Building permit backing denied for controversial developer; Unanimous vote by JP Zoning committee intended to “send a message” to City Realty
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Building permit backing denied for controversial developer
after public outcry by tenants, small businesses;
Unanimous vote by JP Zoning committee intended to “send a message” to City Realty
BOSTON, MA – The outcry over the track record of the developer of a Forest Hills property under consideration by the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council zoning committee came from many sources. Criticism came in forms as immediate as Egleston Square merchants waving eviction court summons, and as wide-reaching as tenants who had traveled or sent messages from Roxbury, Dorchester, Hyde Park, Chinatown and Chelsea to testify about abuses they had endured.
Protesters had gathered well in advance of the scheduled 7pm meeting where City Realty's proposal to replace a vacant 1-story building with 4 floors of rental space was to be heard. After learning that their giant “Eviction Free Zone” banner and public flyering had prompted the developer's lawyer to withdraw the presentation, the crowd of more than 30 concerned residents demanded to have their say.
Zoning committee members and representatives of the offices of municipal and state officials then listened for the next hour to City Realty tenants like Egleston Square Merchants Association member Cecilia Quiroz, whose store faces eviction because the owner will not honor her lease. “We are in business to support our families, not to make our landlord rich,” Quiroz said, to applause from the crowd. According to the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation, 20 jobs are at stake in the battle between City Realty and seven local Latino merchants.
Residential tenants also spoke of experiences that they argued reflected badly on the developer's potential to be a good neighbor, including patterns of squalid conditions, privacy invasion, theft, rent-gouging, and frivolous evictions. Lena Taldon of Dorchester, who lost her home of 45 years to a predatory lending scam before City Realty acquired it, testified, “My rent increased after only 6 months, and they want another $200 increase every year. I can't afford it, but when I ask to negotiate, their only response is 'See you in court.'” Ming Cao Chen of Chinatown, not present due to work, addressed a letter to the committee to be read aloud, saying “I work very hard to put food on the table. My apartment has a lot of bad conditions but I am forced to stay here because there is no place I can move to. My current rent is more than half my monthly income... all of my neighbors in the building have moved out because City Realty increased their rent from $1100 to $1300 to $1600 to $1900.” Likewise, Lucía Guardado of Chelsea stated in writing, “I am against any building permits for City Realty until they stop the abuses and start treating us like human beings, with regard for our families, our children, our elders, our health.”
After listening to the testimony of City Realty renters, the zoning committee also heard from abutters opposed to the project, and City Life/Vida Urbana delivered a petition with 375 signatures urging no zoning variances for the developer until they carry out good-faith negotiations with their existing tenants. The initial reluctance of the eleven zoning committee members to take a position had been transformed by the end of the night. The committee deliberated briefly, then went on record with a unanimous recommendation to deny City Realty's proposal.
The vote was received with cheers from the assembled community members, who announced plans to continue seeking accountability from the controversial landlord at an October 20 City Council hearing sponsored by Councilor Tito Jackson, whose office explained that subpoena power could be used to bring City Realty in for questioning, if the company tries to evade the public eye.
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Full written statements and interviews with City Realty tenants available upon request.
Photo credit: Sally Swenson, Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Coalition