Carol Roberts Spotlight
Name: Carol Roberts
Organization: Brockton Housing Authority
Role: Caffrey Towers Board President
The fellow residents in Carol Roberts’ public housing complex are not afraid to give her a call. As the tenant board president of Caffrey Towers in Brockton, she has worked to build trust with her neighbors, and that trust comes with its own responsibilities. Her favorite part about serving as board president is being able to resolve the problems neighbors come to her with, whether it be a faulty electric stove or lack of understanding of rent stipulations. She has learned over the course of holding this position to check people’s blood pressure when they say they are not feeling well, and she’s also learned how to empower her fellow tenants to advocate for their own living situations through training with the Resident Leadership Academy, a program of the Mel King Institute.
Carol did not always live in public housing. She moved to Brockton in 1977 with her family to allow her children to go to school in the neighborhood in which they lived. She worked at Polaroid for 26 years, starting in the production night shift and eventually worked her way up to become a senior administrator. Polaroid paid for her to go to college for computer science and then later for a degree in business. Unfortunately, when Polaroid went bankrupt and her husband passed away, money got tight, and she had to sell her two homes and a business. She first moved into a private apartment, which she loved. But, in her words, “the building I was living in was sold. The new landlord was raising the price to the point where I had to decide whether I would pay rent including lights and heat or have food on the table. So, I applied for public housing.”
After moving to Caffrey Towers and being elected as tenant board president, Carol started going to trainings with the Resident Leadership Academy. She was impressed by the knowledge of the trainings and learned a lot about the differences between state and federal public housing. Carol learned about the importance of quality of life and treating everyone with dignity. She also learned about the rights of tenants and how they can use them to fight for that quality of life. Looking around, she’s found that people are afraid to ask questions or speak up for themselves. They feel that if they do that there will be trouble and that they will be put out. But in fact, tenants have rights to a healthy home, so if there is black mold across the ceiling or a pest infestation, that is the time to stand up and fight! Beyond hesitancy caused by fear, there are other obstacles to organizing tenants for rights. One is the tedious legal language around housing documents. In Carol’s own multicultural building, another problem is language barriers and resulting misinformation. But these barriers can be overcome by having translators come to meetings and providing space for participants to feel comfortable asking questions and getting involved.
Earlier in her life, Carol never thought she would be living in public housing. But now that she does, she feels that her eyes have been opened to the prejudices people harbor around the status of public housing. She says, “when you tell people you live in public housing, there’s a facial expression they don’t think they show, but they do.” She wants to empower others to overcome those prejudices and fight for their rights as tenants. Carol wants other people to know that the information is out there with the Resident Leadership Academy – why not take advantage of it? As she learned in RLA training, “fear is a terrible thing. It will hold you back. But you have to break that barrier.”