Interview with Charlie Knight
Charlie Knight is the current presiding officer of the Armoury-Quadrangle Civic Association, director of his deluxe SRO, MassLandlords member, homelessness survivor, and civic leader.
- 6:49 on affordable housing and the deluxe SRO
- 19:30 on his lived experience of homelessness
- 23:52 on providing supportive services
- 28:40 on HomeBASE
- 39:50 on providing employment during homelessness
- 41:41 on his lived experience of homelessness and current social services
- 45:55 on density and zoning
- 48:20 on landlording and civic participation
- 1:02:00 on changing laws or policy
The following wall art sayings were shared by Charlie after the interview to share with you.
Interview with Charlie Knight
Doug: Hi, thank you for joining us. My name is Doug Quattrochi. I’m the executive director of MassLandlords. I’m here today with Charlie Knight.
Charlie: I am the current presiding officer of the Armoury-Quadrangle Civic Association, which is located at 140 Chestnut Street in Springfield, Massachusetts, and we have an office in what is called Kimball Towers. This is a very historic building and that’s where we’re taking witness.
Doug: Thanks so much, Charlie. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. I think you have a lot of unique experience and perspective, and it’s what I want to capture. I thought we would start maybe with the Armoury-Quadrangle. Tell us what your mission is.
Charlie: Our mission is actually to try and make this place that we live in even better than we found it. It’s a pretty nice place. Probably over 60 percent of the people here do not own a car. We walk back and forth. We have wonderful amenities in this place, but we want to make it even better for people. The Davenport Company is coming in and redoing the Willy’s Overland Building from market rent housing. We have [unintelligible 0:01:16] income from the University of Massachusetts landscape architecture and urban planning masters level students. It’s all about how we can improve this place.
Probably because of the discussion we’ve have between the two, we now flowers around Apremont Triangle. We wanted to improve the area around Apremont Triangle. by the way, Apremont is a place where in two world wars, the French government gave the highest honor possible to a foreign army, to United States soldiers.
Doug: Really? Wow!
Charlie: This little plot of land in front of us honors that dedication.
Doug: Very historic here, yes.
Charlie: Very historic, very challenging footsteps to walk in, to make for the future something as good as our forefathers gave in the past. We [crosstalk 0:02:14].
Doug: Yes, very cool. Well, thank you for that civic engagement. In general, would you say it’s easy for people to participate in the civic association?
Charlie: No. I wish it was. I really wish it was. No. Charlie Baker, our governor, said something in 2015 the time I graduated from Springfield Technical Community College. He said, “Don’t tell me about the problem. I think I know them. I need solutions.” Partly [unintelligible 0:02:50] tell us about the problems.
Doug: A lot of people like to complain.
Charlie: Yes, but getting together to work from a solution, that what I like to do. I don’t cheer about pushing people in the corner and I don’t cheer about badmouthing people. everybody is doing bad doing bad. I would rather much work together with them so that the people involve get the best that they can have.
Doug: You were telling me earlier about a cigarette smoking issue in the neighborhood that you were able to clear up?
Charlie: Yes, not cigarette. It was cigars.
Doug: Cigars in particular.
Charlie: Man had a cigar lounge. He found a property. The property manager problem, but it was underneath a residential area. This was hard for me because the [unintelligible 0:03:39] father and I had sat on boards together.
Doug: Okay, I see a personal connection.
Charlie: Personal connection. Also, I hold one of the first associate degrees given on environmental technology of the state, so I knew what the problems and laws or at least in 1972, and they hadn’t changed that much since.
Doug: They certainly would not have gotten retrograde. They would—
Charlie: No, they did not. Man kind of didn’t think he had to listen to us. Eventually, under our previous president, and mind that, I’m there, too. We are going to meetings, we are to complaining, we are going to health boards, which he didn’t want to settle down. We wanted him removed out of a residential building into a commercial building somewhere and that’s exactly what he did.
Doug: Yes, that’s what they did.
Charlie: With great joy, I could come to the liquor commission and say, “We support this move and we support their application for a license.” That was the best part of this, being able to say that we support that process.
Doug: Yes, here’s the plan that the community come up with and we are in favor of as opposed to just complaining like you said.
Charlie: But we act almost like a neighborhood council. The name doesn’t say it, but we have voted to take over because else would the whole Metro Center area of Springfield. Our area now goes from the river all the way up towards the Armoury and greater Boston in the direction.
Doug: Okay, a lot of responsibility, a lot of opportunity to get different opinions.
Charlie: Sometimes it’s a little difficult when you talk with the landlords and you say you’re planning on taking over building and you’re planning on raising it to market rents. How are you going to deal with people you already have that are really just barely making it now? I was really happy to hear one of the people coming in with market rents is going to be having some studio apartments and some one-bedroom apartment that are in the affordable range.
Doug: Okay. Did they do that voluntarily or did the city require it? Do you happen to know?
Charlie: I think it’s because of some difficulties that another group had, but mainly I came up to the presentation at UMass and then down here at Mega Springfield that the UMass students provided. The planning man was there, too and some others. The students have done surveys of people in the areas, so what they realized it concerns the people in the area, they decided we will make this so, if not we get the vote of the people.
Doug: Okay, it makes sense. So affordable housing is really important.
Charlie: I think it’s very important because our city—let me put that back. It’s very important to both have affordable housing for those people who need that have some into the city because that was available. It’s also extremely important to have good market rent housing so the city can pay for what it needs to do. You can’t have one loop-sided one way or the other. It’s best when we have a balance.
Doug: Good perspective.
Charlie: Everything is best when we have balance.
Doug: Yes, you contribute a lot to low-income housing because you’re on the board and you corrected me earlier. Before we were starting this, I said you were on the board of a rooming house, but apparently it’s not true.
Doug: You’re on the board of a deluxe.
Charlie: Deluxe SRO. It stands for single room occupancy.
Doug: Walk me through the difference.
Charlie: Well, a regular SRO—rooming house. A rooming house, you’re going to have a room. Period. You will probably share a bath and you will probably share a kitchenette, maybe. An SRO, you’re also going to share a bathroom every so many units and a kitchen area. In a deluxe SRO, that I can think having worth is 0810 fighting for because [unintelligible 0:08:08] you have a little kitchenette in each room and we have a separate bathroom of our own. No [unintelligible 0:08:16] your toilet paper and going back to the bathroom to find out it’s gone, your shampoo, or your toothpaste, or your razor.
