On July 27th, our "Justice Bus" - filled with older women fighting eviction and supporters - rolled into New Britain, Connecticut. We organized the journey to protest no-fault evictions at a Fenway rooming house called Our Lady's Guild House. Mother Jennifer (the head of the order of nuns that owns the building) and Marc Roos Realty have been trying to push out a group of older women there, but the women are rising up to save their homes.
Right when we got off the bus, the sky opened up - a summer storm drenched us. We had to hold our rally and press conference under thundering clouds.
After the rally, we piled our wet signs back into the bus and drove to Mother Jennifer's residence nearby. When we attempted to deliver our petition with over 1,300 signatures to Mother Jennifer, she refused to talk to us. So we held a rally across from her residence.
Our bus ride was all about perseverance and solidarity as a community: we won’t let unjust evictions continue!
An estimated 10 to 20 older women in their '60's, '70's and '80's were told to leave Our Lady's Guild House by the end of July of last year. They hadn't violated their leases or failed to pay rent; these were "no fault" notices to quit. Many women pack their bags and left. Three women have eviction cases in housing court, and at least 5 others remain without a lease and have yet to receive a court summons.
In response to the eviction notices, several of the women organized to save their homes - with support from the housing justice organization City Life/Vida Urbana and the Fenway Community Development Corporation. They drew a crowd of about 100 supporters to a rally last August in front of Roos's office.
This past winter, the residents engaged the Massachusetts Attorney General's office regarding concerns over age discrimination and the misuse of charitable status, as reported by The Boston Globe. The AG's investigation is expected to result in public findings this fall, and the evictions are on pause while the investigation is underway.
Without their tiny rooms to call home in Boston's searing hot housing market, many of the women are unsure where they could live.
"It's upsetting. It's hard to find housing in Boston. It's the 3rd most expensive city in the country for housing," Siobhan O'Connor, one of the older women facing eviction, said on a recent NBC Boston news story.
The nuns have stated that their mission is to “provide safe and affordable housing for single women, working women, retired women or students.” But OLGH's website recently advertised “a short-term residence for women between the ages of 18 and 50 years old who work in the Boston area and/or attend school or internship programs” (this language was promptly edited once the tenants began organizing). Some units in the building have also been recently advertised to tourists on the short-term rental website AirBNB.
Although the building ostensibly operates under a charitable mission, Colleen Fitzpatrick, a Community Organizer at Fenway Community Development Corporation, said, "We're asking the question: What charitable mission is really being served here now?"
"The new people moving in are predominantly students, and both voter rolls and resident testimony indicate that the average age of residents has plummeted," Fitzpatrick added.
"The evictions of the OLGH women are part of a larger trend of Single Room Occupancy (SRO) building-wide clear-outs," said Steve Meacham, Coordinator of Organizing at City Life/Vida Urbana. "Even owners who are supposedly mission-driven are jumping in on real estate speculation now, but we're demanding that this building become permanently affordable housing," Meacham added.
City Life/Vida Urbana has recently supported rooming house residents facing eviction from two other buildings, and we're working to build more relationships with other Boston rooming house residents to prevent displacement.
All images courtesy of Elliot Higger, Sunny Mind Productions.