Boston, MA - A rally on Thursday evening, October 17th, 2019, shined a light on a trend of steep rent hikes and unlivable conditions at a 400+ unit apartment complex in Mattapan. About fifty supporters gathered in front of the complex and then marched through the grounds, supporting the demands of organized residents for stable, decent housing. The rally was organized by the Fairlawn Tenants Association with support from City Life/Vida Urbana.
For decades, Fairlawn Apartments in Mattapan was affordable for families, especially low-income families of color and recent immigrants. But since DSF Group bought this 400+ unit apartment complex last year, they've displaced many of these families, according to housing stability organizers from City Life/Vida Urbana who've canvassed the buildings several times in recent months.
Now, three elderly residents are in the throws of a struggle to keep their homes. Ms. Betty Lewis, Ms. Annie Gordon and Mr. Jean Antoine all received new leases this past summer with rent increases ranging from $265 to $365 dollars.
DSF Group, alongside their management company, Corcoran Management, has raised some families' rents by as high as 20%, according to canvassers.
DSF's rent hikes are causing residents to quietly pack up and leave. "People are moving out, but you don't know it, all you see is their furniture in the dumpster," says Ms. Lewis.
"This is a case in point for why Boston desperately needs rent control," says Steve Meacham, a Community Organizer with City Life/Vida Urbana.
A large percentage of current tenants have been at Fairlawn Apartments for decades and live on fixed incomes. Many Fairlawn residents hold Section 8 vouchers, and many are recent immigrants from Haiti.
In July of 2018, months before the new Blue Hill Ave. stop opened, DSF Group, which is managed by Corcoran Management Company, purchased Fairlawn Apartments for $65 million dollars. DSF Group came to Fairlawn Apartments to take advantage of the community's hard work and the new train stop. They quickly rebranded Fairlawn Apartments to “SoMa Apartments at the T” - short for South Mattapan Apartments at the T.
SoMa at the T's website advertises its accessibility to a new commuter line station, proclaiming, "We are happy to announce that the Blue Hill Avenue MBTA Commuter Rail Station has just opened right across the street from the entrance to SoMa..."
"It's an unjust irony - after this community advocated for better public transit and put sweat equity into improving their neighborhood, they are getting driven out by because speculative investors like DSF Group see it as valuable now," says Gabrielle René, a Community Organizer with City Life/Vida Urbana working directly with the residents.
Although Mattapan is located within the city of Boston, it did not have a stop on the Fairmount commuter rail line, which had passed through the community for decades. Mattapan residents, along with civil leaders and community activists, believed a train stop in Mattapan would help Mattapan become more accessible and encourage better economic development. For nearly 20 years, these residents worked diligently to bring this train stop to their community. The new Blue Hill Ave. stop on the Fairmont line opened February 2019.
In the beginning of the 2019, a group of tenants met for the first time with the help of City Life/Vida Urbana. They decided to form the Fairlawn Tenants Association to fight against injustices.
The displacement crisis in Boston has affected many communities in Boston, countless families have been displaced and many communities have become gentrified. Mattapan has remained a community with predominately working class and immigrant families.
The elders fighting displacement have sent letters to Corcoran management requesting that they reschedule a meeting with representatives from the Fairlawn Tenant Association to discuss their three demands. The association's demands are:
1. Keep rents for section 8 tenants within the payment standard and keep rent increases for all tenants to a manageable affordable level of 2% per year maximum.
2. Fix the poor conditions in all of the apartments, including addressing pest and mold issues, providing adequate security for the buildings, and allowing children to play outside and providing a safe area such as a playground or park for them to play.
3. Meet with the Fairlawn Tenant Association to work out a long-term plan for the tenants of this building.
At the 4th Boston People's Plan assembly in late September, dozens of grassroots organizations led by Bostonians on the frontlines of the displacement crisis launched a push for rent control. Over 100 people divided into teams and hit the streets of several Boston neighborhoods, door-knocking and asking residents to sign a pledge to support rent control.