Doug: Oh, boy! That happens in a rooming house?
Charlie: Yes, it does. When you are in a deluxe SRO, you’re moving up one step to a regular single-bedroom apartment.
Doug: All right. With your deluxe SRO, what are your responsibilities on the board? Would you say you’re the landlord there?
Charlie: I am clerk of the board of directors because of my work over the last 27 years with homeless groups and trying to help these people get housed. I call the meeting, I take the minutes. If the president is not there, I may very well chair the meeting; I fill in.
Doug: Okay, so the board of directors has the role of being the landlord to manage the property, right?
Charlie: We hire a property manager. We planned on having some of us do it, but for some reason, various board members didn’t want to do that, and we hired a property manager. You can have really good property managers and you can have one where you may not fully understand why something is happening. It’s really good to have someone that you can talk with and you know what’s going on. It is explained. Sometimes, a perfectly good spreadsheet for an accountant is not something that your owner will understand.
Doug: It makes sense.
Charlie: That’s a good rapport, but I think it’s almost as important as screening, screening, screening to make sure you get the right tenant, to be able as a landlord to find out what kind of a property manager will manage the property as closely to the way you would do it if you have the time to do so.
Doug: Which is hard to do because every manager will have the wrong take on it?
Charlie: I would say you check three or four managers and you check the references, and you find out which ones are closest to you.
Doug: Yes. Does the manager of your deluxe SRO screen the tenants or does the board do it?
Charlie: Yes. Okay, but we also have a social service component. When we first started this, everybody said you didn’t need to do this. We said, “No, we do.” We paid for social services to help people to get a letter from somewhere. They don't understand what it means. We were going in the red doing this.
Charlie: Until our loan was paid off, which thankfully that’s what it was. We find it was important that we feel justified in that because having social services for people and we hire only to homeless people at the moment, having those social services is now best practice. It’s required for it to be funded that you have the background services. We were probably 15 years ahead of our time.
Doug: Yes, it sounds it. It sounds like you were.
Charlie: Yes, Yes, you’d be proud of that. The screening is done, but we also have the social service do the screening to find out if the person truly is homeless, can they live independently, can they live in a dense situation, how they’ve been in the past with paying rent. Now that last part is just secretly done, but if the property manager finds out about that part for sure and some others to make certain the person is able to call this rental situation home.
Doug: Do you screen for eviction or do you forgive that because that’s how people end up homeless, right?
Charlie: Well, we have had property managers that did not screen as well as they should. The organization called [unintelligible 0:12:20] and now it’s called Way Finders with John Fisher produces a property manual and a class to go along with it. I’ve taken that class four times, learned something new each time. I took one with you, learned different new from yours.
Some of our property managers, I don't know how they got certification, but we didn’t hear John Fisher or you saying, “Screen! Screen! Screen!” You want to select the tenant that are going to love being in your property to call it home and to not trash it and to pay the rent on time. As one property manager said to our people, “I want you to tell us when something isn’t right. I want you to call. I want you to make out the form so we can fix it as soon as possible, but you know what? We need you to pay the rent on time, so that we have the money to fix things.”
It was good to hear with our people that way, so they understood. There was a connection between paying the rent and being able to have the light fixed.
Doug: Yes. it’s important to make sure that that connection is there and like you said, everybody is happy to live in the building. But you said to me earlier something which I thought was pretty interesting, “Not everyone is going to be happy to leave homelessness to go into a deluxe SRO.” How do you approach that kind of conversation? Who do you look for to be in an SRO and what other alternatives are there?
Charlie: One person that would not be a good fit, I am really happy with the recovery learning community that we’ve had contracted lately to be able to ascertain that and guide those people to a place that would be a much better fit for them. Some people are struggling with various addictions and they really do need to be in a program area before they come straight to straight housing.
Other people are fine with straight housing. Something happened to them; they became homeless. Take for instance the people who owned a home here in Springfield; a tornado came through and now their home doesn’t exist or it cannot be used. I heard the other day of 26 people that had a condominium unit, blew the building away, torn down. They lost thousands of dollars, millions of dollars when added together.
Doug: When added altogether.
Charlie: One of them was somebody that lost their home because of their actions.
Doug: Yes, so they would be fine and then would survive.
Charlie: They would be fine. They would be fine. Other people who get the help and support they need, they would be fine, too. A man in our building has a nurse come almost daily. He has to take a lot of medications, rechecks his medications. I think she has a key to a locked box in the kitchen and apportions it for him.
Doug: Helps to make sure he takes the right amount, not too fast. Yes, okay.
Charlie: Yes, yes. There’s a support service to help a person live independently.
Doug: And that’s totally successful?
Charlie: Yes, that is very successful. It’s when people work without the support they need, let’s put it this way. Maybe you’re really good landlord and maybe you could a whole lot, but maybe, just maybe replacing those cement steps going up is going to be something you’re going to have to hire a professional for.
Doug: The same analogy for social services?
Charlie: Social services. A family comes in, a professional comes in to help you.
Doug: Makes sense. You’re speaking for experience here. You were homeless for a time or for a long time?
Charlie: Mine was not a long time. I had some problems after an estate was settled and I couldn’t live in my place. By the time that the estate was settled, when I came back, there was black mold with gray streaks all over the place, I couldn’t live in it.
Doug: Really? All right.
Charlie: I was sleeping in a car at the same time attending the Massachusetts Career Development Institute, learning about printing and computers. I’ve done a lot with computers since that time. But now I’m getting old, my gray hair, many people don’t want to hire me, but they will come and get me when something is broken [laughter]. We had some new stuff.
In the meantime, I [unintelligible 0:17:14] what was called the Provider’s Group. It is now called the Hampden County Continuum of Care. I’m with the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness, and we have transitioned out of an organization where we had the leadership council directing things. It’s now more like a board of directors steering committee, but still I work with them. I had been a board member on the Friend of the Homeless Shelter in town.
