on Salem Street did not get an opportunity to return my call, but I am sure she was busy learning her new duties and solving other problems. I was able to talk with Messrs. William Coleman and William Belcher, both of whom are on the Worcester Library board of directors. Mr. Coleman and Mr. Belcher gave glowing praise about how the Worcester Public Library is reaching out to the diverse communities of Worcester and about the GBV Branch in particular.  Mr. Belcher added that he supports the good job being done with the book mobiles.

At the NAACP Housing Discrimination meeting on November 19, 2014, Michael Ortiz from the Housing Development Office of the City of Worcester, spoke about how the City of Worcester is developing additional housing for its residents. During his talk he mentioned he grew up in Great Brook Valley, like Mr. Mariano. Mr. Ortiz said that Great Brook Valley is like a gated community.  He meant this in a positive way. Like gated communities GBV has just one main entrance. It has its own health clinic, store, day care, and library.

The gem in that gated community is the Worcester Public branch library!

What is really going on with the Worcester Housing Authority?

By Gordon T. Davis

The Worcester Housing Authority (WHA) policy makers are misguided. This might be caused by the driven personality of Mr. Mariano who cannot seem to see any side of an argument except his own. He and some in the media cover up this personality flaw with the façade that he is “motivating” the lazy. The reality is that to a significant extent the WHA policy of limiting tenancy is a libel and slander against the poor, women with children, and people with dark skin.

I don’t dislike Mr. Mariano. He is quite personable and considerate. In 1997 when my Dad passed, he was the only public official to call me and offer his condolences. I do not doubt his sincerity. However, I have doubts about his policies.

His policy to limit the tenancy of some people living in WHA apartments is unprecedented and therefore unsupported by any evidence, no statistics, and not even anecdotal hearsay. The limitation of tenancy policy is based entirely on the false assumption that people receiving benefits are somehow not “motivated.”

There should have been additional discussion on the issue other than the uncommented upon “annual review” at Housing and Urban development (HUD). HUD correctly stated that it had no authority to limit tenancy without cause.

Bashing HUD and libeling the tenants are attempts to cover up the lack of objectivity of Mr. Mariano’s policy.  Nothing less could be expected from some in the media; the apologies made for Mr. Mariano by others came as a surprise. I suppose they see him to be sincere, albeit a view that makes objectivity more difficult.

The appropriate way to change HUD policy is through the due process seen in laws made in Congress and interpreted by HUD..  The Congress could limit tenancy after a review of the facts. However to bureaucratically enact limits on tenancy without due process and public discussion is not how democratically thing should be done.

I suggest that Mr. Mariano take a look at his own agency before trying to make national laws.  There is so much to fix there and it might require more of Mr. Mariano’s attention than he has given it.

Recently, I defended a client at a Grievance Hearing at the WHA.  The WHA did not follow or even know some of the rules of HUD.  It confused a Grievance Hearing with an Eviction Hearing.  The Chair of the Grievance Panel would not identify himself nor would the WHA reveal his relationship to the WHA. The WHA refused to provide documents about the case even though HUD rules compelled it to do so. The people at WHA were rude and hostile.

I guess that they were more interested in bullying the poor and people ignorant of their rights than in due process. I offer my best wishes to Mr. Mariano and hope he gets it right.

REC brings fresh, affordable produce to Main South and Great Brook Valley! (or: Two great Farmers’ Markets in our inner city!)

By Hannah Payne

The Regional Environmental Council is an environmental justice organization working in Worcester since 1971. This year we are excited to launch a second farmer’s market location as part of our Food Justice Program. The first market has been running since 2008 and is located in the parking lot of the YMCA (766 Main St.) and runs from 10 am – 2 pm every Saturday. The new market is located in Great Brook Valley at the Great Brook Valley Health Center (19 Tacoma St.) and runs from 9 am – 1 pm on Saturdays. This is the first year for the Great Brook Valley market, which had its grand opening June 19. The REC hopes to spread the success of the Main South market to Great Brook Valley. Through the farmer’s markets the REC aims to provide fresh and local produce and food at affordable prices to the Main South and Great Brook Valley communities. With this mission in mind the farmer’s markets accept WIC and senior coupons as well as SNAP (food stamp) benefits.

One of the best things about the REC’s farmer’s markets is that you don’t need cash to shop at the market, credit, debit and EBT cards are all accepted in addition to cash and WIC and senior coupons. One of the most exciting elements is that if you make purchases with your SNAP (food stamp) card all purchases are half price! Local, organic produce is typically expensive in grocery stores but at these farmer’s markets it is accessible to all, thanks to the already reasonable prices and the SNAP deal. Continue reading REC brings fresh, affordable produce to Main South and Great Brook Valley! (or: Two great Farmers’ Markets in our inner city!)