25 years ago, real estate giants and the politicians that do their bidding dismantled protections from rent gouging and sent our housing market spiraling out of control. Now we're living in the extreme aftermath of that moment. It's time to revive rent control in Boston!
Thanks to all 75 of you who attended our beautiful outdoor dinner to benefit our work for rent control on Saturday, 9/21! Tremendous thanks to Onsite Organic for the totally amazing cuisine.
We closed out the festivities with a big concert at Spontaneous Celebrations community center. The lineup included reggae bands Ghetto People and Uhynoo, as well as songwriter David Rovics on tour from the west coast, and hip hop legends Foundation Movement.
We held these events to build our movement to bring rent control back to Boston. Sign the pledge here to support rent control!
Late last year, two Mattapan grandmothers, Ruby James Saucer and Michelle Ewing of 22 Rexford St., each received notice of $700 rent hikes from their landlord, PCS Dixwell Realty Trust owned by Christ Stamatos and Josh Cohen. Stamatos is affiliated with Jamaica Plain based Pondside Realty. The grandmothers - who live on small, fixed incomes - consulted with lawyers via the housing justice organization City Life/Vida Urbana and refused to pay the unaffordable rent hikes. But Stamatos and Cohen responded with 30-day eviction notices. Since then, the grandmothers have been battling the evictions in court.
In the pouring rain on Thursday, September 26th, Ruby and Michelle led a rally and march that stopped first at Pondside Realty on Centre Street, holding a rally there before marching to the headquarters of PCS Dixwell Realty on the Jamaicaway.
"This is exactly the kind of predatory real estate practice that's tearing our communities and families apart," said Steve Meacham, a housing justice organizer with City Life/Vida Urbana who is helping the women keep their homes.
Michele Ewing is a long-time community activist. She has lived at 22 Rexford St. for 25 years. Most recently, Ewing worked at Jobs with Justice as part of the Mature Workers Program, supporting the labor rights movement. Ewing is deeply involved in the newly-formed Mattapan Council, helping to monitor development proposals. Ewing has raised 3 children at 22 Rexford St., one of them still calls the apartment home.
Ruby James Saucer is also very involved in the movement for housing justice. She was active in fighting predatory loans during the foreclosure crisis. Saucer has attended countless City Life meetings to help Boston residents organize to save their homes. After moving to 22 Rexford St. 4 years ago, Saucer was elected to the Mattapan Council. Saucer now serves on the Leadership Team of City Life/Vida Urbana.
“I’m fighting to help other people in the same situation that I am in - the threat of being homeless. I’m fighting the predatory developers who want to come in and take over Mattapan,” says Saucer. Both Ewing and Saucer have made it clear that they're fighting for stable, affordable homes for themselves, their neighbors and their community. In their letter to Cohen and Stamatos dated January 8th, 2019, they said the following:
"Michele wants a Sec. 8 rent that is limited to the payment standard set by the BHA. This standard is adjusted for unit size and utility allowance. It keeps the tenant share at 30% of income. Ruby wants a limit to rent increases of 3% per year."
Thanks to everyone who stood in solidarity with these brave elders. We await a quick resolution to these outrageous rent hikes and evictions.
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.
But our protest went on! Several local outlets showed up and published stories about the evictions, including WTNH Channel 8, the New Britain Herald, and Fox 61.
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.
This past winter, theresidents 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 recentNBC 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 alarger 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.
This June, we launched our biggest spring fundraising campaign in City Life history. Over the last two years, over 70 of our members and community have gone through our Radical Redistribution training and gained the skills we need to be grassroots fundraisers. By building our organization with small donations focused in our communities, we’re able to ensure that City Life has full autonomy to fight for real and systemic change.