In the last 27 years, I spent trying to see what I could do to advocate for people to get appropriate housing, and we have so much in this town. I think it’s better than Boston. Really, we’ve got three, four places of shelters. We’ve got places for veterans specifically. We’ve got some other places like that. You can eat six days a week—
Doug: Six days a week.
Charlie: A meal at the rescue mission for breakfast, two places that you can go to for lunch or dinner, and you have a place to stay at night.
Doug: Would it better if those were all in the same place, collocated? You have to move around a bit, right?
Charlie: Well, the lunch and the dinner that are held at the Friends of the Homeless, now part of Clinical and Support Options. It’s the same spot. Wonderful new kitchen, great dining room area. It’s the same spot. It hasn’t moved since they took another building, knocked it down, and built a state-of-the-art facility with counselors, resource room, kitchen, healthcare for the homeless, conference room. I think they event got satellite television for conferences, and as I said, there are counselors there, and about 20 additional single-room occupancy deluxe SROs.
Doug: Okay, so that’s a facility with a housing component where people are living there because you’ve got the SROs?
Charlie: It used to be just a shelter and then something called Wovington House that was non-deluxe SROs. I went from the shelter to there to where I am at.
Doug: Okay. Did you spend time n a shelter?
Doug: What was that experience like?
Charlie: It was never fun. It was okay. it was under a rough period in our past with some political corruptions, and I was going to MCDI. I was staying in the shelter for two or three nights when all of a sudden, get your stuff from wherever you are getting it from. We got a room for you next week. Somebody talk to somebody because I was going to school. But anyway, everything is dark. We can’t have this.
Doug: But did you feel optimistic when you were living in your car, sleeping in the shelter a couple of nights a week that you would find a new place?
Charlie: It wasn’t terrible. I had been living in my car for months. I ended up in the cold, staying in the shelter a few nights. As I said, I was going to school. Before that, I had been working as a maintenance person at Marshall’s. When they changed the maintenance company, they didn’t need me, so I was let go. I would take my books and I would read it. I would take in how the light was over on this side from the backdoor where I park the car, and I put a towel over the top of the visor and pore over that way and sleep. When I couldn’t sleep, I’d just move the visor over, the light would be there until I woke up, read a little bit and put the book away, go back and go to sleep again. I had a Datsun 210 where the back is almost down just so people have to sleep.
Doug: Okay, so it’s not great but it obviously could have been worse. Some people don’t even have a car, right?
Charlie: Most of us who have been homeless. No one is like when you don’t have anything like that. As far as I was concerned, I was one of the luckiest guys around. I had a car. Now, I had to drive it when the window is open in the winter because of the holes in the floorboard. I’d die if I didn’t.
Doug: How do you mean because—
Charlie: The gas would fill up?
Doug: Like poisoning? Wow! Okay.
Charlie: The winter time, you drove a few miles, and then you come to a store somewhere getting warm and you come back and drive again.
Doug: Wow! But you knew that or somebody had told you that it was dangerous to drive?
Charlie: Yes. It was what I had to use.
Doug: Yes, but I mean some people don’t even know that they’re in a dangerous situation, right?
Charlie: I know about carbon monoxide. I knew about [unintelligible 0:22:02].
Doug: Yes, but people especially in the winters in New England in Massachusetts, people sometimes they get caught out in the cold. They don’t realize it’s very dangerous to be out there.
Charlie: I came from the [unintelligible 0:22:10]. I was a country boy, and I was like my scout heritage, Boy Scout, so we learned a whole lot of stuff. It was a farm, family. We just fixed stuff.
Doug: Okay, so you were in a way trained. You’re familiar with—
Charlie: It wasn’t a big deal for me. It was the extended camping times. It was so funny because I moved from there, I would get my address the second parking spot on Gridiron Street toward the river and nobody could have that street in that time, but I parked there. It was toward the wintertime, and I put papers and towels up on my windows to cover, so lights wouldn’t get to them. The police were so happy to have me there because the drug dealers all moved away. They thought I was undercover cop.
Doug: Really [laughter]? Wow!
Charlie: But then I got the chance to live inside and that was wonderful.
Doug: The chance? You mean the shelter or you mean the room?
Charlie: Well, they’re all part of the same thing. The shelter was downstairs and upstairs was the regular SRO.
Doug: They just invited you to go upstairs.
Charlie: When most recently, when they tore down the old building, they then built all this new stuff with the new deluxe SROs.
Doug: Okay, now you liked the idea of having your own SRO, but some people would not, right? Some people would perhaps rather not go into shelter at all?
Charlie: Yes, and that’s much of the work that I’ve been doing with the Western Massachusetts Regional Network and the Hampden County Continuum of Care is trying to provide for those people. Then we have these people, whether it’s a short-term thing or a long-term thing, they need additional help to be able to function and not hurt themselves.
I’m thinking of a person who’s fighting right now, but she’s doing a pretty good job with the help of getting when there is trouble, not go up to do a drug or some something else or get drunk. It’s a hard road, and with the help, I know people can get there. We had someone who helped us, I also helped with holiday meals that Bob raised for some. It was an open pantry for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, a counteraction to the people who would think about suicide because they have no family to go to.
One of our workers was homeless and he refused to go to the shelter. He froze to death on the steps of city hall and none of us, none of us would ever forgot that because I remember how good a person he was. Sometimes we would help people that would help us once we help them.
Charlie: It’s almost like you can’t give somebody money off their rent for shoveling your sidewalk. It’s not a good thing to do. Here’s a good thing to do maybe to hire the tenant to shovel off the sidewalk. You pay them a certain money. It’s going to help with the rent, but you paid them the money and they paid their rent and everything works out fine.
Doug: Yes, so you’re specifically referring to potential legal complications for just giving a rent reduction?
Charlie: It’s a whole lot. I know a man that the IRS is still after for like $30,000 in back stuff because when the people did that, they gave him a W2 form that did not include the rental part that they gave. All he did was file the W2. He’s not a CPA. They said this is how much they gave me. I don't know. I just checked and checked and submitted it. It’s far better for the tenant as well if it will just go straight through. You pay them; they pay you. It’s cleaner.
Doug: All correct on the W2, yes.
Charlie: Yes. This poor man didn’t put it on and the IRS is still after him.
Doug: And probably will never be able to deal with that because it sounds like a large amount potentially.
