City Life/Vida Urbana: 44 Years of Putting People Before Profits
In 1973, a group of local residents and activists with roots in the civil rights, feminist and anti-Vietnam War movements founded the Jamaica Plain Tenants Action Group, now City Life/Vida Urbana (CL/VU). For 44 years, CL/VU has been a leading force for change in the Boston area, responding to the ever-changing forces that effect poor and working people.
Early organizing focused on stopping housing divestment and neglect. Growing numbers of city slumlords had stopped maintaining their buildings – while still raising the rent on units that were unsafe and unsanitary. Others were burning down their own buildings for profit. Tenant organizers identified the worst buildings and organized occupants to take power. Soon thousands of tenants across the city were holding rent strikes, taking owners to court and even picketing in front of their suburban mansions. In response to this powerful movement, the city passed rent control protections, helping tenants for the next 20 years. Several noted property owners were convicted for arson.
When the housing market turned around in the 1980’s, gentrification, speculation and condominium conversions became the new threat. CL/UV created an Eviction Free Zone in Jamaica Plain, helping hundreds of people to stay in their homes and inspiring similar models in Roxbury, East Boston, Cambridge and cities in other parts of the country.
The loss of rent control in 1994 sparked a dramatic increase in housing prices. CVLU responded by applying pressure on local property owners to maintain reasonable rents. We also began collaborating with the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) to develop affordable housing. In 1990, the former Bowditch School opened as a 45-unit rooming housing for previously homeless people. JPNDC remains a strong voice for housing justice in Jamaica Plain, having created over 440 additional units since that time.
As the need grew, CL/VU began expanding its efforts across the city in the fight against displacement and for restoration of rent regulation. In just 3 years, tenants’ associations were formed in over 40 buildings. Working with CL/VU, these groups used a collective bargaining model to win affordability contracts, Section 8 rent subsidies, and limit rent increases. Two buildings totaling 435 units were able to win 99-year affordability contracts.
In 2007 CL/VU started noticing the increasing number of foreclosure evictions in housing court, prompting us to launch the Post Foreclosure Eviction Defense Campaign. Since 2008, eviction defense has been the thrust of our organizing strategy to halt housing displacement for working class tenants and owners. Foreclosure evictions have disproportionately affected communities of color, and we reasserted our mission to work toward racial justice as well as confronting bank power with collective people power. Using our “Sword and Shield” organizing strategy, over 800 families won their homes back.
Other CL/VU accomplishments include:
- Bringing parents together to play a positive and unifying role during the struggle against school segregation in Boston.
- Publishing the Labor Page, a voice for the emerging progressive labor movement in Eastern Massachusetts.
- Organizing marches, pickets and educational events opposing repressive regimes in South Africa, Vietnam, Central America, and the Middle East.
- Helping more than 4,000 families protect themselves from environmental hazards leading to lead paint poisoning and childhood asthma.
- Assisting hundreds of Latino households to become first-time homebuyers through an organizing campaign that exposed and reversed lending discrimination.
- Launching voter mobilization campaigns resulting in substantial increases in voter turnout.