Jack Cooper has been a committed advocate in the public housing and community development field since 1985. He retired from Mass Union in late November after many years as their executive director. Prior to his work at Mass Union, he had a career as a social worker primarily working with children and their families. Jack wanted to help the communities he served in a different way, and Mass Union was hiring at an opportune moment.
Jack is a lifelong Boston resident who began his long career with public housing advocacy with churches in Roxbury. He worked with public housing tenants to advocate for their rights and communities. His work with public housing tenants showed him that there were many skilled folks who had fallen on hard times, directly challenging common narratives about public housing residents. Jack talked about how vital public housing is and the difficulty maintaining public housing in the face of developers wanting to build for-profit housing. Jack encourages people to get out into their communities and interact with the people around them as a means of dismantling harmful narratives that shape our communities.
Over the last decades, Jack has enjoyed his work in housing advocacy and policy. One accomplishment that stands out in his career is the passage of legislation that required all public housing agencies to have at least one tenant on their board who is chosen by the residents. Jack was involved in both Massachusetts’s move to require that of all cities, and then in 2014 expanding it to all towns as well. This same legislation also led to the creation of the Public Housing Training Program in 2016, which Mel King was brought on board to run in partnership with Mass Union. Jack has worked with the Mel King Institute’s Resident Leadership Academy, sat on CHAPA’s board, congressional HUD committees, and participated in organizing coalitions. Jack emphasized how these changes were made possible by strong coalition building, stating that “we need to keep coalitions together and keep ourselves educated as otherwise the housing won’t be there in the future.”
Jack’s career was full of many important developments and the Mel King Institute congratulates him on his recent retirement. We wish him all the best and his presence will be missed. His contributions to public housing, especially in furthering equitable representation and cutting back on infant mortality rates will affect generations of Massachusetts residents to come.