Charlie: I’m hoping, but I think there’s a good lawyer somewhere that can stand up with case law for that man and be able to do something. My situation, the day I buried my father, I got a call from the IRS, getting upset because I filed an income tax form that I didn’t know anything and I didn’t have any money coming back. When I filed it
because I thought I had to, they called it a frivolous return and they could throw me into jail for doing it. I didn’t argue or anything. I just buried my dad. I was not going to move to fight with anybody, so I know sometimes.
But on the other hand, I called the IRS with other things, and they said, “It’s only $400. I can waive that.”
Charlie: It’s the person.
Doug: It’s the person you’re talking to?
Charlie: I’m sure a lawyer that does with IRS specializes that. I’m pretty sure she could probably get to my friend, but we don't have any money. We don't have any money to hire somebody and sometimes you can go months with a nonprofit agency trying to get some legal help.
Doug: But it’s part of the mission of wraparound services to provide legal help like that, not just addiction counseling or whatever it is that you need?
Charlie: Yes. However, some of us after we go through the first four or five years, they kind of forget us unless we call upon them for help. We went five years without needing it. Sometimes you hope you can go a little longer without.
Doug: Yes, but it should be the case that you can always call somewhere that you get help because you have another bump on the road.
Charlie: It should be, but I’m not sure it is.
Doug: Yes. A lot of our social programs at Massachusetts are geared towards short turnarounds like Home Base—
Doug: Whether it’s $8,000 or you increase it to $10,000, it’s still good for a year. Is a year enough time to help someone get off the street?
Charlie: I don’t believe so at all. Many people did not become homeless in a year; all other things came up. Take for instance it should half Home Base and let’s say $10,000 to pay for this. I’ve never want [unintelligible 0:29:20]. But if you don’t help that person to get some sort of employment or some sort of money stream coming in, for them to retain that housing after Home Base has ended, what could have you done?
Now this person is probably going to go through the stress and the strain and the psychological mess and maybe even be homeless again. Now it’s bad enough, I tell people that being homeless is like being raped; you never can come to the door with the full assurance the key will open it because once it did. Once you have that experience, if your key will not open the door, you can’t get into the home you were in before. That essence, that the key will always open is gone.
Now this happens when you don't have the income and you have to leave this home that you really enjoyed that Home Base got for you. Now you have twice that this has happened. Take for instance, there’s a big family, psychological thing, Maslow’s theories of self-actualization. They are based on a home. They are based on food. They are on good friends. With homelessness, you take all of this away because you turn it upside down and self-esteem is extremely hard to build.
Maybe if you have an apartment and you have someone like I’ve said before, maybe just maybe that person that’s renting will be your next maintenance person. He might be skilled. We usually don’t tell the skills that we have. I don’t think any landlord really asks for them, but it’s amazing, the people you rent to, they haven’t had the money to keep up their painter’s license, but they were a great painter.
Doug: They were a painter, so why shouldn’t they be able to be hired to paint?
Charlie: They went through a program and went through a course and study and received their approvals and certifications to be a lead paint removal person, but this thing that happened with the family and they couldn’t take the one job that got offered to them, and we have people all over the place wanting to get their apartments de-leaded.
It’s amazing if you did request what skills someone has and would you be willing to be hired to do those skills, you would probably get people say, “Are you sure we’d end up with $200 if we do the license?” What’s $200 if we’re going to save a few hundred or $1,000 by hiring this person?
Doug: Right. The landlord could pay for the license and make money out of it?
Doug: Or the state could pay for the license?
Charlie: Or what if the landlord says, “I’ll pay for the license but we’ll take $10 0ff each week until you pay me back?” That’s an okay thing. That’s not the rent. That’s just you giving me a loan for the license. There’s always a solution to a problem. It might not be the common one. It might be totally unique, but in every problem that we see as a landlord, there’s always a solution. It may take thinking way outside the box, but there’s always a solution.
Doug: As someone who’s experienced both sides, being homeless but then also running a rental property, do you think Home Base is a good program or should it be replaced with something else?
Charlie: I think Home Base needs to have the component of connecting these people with skills or jobs or somehow so that they have the ability to retain the apartment or whatever that Home Base provided for them. I’m in a project-based SRO. I can’t move hardly anywhere. I’ve had to go to court because somebody tried to kill me. These are not comfortable things you’re living with.
Doug: And you’re stuck there because your subsidy is project based.
Charlie: Uh-huh. Another person in the building, but it’s not like a voucher where I can find another landlord with it. In project based, if you need project based, your subsidy is gone.
Doug: Right. It stays.
Charlie: It’s tied to the unit, not to you. In this city, I was on the list. I said I’d rather stay on the list because I was going to school. Where I’m living, it was only a block away from school, but I think they took me off. It’s about another 12 years or 20. There are so many people seeking a voucher.
Doug: Probably 12 years, yes.
Charlie: It might even be 20 by now.
Doug: It might be in this part. Yes, I don't know. There’s a lot now.
Charlie: Because we’re having market rent housing rehab near around us and some of them are raising their prices, so there are people that are going into some substandard if not into homelessness.
Doug: Yes. The substandard housing is a whole another issue. I mean if you have no alternative, what type of choice do you have but to live in a dangerous place?
Charlie: There are no choices that some people have. Now I want to say something else just not as compassionate. There are people who make a living out of asking for handouts. I’ve had the misfortune of going to a shopping mall and seeing a Cadillac pull up and one person got out with a sign and another person that had the sign went back into the Cadillac. I did quite a bit of shopping with many different stores. When I left, when I was driving, I watched the same Cadillac pull up and exchanged a different person for their shift.
That’s playing on the hearts of people. It’s not helping the people really in need. I bet that these people, that’s their work clothes but probably got a nice place to live and don’t even have anything like that. If they don't have a nice place to live, shame on the person with the Cadillac who’s using them. It’s established prostitution when you do something like that.
Doug: Uh-huh. I see the comparison.
Charlie: We need to provide decent and good housing for people. Perhaps, we have one or two units that don't have the best view or whatever that we can offer for a little bit less money. We need to do something good, but you’ve got to screen, screen, screen, and make sure the person that you select as your tenant is the tenant that’s going to love living in your house, your house because you own it. They may call it home, but that rental property is theirs. You get some money and you give them the usage. As you say in your class, as soon as the money is transferred, they are attended well. Your contracts are made.
