Dear SCC Community,
Having now been at SCC for a little over two months, I am exceedingly grateful to have joined this organization and community. I have already seen the true meaning of community in action, as our staff, board, members, and tenants have come together to weather the pandemic and rise to the ongoing issues of racial and social injustice. I want to take this opportunity to introduce myself further and make clear my own views on the issues central to SCC’s work.
As police violence continues, I first want to recognize the recent shooting of Jacob Blake in the back in Kenosha as well as Dijon Kizzee, a young man shot and killed on Sunday night in Los Angeles while riding his bicycle. I support the Movement for Black Lives and all movements for equity and justice. I believe in people’s basic goodness, and my priorities are always to respect everyone and their beliefs. I have been given remarkable opportunity in this country, and I am committed to always giving back and working to improve my community.
I came to America at the age of 18 from Venezuela. Unable to find a job, I became homeless, living outside, staying in parks and local shelters. My aunt eventually took me in for a year in New York, helping me to save enough to get back on my feet and back to Boston. Aunt Marie was the beginning of my financial education.
Having experienced the chaotic instability, anxiety, and emotions of homelessness, I have since worked to get people into stable homes and believe housing needs to be affordable, achievable, and inclusive. That being SCC’s core mission, along with our explicit values of equity and diversity, is why I knew I wanted to work for SCC.
As a minority finding my way in the corporate world, I was sometimes frustrated by messages around diversity and inclusion which didn’t get at the root issues of inequity. And I know I had to work twice as hard to get noticed. But SCC is doing the hard work every day in order to make it possible for people of all backgrounds to live, work, and stay in Somerville.
That work brings us right up against systemic issues of displacement, injustice, racism, and inequity, and the interconnected policies that devalue minorities in America. After the dehumanization of slavery, after the Jim Crow laws and failed promise of Reconstruction, African-Americans were still barred from building wealth and owning property through policies of redlining. Racism and inequity were built into our housing system, as well as our healthcare, criminal punishment, education, and economic systems. The effects of these policies are why SCC’s work – of affordable housing, of asset building, financial education, job training, and community organizing – is so important.
As we believe in always working to improve the Somerville Community, we are equally hard at work improving our SCC community. We formed a Working Group back in May to find ways to better support our tenants and members in their interactions with police, as well as provide community alternatives to law enforcement, when possible. The Working Group has reviewed preliminary data on police calls from SCC units; researched funding opportunities to hire a resident services coordinator or social worker; drafted a list of alternative dispute and crisis resources, such as community mediation and mental health emergency hotlines; and begun developing a new welcome packet for tenants with relevant resources. The group hopes to guide SCC toward becoming a leader in applying a racial equity approach to its resident services and property management. While the police do get called to our properties to solve issues, they can be a blunt instrument where we believe there are alternatives that could be safer and more effective for our tenants and for public safety. We support broad police reform, and protecting and empowering our tenant population is our #1 priority. Recognizing implicit and systemic bias is not an indictment of individual values. It can be a tool to help align values with behavior, for the sake and safety of both those being policed and those in uniform.
As CEO, I am also committed to radical transparency and openness. I welcome feedback and guidance on how we can do better. SCC supports the Movement for Black Lives, those across the country protesting for equality, and all movements for equity and justice.
Gonzalo Puigbo, CEO