In January, we held our 5th mass meeting for Section 8 tenants so that we can all learn our rights and fight for our homes! We've been meeting in different zip codes around the Boston. In 2019, we gathered with Section 8 residents in Mattapan, Roslindale, Dorchester and Roxbury, and in January, 2020, we met with Hyde Park residents. This formation is a kind of city-wide tenant association for Sec. 8 tenants, and it represents our historic collaboration with the Boston Housing Authority and Metro Housing.
In recent years, we've seen an uptick in Section 8 tenants struggling with rent hikes above the payment standard because there is no rent control in Boston, not even for Section 8 voucher holders. We're organizing so that we can all keep our homes in the face of real estate greed!
If you are a Section 8 tenant that wants to learn how to stay in your home, please contact Judy Burnette (firstname.lastname@example.org), Gabrielle René (email@example.com), or Steve Meacham (firstname.lastname@example.org).
In the Spring of 2018, real estate speculators Josh Cohen and Christ Stamatos bought a 6-unit apartment building at 22 Rexford St. in Mattapan. By that September, they were demanding hundreds of dollars more per month from their tenants.
Ms. Ruby James Saucer and Ms. Michelle Ewing are grandmothers who've made a home at 22 Rexford St. for years. Ms. Saucer moved there at the start of the decade after being displaced from her last home during the foreclosure crisis. Both of the women are very involved in their neighborhood - recently, Ms. Saucer became a councilmember of the Mattapan Neighborhood Council.
When Stamatos and Cohen notified the grandmothers of the astronomical rent hike, they marched over toCity Life/Vida Urbanafor support. They knew they were completely unable to stay in their homes at the raised rent; both live on limited, fixed incomes. The very real prospect of homelessness hung over their heads. So, they committed to fight the increase.
With legal help fromHarvard Legal Aid Bureauand public actions alongside dozens of Boston supporters, the grandmothers fought the rent hikes in Boston Housing Court over the course of 17 months and multiple housing court appearances. They also spoke out publicly about their story: they appeared on Boston 25 News and BNN, and in September of 2019 they led a march to Cohen's house in Jamaica Plain.
Ms. Ewing and Ms. Saucer finally brought Cohen and Stamatos to the negotiating table. In November 2019, Ms. Ewing won a 3-year lease with moderate rent increases, and in January 2020, Ms. Saucer also won a 3-year lease at an affordable rent. Both will remain in their homes.
The grandmothers have also joined the campaign to lift the state-wide ban on rent control. In October of 2019, they spoke at a rally in front of the State House about how rent control would shield people like them from outrageous rent increases and displacement.
The Tenant Protection Act (H.3924) is a bill that would lift the 25-year-old ban on rent control in the state of Massachusetts (as well as allow cities and town to enact other crucial protections from displacement). On Tuesday, January 14th, 2020, we flooded the Massachusetts State House for hearing and rally in support of this transformative bill.
Immigrant and working families around Suffolk Downs need REAL affordable housing & protections from displacement. That's why we're calling for 50% of the units to be affordable. TAKE ACTION WITH US: sign on to our public letter at reclaimboston.org.
Tom O’Brien (of HYM Investment Group) and billionaire William Bruce Harrison are planning to build the largest residential development in Boston's recent history at the old Suffolk Downs racetrack. They want to build a new luxury neighborhood just like the Seaport—almost 10,000 new housing units—that will largely be far too expensive for most Eastie residents. This will lead to a segregated neighborhood for the rich, causing big rent hikes for the rest of us.
That's why we're joining forces with other grassroots organizations making it loud and clear: 50% of the residential units built at Suffolk Downs should be affordable for folks earning 30% of the Area Median Income (AMI).
A few weeks ago, we shared our demands in a letter drafted by Lawyers for Civil Rights. That letter spelled it out: "A project of this magnitude, in a lower-income, historically immigrant community suffering from rising rents, must incorporate a far fuller set of benefits for the communities of color harmed and displaced by the proposed redevelopment."
Earlier this month, we also submitted a fiery second public letter to the BPDA, criticizing O'Brien's inflexibility around the project's community benefits and the inaccessibility of the community process for Spanish-speakers. That letter points out that HYM is "dead set on approval of the project as is, no matter what the consequences may be for residents of East Boston and the surrounding area."
Help us hold O'Brien and Harrison accountable as they plan this massive new neighborhood that will shape our city for generations; we can't let them build another Seaport under our feet!
Your donation will help us stop unjust evictions across the Boston area and win strong protections for renters such as #RentConrol. Together we can do this!
Since 1973, City Life/Vida Urbana has worked in Boston's neighborhoods to prevent unnecessary evictions, keep families in their homes, and keep communities in tact. Boston's #DisplacementCrisis, fueled by big real estate, is pushing low-income families of color out of our city, but we CAN stop it and create stable, affordable homes.
It's our mission to fight for racial, social, economic justice and gender equality by building working class power. We use direct action, coalition building, education and advocacy. Through organizing poor and working class people of diverse races and nationalities, we promote individual empowerment, develop community leaders, and build collective power to effect systemic change and transform society.
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.