Doug: That’s right, yes. There’s a movement in homelessness advocacy called Housing First. The idea is that if you have supportive services, you find someone some place they want to live and you put them in there and no questions asked whether they’re still dependent on substances or unable to live on their own and you provide as much service they need to maintain that. Do you think that’s a wise way to go?
Charlie: I have worked with people that have embraced this. I have said to myself let’s wait and see. This is never around for a while. In many cases, it worked. In some cases, that person needed a program first. They need to build up the skills that they have lost first. They may need other social services help.
Doug: In the meantime, where did they live, where did they sleep? Should they be in shelter?
Charlie: You see when the person doesn’t have the skills, then pretty soon they lose the apartment and some of them are actually happy. They think they’re happy. “I don't have to do that now. I don't have to do any rules. I don't have to be nice to anybody. I’ll just sleep on the riverbank.” That’s fine June, July, and August, and maybe September. End of October, somewhere around Thanksgiving when the snow is flying, it’s not a comfortable place anymore.
I mean all my life, like one guy said, “’m living in the storm drain.” Well, that’s fine until the rain comes in September and you’ll be floating right out to the river. It’s a nice place, a storm drain. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all nice and contained and it’s probably going to be decent and comfortable, but it’s not safe. Someone who thinks that way needs help and see a different way of living.
Doug: Okay. Why do we build shelters which are I’ve heard and maybe you can tell me if this was true, unsafe, noisy, get your stuff soon? Why do we build shelters instead of building rooming houses or SROs, lots of them?
Charlie: Why don’t we ask another question instead?
Charlie: The statistics I saw about 5, 8 years ago was we have enough vacant houses in this country to give every homeless person 16 of them.
Doug: Yes, as a matter of pure vacancy, I believe that to be correct. We did the numbers for Massachusetts.
Charlie: Why don’t we get the person to work with somebody who cannot mess up terribly, work with somebody? I’m trying to make an organization to do just that called [unintelligible 0:40:01] to help somebody so that they can help and work like Habitat, but they work to make that house to a certificate of occupancy, and they pay so much for it. Now let’s say we help somebody with a home, either that way, or they have a house, so that to avoid them becoming homeless, you need a roof, you need electrical done, you need plumbing done. They never have to pay it back.
But a city, a town who takes and helps 60 people and those people would come every day for the month. Maybe not 60, probably more like 25 if they’re working out on the weekend. But 25 people, so we could help them. That makes 50 total. They would come for a couple of hours in the morning and answer phones; same way in the afternoon, a different person. We could hope 50 people in that month, every month, that month they come. They work. They pay it back a little bit.
Doug: Okay, a little civil service in exchange for the housing help?
Charlie: Yes, it’s not a full gift. Somebody said they don’t want a full gift. We feel we got some skills.
Doug: Yes, that is used.
Charlie: We give that way. We’re giving to somebody. We’re giving them [unintelligible 0:41:33] because we’re helping them with their self-esteem. We’re helping them to realize they can give, they can help.
Doug: Do you feel our current social services don’t value people, diminish self-esteem?
Charlie: I think they don’t ask. I think they’re so concerned filling their quota, house people, and the homeless so that it’s not it is that homeless. You see, if the places you live isn’t home, you’re not considered homeless but you’re not home. You’re living somewhere else. It is a nicer prison that others might be, but it’s a home. We need to ask everybody what home is for them and help them to find out what home is and we put them, help them get there.
It’s like what I say with being hungry. you can make it through the rest of the month with a jar of peanut butter and a jar of Tang. You got a spoon and you got a collapsible cup, you’re set.
Doug: You’re set.
Charlie: You will get more food stamps money into the eight of the month or whatever that is. You need to make it through. Do what we do? We go to the pantry and what we do get? Two bags of groceries that probably have a value of $40 or more. They’ve got meat we can’t use. They got this this [unintelligible 0:43:06]. If you’re lucky, you might get the jar of peanut butter, but you’re probably not going to get the Tang, so you go without something tasting good. It will have to be the water from the water fountain.
Doug: Wow! That’s a very good point. That would be easy with asking.
Charlie: No! When people think they know what you need, how many people are going to trust them, folks? The federal government wanted that and other things like the Colorado METRC to be used to find out the needs of the person, or the questions they ask some people don’t want anything about.
If you were a landlord and you were thinking of buying another building and you’re going to a bank and they’re trying to ask you if you’ve ever done drugs, if you’ve ever robbed somebody, have you ever done—all this stuff that some people never even think of, but has to be asked your mental health, all that. Why do we assume the worst of somebody? How many would just turn around and walk out of that bank and say, “This is what I got to do? Forget this! I’m fine with my duplex! To heck with the rest!”
Doug: Probably most of them.
Charlie: Uh-huh. Why can’t we treat people the same? As I said, here in Springfield, we have the tornado. Somebody could be a vice-president the day before the tornado and no place to live the day after, so they got some money, they go to a hotel or something, but you know after a while, the money is gone.
Doug: Yes, specially at a hotel.
Charlie: How many days do you stay? How many weeks do you stay at Aunt Mary’s or Uncle Bob’s or whatever? Our culture, I’m not so sure our culture is right, but our new political culture, we own space. We’ve forgotten what it’s like to have grandma nearby or Uncle John lives in the room in the back.
When my great-grandfather was in the Civil War, when the Civil War ended, his friend, Mr. Darby, there was nobody for him to go home to; all the family was dead. Now, Jackson Knight said to him, “Darby, come on. Come home with me.” Thousands of people, that was true after the Civil War. We did a whole healing ourselves with the Grand Army of the Republic and such, but we helped each other. We brought them in.
Again, it’s what most people want today. We even got laws in the state that don’t allow that. In Boston, they have a horrible housing crisis in the eastern part of the state. We need to be able to change 105 CMR 410, so that we can have more SROs. You’ve got to have at least 220 square foot for a regular apartment; 112 for an SRO, even deluxe. If you could take that, that means 224 square foot of space would be able to house two people.
Doug: Two people instead of one.
Charlie: In a separate housing.
Doug: Separate spaces, and the fact is, you don’t see any apartments at 200 square foot anyways. They’re all much larger than that.