We went in to our spring fundraiser with an optimistic goal of raising $30,000 from grassroots fundraising efforts. This was especially challenging because we didn’t have a huge fundraiser event like we did last year, so if we were going to meet our goal, we needed to try something different, and we did a lot:
36 people, mostly CLVU leaders (and even some brave new supporters) leveled up their fundraising skills through volunteering to be powerbuilders.
we held 4 trainings/workshops in June, 3 in JP and one in East Boston
we had folks come in last week to phonebank (thanks Robin, Claire, Bob, and Judy!)
and we sent over 800 letters to donors to let them know what we're up to
And it paid off!
Our goal was: $30,000, 300 donors, 30 new sustainers
We had 294 donations (85 of these are new donors!)
We have 22 new sustainers (monthly donors)
Which means that, as a result of our work, we raised $30,216. We met our goal!
Thank you to everyone who participated, volunteered, donated, and shared our posts on social media. We couldn’t have done this without you.
When you have moldy walls, flooding, and carpet from the last millennium - AND get retaliatory rent hikes and eviction notices for complaining - what do you do? ORGANIZE! Thanks to the 100+ people who came to the Stony Brook Village Tenants Association's rally on June 2nd, 2019. People power is what it takes to send the message to Lincoln Ave. Capital and Sawyer Realty Holdings: NEGOTIATE!
The Stony Brook Tenants Union formed in November 2018 to fight against the unhealthy housing conditions, rent increases, and evictions at Stony Brook Village in Hyde Park, a subsidized apartment complex. Since that time, management (Sawyer Realty Holdings, Newton, MA) and the landlord (Lincoln Ave Capital) have not addressed our complaints, and in fact have retaliated against many of us with exorbitant rent increases and unjustified evictions. Unrepaired mold, pests and other dangerous conditions in our homes are damaging to our health, and the constant rent increases above the subsidized payment standard are threatening to displace us.
SBTU has sent multiple open letters to the landlord and management laying out these problems, the latest was co-signed by 50 tenants of Stony Brook Village, representing half of the units in the building, and there has been no response! Lincoln Ave. Capital: meet with the union and meet our demands!
Get your feet in the street and show solidarity with people around the Boston area facing eviction! Sign up for our Action Alert List HERE.
Build real solutions to Boston’s displacement crisis, led by the people most impacted.
REGISTER NOW: bit.ly/HFABoston629. 10am to 4pm, Saturday, June 29th, at Vietnamese American Initiative for Development (VietAID), 42 Charles St, Boston, MA 02122
Tired of neighbors, friends and family getting displaced? Think the rent is too damn high? Tired of widespread luxury development? Then JOIN US for a Boston assembly to build a people’s plan for equitable development and an end to displacement.
LUNCH / CHILDCARE / INTERPRETATION
Hosted by Right to the City Boston and our Homes For All local partners and allies.
The 10,000 new units of housing proposed by HYM Investment Group for the former Suffolk Downs race track would, in essence, add an entire new neighborhood to Boston. It's impact would be acutely felt in the predominantly working class immigrant neighborhood of East Boston.
To email a quick comment, simply click here. Ask the Mayor and HYM to:
1. Mayor Walsh: Slow down the process! Work with housing advocates and residents to address our concerns.
2. Mayor Walsh and Tom O'Brien: The project needs to have real affordability. The Boston People's Assembly (a citywide gathering of residents creating a People’s Plan for Boston) demands that all new development must have at least 50% affordability for families. We agree! Suffolk Downs should have 50% affordability for families at 25% of Area Median Income.
3. Mayor Walsh and Tom O'Brien: Work with housing justice advocates and residents on creating a displacement mitigation plan that will keep East Boston families in our homes. In another part of the city, the Fairmount Corridor, the mayor pledged to protect the housing of all residents at risk of displacement. You both have a responsibility to protect all Eastie families.
4. Mayor Walsh and Tom O’Brien: Ensure that weather-resistant green spaces like the parks, bike lanes, and outdoor theater are publicly visible and accessible for all neighborhood residents to use.