Councilor Opposes Home For Disabled Child
Councilor Alvarez Attacks Family of
Disabled Boy Accusing
Them of Making a Deal with Another Councilor
LAWRENCE - When Nilka Alvarez-Rodriguez ran for one of
three at-large City Council seats last November, she told
The Valley Patriot that her number one priority was
to help the disabled and make sure that the
Americans with Disabilities Act is being enforced
throughout the city.
Last month, however, Alvarez-Rodriguez seemed to go back
on that promise when she lashed out at the family of a
disabled child and then began using stall tactics to
prevent them from purchasing a city-owned vacant lot.
Alvarez-Rodriguezs accusation came at a Housing
Subcommittee meeting of the Lawrence City Council last
month. Councilor Alvarez-Rodriguez is the chairman of the
committee. It is charged with declaring city-owned land
surplus property, before voting on who can
purchase the land.
Since 2004, Greg and Waira Berroa have been trying
to purchase a piece of property across the street from
their three-tenement house on Bromfield Street. They want the land to build a
single family home with wheelchair ramps to accommodate
their disabled six-year-old son, Rodrigo.
Rodrigo is severely, mentally and physically disabled. He
cannot sit, stand or grasp objects by himself. He has
multiple daily seizures, sits in a wheel chair and needs
twenty-four-hour supervision. Because his family lives in
a home built so close to the street, his parents cannot
build a ramp; there simply isnt enough room between
their front door and the sidewalk.
We started researching the land in 2004 and
followed it all the way through land court until the city
took over, said Waira Berroa, Rodrigos mom.
So when we heard that there was going to be a
housing meeting to declare it surplus property, we were
all excited. We were finally going to be able to bid on
it and maybe build the home we always wanted.
During that meeting, however, the Berroas said they were
shocked and dismayed by the way they were treated by
At-Large City Councilor Nilka Alvarez-Rodriguez.
All they were supposed to do is declare this as
surplus property, Rodrigos father, Greg
There wasnt supposed to be any discussion
about who would bid on the land until after the vote. But
Councilor Alvarez started talking about putting up a park
and then said that we had made some kind of a done
deal with Councilor Grisel Silva. We were shocked.
This is a public meeting
and she is making
statements like that? All we wanted to do was follow the
process. It was very upsetting.
In the end Councilor Alvarez and Council President
Patrick Blanchette moved to put off the vote for two more
weeks so that they could hear more about how the land
should be used.
Now some are wondering if procedures are being broken to
prevent the Berroas from getting the land.
District B City Councilor Grisel Silva said
she is disappointed that Alvarez cant
keep her personal and political vendettas away from the
council table and that Alvarez was subverting the
process to predetermine how the land is going to be
used before it is declared surplus.
Silva went on: Listen, by having any kind of
discussions at all about who might bid on this land
before it is declared a surplus property is unethical. We
are basically saying to the community that we are going
to test the waters to see what kind of bids we will get
and then if it doesnt go the way we like, maybe we
wont declare it a surplus. I really wish the district
attorney would look at the minutes of the Housing
Subcommittee over the last six months. What Nilka has
been doing cannot be legal.
I understand that Councilor
Alvarez has some personal issues with me, she
continued. But it just isnt fair, it just
isnt right to take it out on these poor people.
They are not politicians; they just want a better life
for their son. The people of Lawrence want us to do our
jobs. They dont want to hear about our personal
issues. They certainly shouldnt have to suffer
because of them.
Silva said that Alvarezs behavior was just further
embarrassment for the city and the council after she had
previously allowed a Housing Committee meeting to
degenerate into name calling and allegations of racism
during hearings on Northern Essex Community College.
Waira Berroa says that Councilor Silva, Councilor
Gonzalez, Mayor Mike Sullivan, Tommy Schiavone and Dan
McCarthy from the planning office have been very
helpful in answering thier questions and giving
them all the information they needed.
They have all been so great to us. We never heard
from Councilor Alvarez, but Grisel Silva has done so much
for us and she is not even our district councilor. Even
during the flood when her home was washed out, she was up
here on Bromfield St. making sure the neighbors were OK.