Charlie: Yes, so you take that 400. You might even find an apartment that you have 440 square foot. Maybe, just maybe, you can cut that up into decent apartment. My apartment is a mess right now, but it’s decent. I went to try and make a model for something the other day, so I got pieces of boxes all over the place where I cut it out, but you can do this if the state will allow it. We need to push for our legislators to be able to work with our landlords.
To become a landlord doesn’t mean you’re mentally messed up. It doesn’t mean that you’re evil. It means that God put in your heart a desire to make good solid housing for somebody to be able to enjoy and call home. That’s what a landlord is. You’re asking for compensation for that that allows you to maintain the property, get a little bit of money so you continue to buy food and pay for your doctor’s bills and stuff yourself. That’s all it boils down to. But does that mean there aren’t some landlords? Yes, there are.
But does not mean just because you’ve got one or two bad doctors, that doesn’t mean you stop going to a physician. You don’t consider doctors as pariahs. We have some bad clergymen, but that doesn’t mean you don’t get to clergymen for this wedding ceremony. It’s the same way, but somehow we need to show what we do so that people can see the landlord is a man, a woman that is lord of the land, using the term lord to mean the protector, the one who makes sure it’s kept safe, the one that makes sure it’s secured.
In this building around 4 o'clock or so, a person comes out, a security guard. There’s another one that comes on I think after midnight. Then the main people here from 7:00 in the morning. There’s always somebody to make sure the building is secure. Every tenant I know of feels extremely comfortable when that is in place. It costs you some money, but you have people that can securely and comfortably call the spot that you’re renting to them my home. It makes you feel really good. My building has 42 Section 8 housing units. We have 4 home units. We have one that’s off, that isn’t anything. We have it as a reserved manager’s apartment type. It’s a good feeling to know that without what you’re doing, 46 people wouldn’t have a place to live.
Doug: That makes a difference.
Charlie: That makes a difference. I’m not saying that we should put up all landlords for sainthood, but I do say it is that same desire to do good for people that makes someone desire–I mean, let’s put it this way. You’re going to have to loan to a bank or something for years and years to be able to provide this housing for somebody and some of your tenants may complain about everything almost every day. It takes a lot of desire to be a missionary to be a landlord. They’re not evil.
Doug: What do you say to someone in a smart single-family neighborhood where the lawns are perfectly mowed and everything is tidy who’s afraid of density, afraid of renters, who’s going to block a multifamily building going into that neighborhood?
Charlie: First off, I think we need to see the demographics of a similar neighborhood for a multifamily house to come in. If I was talking to a project director, I would suggest a couple of duplexes first, but this is what I would do. I would screen people and encourage the people to be part of their civic association of their neighborhood council, to be part of that community. The problem is we’ve seen people that were takers and not givers.
What if you have, they’re not even renters yet. They’re people that are not and they thinking renting, but they’re there with the spring cleanup. They’re there part of the local area’s event for children in Halloween, and they’re taking part. I think the two of those make a big difference. When you see that that’s happened in other demographics in other areas, then maybe, just maybe in a few years, those same people that complain will be putting the sign on their lawn in three languages saying, “I don't know where you came from, but I’m glad that you’re our neighbor.” We have to earn that right. A landlord has to earn it by doing the same thing also, being part of that neighborhood council or civic association, doing what they’re doing.
Doug: Explaining that they screen, explaining how they’ll keep the neighborhood a nice place to live.
Charlie: It is your building. You want to have people in it that love it almost as you do. It is your neighborhood. You want to encourage that neighborhood as well. It’s not easy.
Doug: It’s not easy. What do you say about the minimum wage folks, the folks who argue that you can’t afford a one-bedroom apartment working fulltime on minimum wage?
Charlie: Minimum wage now is what, $15?
Doug: It’s going up to $15.
Charlie: Sixteen, it’s $15 now.
Doug: It’s $11 now.
Charlie: It’s $11 now.
Doug: It’s $11, yes.
Charlie: I can’t remember ever getting paid as much as $11 an hour. Sorry, but that’s just my experience.
Doug: Okay, so maybe it’s an unfair comparison to say that everybody should have a one-bedroom apartment and afford that on their own, which you’ve been taking about this whole time is you can be happy, you can find home in a single-room occupancy.
Charlie: We are tied very much to the what, the 1930s when they decided that 30 percent of their income is to use for housing?
Charlie: They’d be shocked now if folks lived if they saw the figures now.
Doug: Yes, it’s much more than that.
Charlie: Now the question is do we need to charge the amount we’re charging to maintain the property and to put a little aside to maybe get more properties? You can do such a thing as kill the golden goose, and I think in some instances, which they do. but I was very happy to hear the other day at the Springfield Preservation and Trust, I think it was that this man is doing the building that we can see in the [unintelligible 0:55:20]. He’s going to keep the outside historically correct, but he’s going to have some booth and some one-bedrooms that are really affordable.
Doug: Set aside at lower costs.
Charlie: Set aside. The rest are market rent. I like the program I saw when I was homeless in Boston many years ago. I didn’t dare tell them that I was homeless. I had a job at Simmons College. It was every two weeks, and if I told them, I’d probably be let go right away. But it was a program at that time in Boston for people that were housed and you paid the full rent, as I understand it, and you give them the rent receipt, and they paid you the 70 percent. You actually paid out of pocket 30 percent of your income, but they worked it all out so the thing I like about that idea was that no one knew. Your landlord might know, but nobody else knew—
Doug: There was no stigma.
Charlie: Yes, no stigma whatsoever. You were hand-in-hand with everybody else paying the $700 a month or $800 a month or whatever. It was a little hard getting it up at first, but once you did, you were able to. Now that’s really hard if somebody is on welfare because you can’t even have that much money in the bank. It’s just a whole different story. But people who can, and maybe without a program that way, maybe somehow even a landlord’s group could arrange something.
When the stigma is gone, what also happened is people talking in the hallways or whatever. You say something—again, I’m going back on painter. You say something, “Well, I remember I used to really love painting.” Why aren’t you it doing now? “I can’t find money to pay the rent. I don’t have enough money for the license [unintelligible 0:57:38].”
Doug: You can figure out what these problems are and solve them.
Charlie: Exactly! We put a notice up on the dining room, in the cafeteria just yesterday if they wanted a painter. I’ll text you the number tomorrow. I’m sure we can find out a way to make sure you get the license.” That’s sharing that happens. I think 90 percent of jobs are shared that way before they ever go out to the public. You’re working with somebody, you’re living with somebody, you meet them, you trust them. you trust them with your life. Of course, you’re going to share with them if there’s a job opening.
Doug: Yes, that’s an easy thing to do by comparison. Yes.
Charlie: We’re having some changes here in town. I’m told that MGM still is needing money from people to get the 3,000 people that they need. There’s opportunities. The railcar people that are making railcars for Boston are going to be making them here. I thought 10 other companies are coming into the city. There’s places for employment not like 5 years, 10 years ago. I don't know how it is in Worcester and Boston, but I’m assuming it’s about the same thing because every time I go to Boston, I see building cranes all over the place, but it’s construction jobs. There’s going to be construction jobs, there’s going to be maintenance jobs. Somebody has got to sell the building; there’s going to be real estate jobs.
Doug: Yes, there should be a lot of opportunity.
Charlie: Uh-huh. We need to present as landlords that we are there to provide happy and healthy homes using that from another organization’s name, Healthy Home. But if we put Happy and Healthy Home, hundreds of people want to come to it. I like the work of Sarah Susanka, her Not So Big House movement. It was a novelty 10, 20 years ago, but now you can see it’s really a valid point. Instead of the money you spend on square footage, make the house a little smaller and put all the little amenities in so you love being in your home, you really don’t want to leave.
We can do some of that similar thing. how much does it cost afterwards to do a little plastering, a little covering up of where the nails went in, gypsum board. But some places, they say, “No, you can’t hang anything.” But it doesn’t become a home if you don’t put Aunt Mary’s picture up or that picture of Christ you like so much or whatever. It’s all about having your tenant love being in your building. I think that’s what it’s all about.
Doug: It’s very good advice.
Charlie: For us here, in this area, it’s all about doing what we can do to make people really enjoy living where they live. I’ve done by the same people all the time. too many times, I go to meetings and find the same faces with all sorts of different things. There’s a lot of it where money happens and we got [unintelligible 1:01:18]. But if everybody had one little task they took on in addition to their regular life, we’ll have so much done.
Doug: Civic participation in a sense.
Charlie: I, as landlord, I think the charge I would give to you is if you will be involved in your community and find out what you can need to do to help. It may not be anything harder than having all your staff participate in the yearly cleanup.
Doug: Yes. That maybe the same.
Charlie: Or maybe marching in a parade, or helping for a clown festival, or maybe you provide the scoops and the help for the ice cream fest or whatever the community is doing. You need to be part of the community so the community wants to know if you got a room available, or two rooms, or three, or above.
Doug: Yes. If you could change one thing about our Commonwealth, would that be it? Would it the civic participation or would you want to change a law or a policy?
Charlie: I’m not sure how to answer that. I probably got 50 things I can think of at the moment.
Doug: Or maybe a handful. What would be a handful of things that you would change?
Charlie: First off, and some people are doing this, first off, I would like to have the people feel that your legislators listen to them. I would like to have a vehicle outside of the initiative petition, a vehicle through which people can say to their government officials, “I see a problem here.” It may be available in some places. There’s 311 we can call here in Springfield, but in many cases, it’s not available.
The people who are very dedicated, who want to help, some paid and some not who are on our city and town government, they want to do the right thing. They want this for everybody. We have that has a code violation or something else. It may very well that that person has their back in the corner and they have no idea how they’re going to pay for something. Maybe we can work with somebody to get that done.
When we called ourselves the Commonwealth, when we signed the Mayflower Compact, we put in place an ideal to work together cooperatively and collaboratively for the good of all. That does not take private enterprise out the window, but it does say, “I want to make sure—” this is not his quote, but he said it, “I want to have a rising tide that floats all boats.”
I don’t think it’s right necessarily for one person to get terribly rich off the backs of somebody else. I think it should be fair. On the other hand, I have arguments with many of my friends who want to think that all gets help by the government. We go back to the market rent in Springfield. We are going to have a certain amount of market rent in order to pay the taxes, in order to be able to do some of the things we do for the community.
Right now, with community block rents, we can’t, but I thought you have that paper, so you can’t have a block party for the community. It’s not allowed. If we do something one year, we can’t do it the next year because of the new initiatives. Labor groups are really frustrated. It’s what we can do as a matter of tradition. We always did this, we always did that.
Doug: You’re seeing a problem. You say we have a problem here and there’s nobody really listening to that and there aren’t feedback mechanisms in place to really work together.
Charlie: I think we need to have news that that’s happened. Too many times in our news media, it’s not a big story for them, but my association and four others got together to help get books for kids, so they can have their first book that they own; not a big news story. But how is it good to have the news story be somebody stabbed someone? How does that help the community?
Doug: Yes, it doesn’t.
Charlie: I like to have at least people pay for the good people are doing. We want people to come into the area to enjoy the area and they’ll buy more newspaper. But if you read the newspaper, there’s some place you don’t want to be; probably you just lost that sale of the week to the weekly newspaper because you didn’t come in and rent.
Doug: It’s a good point. Sensationalist news drives people away.
Charlie: It’s a sensation. It’s not a good feeling deep down in the spirit because you really enjoy coming to your home. When we had the eclipse last year, I didn’t plan anything, but when I went by to another event, I saw eight people right out here in Apremont Triangle, they brought their chairs. They brought little end-table. They had their wine and stuff, and they had their glasses to have a party here. That’s people getting together to enjoy life together. We had an eclipse of the moon and we had space for people to take the telescopes. There must have been 50 telescopes and 100 people, but that’s part sharing a time together. It’s better than sharing the time hiding from somebody they shot, torched somebody else’s house. Somehow we need to do that.
Doug: Good advice.
Charlie: I think landlords need to be a part of the national [unintelligible 1:08:16] of other events that are happening in the community, so the community sees them as intricate pillars of that community.
Doug: That’s good advice. I’ll see if I can get some involvement as MassLandlords officially.