We are very grateful that she and Nelson have been there
for us. But we never made any deal with anyone. How could
we? She is only one councilor and this process takes a
If she has some issue with Grisel, Greg
added, that has nothing to do with us. That has
nothing to do with Rodrigo.
The fact is, we have talked to many people within the
city since this all started. And by the way, Nilka
Alvarez was one of them. Nilka came to our neighborhood
meeting when she was running for City Council last year.
She said she had experience with people who have
disabilities and she was aware that we wanted to buy the
vacant lot. She told us she would help. She gave us her
card and asked for our vote. But after the election was
over, we never heard from her again.
Greg and Waira Berroa purchased their Bromfield Street
home nine years ago before their son Rodrigo was born.
I grew up in this neighborhood, I love it
here, Greg said. I have bullet holes in my
truck from when this neighborhood was really bad. There
were gangbangershere. There were shootings
and stabbings and we never left, we stuck it out. But now
the neighborhood is getting so much better and we would
like to stay and raise our family here. We cant do
that unless we can have a home with a wheelchair
Greg says that his son was born a normal baby, but when
he was eight weeks old his doctor gave him too many
vaccinations and Rodrigos health quickly declined.
When Rodrigo got his shots, something happened and
he became very ill. Now he is severely, mentally and
physically disabled. Hes in a wheel chair and we
have a really hard time getting him in and out of the
house, especially in the winter, because theres no
room for a wheel chair ramp.
The Berroas say that once councilors Grisel Silva and
Jorge Gonzalez began meeting with them to help them
through the process, they immediately began to receive
interference from Councilor Alvarez and her friends in
the Alma-Bromfield Neighborhood Association.
Suddenly, out of the blue, they start talking
about building a playground on that lot. They even went
around to the neighbors with a petition asking people
whether they wanted a single-family home or playground.
The neighbors said they preferred a single-family home,
next thing we know Councilor Alvarez is trying to get a
petition from kids in the neighborhood for a park,
Why do they want another park? he
asked. We have so many parks in this area. We
arent asking for the city to give us anything for
free. We are willing to sell our house and purchase the
lot from the city so we can accommodate Rodrigos
Lawrence Mayor Mike Sullivan said he has been aware of
the hardship the Berroa family is going through. I
met the Berroas last year at a neighborhood meeting and
they told me about Rodrigo and their dream of buying that
lot on Bromfield St. My heart really goes out to them.
Once the council does what they are supposed to do and
this land is declared surplus, my administration will do
everything in our power to help them. Look at everything
we were able to do for Hector Paniagua. There is no
reason we cannot do something to help this family.
Rodrigos father, Greg, works third shift at Holy
Family Hospital as a mental health councilor and a
Rodrigos mom, Waira, works with mentally disabled
children with behavioral problems.
I had to start working again because we just
couldnt afford the medications Rodrigo needed for
his seizures and other health problems, Waira said.
Just one medication alone costs us $435 a
month. Waira says they are fortunate to get help
from the Katie Mulligan Program as part of Mass Health.
Next year Rodrigo will be attending the Lawrence public
Mayor Sullivan said he was surprised to hear that the
Housing Committee was delaying the process of declaring
the land surplus. I dont think the process
calls for discussion on the use of the land until after
it is voted to be surplus property. That is surprising to
When the time comes, I am going to see what we can
do to deed this property over to the Berroas for a dollar
and help them make their dream come true!
The City Councils Housing Committee will meet again
to discuss the land at Alma and Bromfield St. on August
17th at 7 p.m. The Berroas say they will be there to
follow the process and hope that the council will do the
Tom Duggan is the president of Valley Patriot, Inc., is a
former member of the Lawrence School Committee, and hosts
the Paying Attention! Radio Program on WCAP, 980AM, every
Saturday afternoon from noon-2pm. You can email your
comments to Tdugjr@aol.com
*Send your questions comments to ValleyPatriot@aol.com
The August, 2006 Edition
of the Valley Patriot
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