Charlie: I think we can do, and you know what when you work with people like [unintelligible 1:08:39] Help People Moves and other groups, when you work with those people to see how you can make your place even safer, I’m picking your group because i’s a huge amount of [unintelligible 1:08:58]. I think a little more time is given to you to do what you need to do, and if you just don’t rob the whole thing and totally ignore it. If you go to the meetings, you talk many, you go to something specific, you find out the information, you have to doing any more than saying, “I understand there’s a lot of asthma in here. I’m coming to the asthma coalition because I own 146 units in this city, and I want t know how can I find out if I needed to make more than my units goof for my people? any organization is going to love you. If the word gets out that there’s a landlord who cares about having a safe, secure, and healthy place for somebody to live, you probably have got to have somebody to say, “That’s the next opening. Yes, I’ll take your name. I got a waiting list at 600.”
Doug: Yes, probably and we’ll get those leeway the need to make the repairs on schedule that makes sense or the improvements.
Charlie: I really like the HUD thing and they’re all Chapter 14 of the—no! I think Chapter 4 of the HUD Magna. HUD had the highest manuals by numbers. I think it’s like 13, 5, 8, or something. I can’t remember that, but this said, at the very end, they gave a [unintelligible 1:10:30] and said we want this to be written on where your tenant writes out what they have a problem and they send it to you, and there’s a copy, a portion of it, maybe, they put back to the tenant who receive your problem.” We’re going to send somebody else between these hours at these dates. Tell us the best anything you know. Otherwise, they would just come in and see what the problem is.”
Then, when it’s fixed, there’s a notation on that form, “It was fixed by so and so at such and such a time and tenant is satisfied.” It’s paper trail.
Doug: Yes, paper trail of engagement and communication.
Charlie: Engagement, communication, accountability. You would find that any tenant, they would not be happy to having not fill up the form, but a portion of the form comes back to them. You could be certain that on March 14 between 2:00 and 3:00, a maintenance guy is going to come to see him up there. I’m going to make sure I’m not away on March 14th. I want to talk with this guy.”
Doug: Yes. Great way to do business.
Charlie: As far as Section 8 housing, part of the HUD suggested as how it works best. I also think it’s good to have a tenant advisory board, some group of tenants that can tell you whether there’s a problem.
Doug: Maybe that hasn’t been reported.
Charlie: [crosstalk 1:12:04] I had an idea. We were talking with a tenant last night. She’s a low-income person on our board of directors. We have a low-income and we have a tenant who feels like that, but in talking, I said, “I think I know what you’re talking about. There should be a meeting with property management perhaps in the committee room or perhaps in another room that was the manager’s office and it would be a meal. It would be like a dinner, supper time, so people at work would still get there. We’re going to provide them the meal.
There are 12 people of each one of our floors except for basement and first floor which have about five each, six. You have 12 people there, 6 on each side of the table, one person on both ends. They would be from management, and we just had a wonderful meal and we talked about how that floor is. Each week, a different floor; I am fourth floor. When the month is over with, you not only got to know your tenants, but you also know where the problem areas are.
Doug: Yes, absolutely.
Charlie: I wish to do something for so and so and plants were on the way and it’s okay with the plants. The other side, “I want to be able, in case of fire, seal down that hallway to get to the exit door.” Or, “I would like it a whole lot if somebody stopped playing their music at 10 o'clock at night because I have to get up at 5:00 in the morning.”
They’re not complaining it, but it’s a little sense of what’s happening on the floor, and you, as the landlord had initiated. Nobody had to pay for anything. Suddenly, you’re not just the guy that’s just taking the money; somebody that honestly wants to know how’s the quality of life on your floor.
Doug: Protecting and maintaining.
Charlie: How much is it going to cost to do that? I mean it won’t have to be a fancy meal. You could send out for pizza, but I dare say you send out for pizza and you send out for a modest catered meal, it’s probably about the same thing.
Doug: Pizza tends to be much cheaper, but it’s still something you should be able to do.
Charlie: Yes, I don't think it would—
Doug: Compared to the information you would get, value?
Charlie: Let’s put it this way. You have 12 people and you figured $10 of their rent per month.
Doug: Yes, not a big expense.
Charlie: And twice a year, you do this.
Doug: Right, it’ s not a big expense.
Charlie: No! You plan for it. Maybe $1 each month is what you put aside, yearly it’s done. If you only had $6, but 6 x 12 is pretty good amount of money to be able to a meal out.
Doug: Yes, for sure. Yes, that’s a great list of suggestions and improvements that folks should look at here. any last words for folks who are watching?
Charlie: It’s what I’m trying to do here, I guess the last word is that you ask the questions to cooperate, to collaborate, to find if you find time to do things, and I think also honor. The people you find out that are on this city council subcommittee, on this town thing, on this preservation thing, on this commercial, even commercial thing putting on a balloon parade or something. If you have your tenants that are actively engaged in making your city or town better, probably it’s a good idea newsletter to honor that person. It might be what’s necessary for some of the other tenant to say, “I want to do something, too.” Make it so that everybody is wanting to make this a very best place to live again.
Doug: Charlie, thank you so much for sharing your experience. I really appreciate it.
Charlie: Thank you for coming out to the [unintelligible 1:16:16].
Doug: In Springfield, very great pleasure.
Charlie: Sometime, you and everybody will come, see the Basketball Hall of Fame, see the National Sculpture Garden with Dr. Seuss, go in and look at all the stuff we have in what we call the City of Firsts. Maybe if you want to, take the rail line down to Hartford where the price is cheaper Connecticut Rail.
Doug: Really? All right, I will have to check that out.
Charlie: I’m hoping and pushing for a commuter rail from Worcester to here.
Doug: That would be really fantastic.
Charlie: You know what I told them? I told them they don't have to be fast, but right now, just do the shuttle here to here Worcester, not here to Boston. Just here to Worcester would get it to take it to Worcester on. I was told that CS is actually thinking about selling the rights to those tracks. If that’s possible at all, our legislators ought to follow up, but they didn’t jump on it. if that was the case, then from New York City up to Springfield and over to Boston, everybody on that line has a possibility to work anywhere else along that line.
Doug: It’s true. That would be a huge deal.
Charlie: And the person with Home Base would be able to keep their apartment.
Doug: Super! It really will be. thank you so much, Charlie. I really appreciate it.