Victory! The Morton Village Tenant Association negotiated 5-year affordable leases with their new landlord.

Boston, MA: Massachusetts' eviction moratorium expired on October 18th, leading to eviction notices, and motions to execute pending evictions, for countless families across the state. But a large, 207-unit apartment complex in Boston will remain a refuge from huge rent increases during the COVID-19 eviction crisis after residents and their new landlord agreed to negotiate.

The ink has dried on a housing stability agreement forged by the residents of Morton Village Apartments in Mattapan and their new landlord, Avanath Capital. Avanath, a national investor based in California with over 10,000 apartments in its national portfolio, purchased the property this month. When Morton Village residents got word of the pending sale in July, they quickly organized a tenant association, led by several courageous women of color and facilitated by housing justice organizers from City Life/Vida Urbana.

The agreement establishes 5-year leases for all residents in the apartment complex with rent increases of 3% per year for the first three years, and 3.25% per year for the fourth and fifth years. For seniors over 70, rent increases will hold steady at 3% per year for five years.

"For the next 5 years, these renters won’t have to worry about eviction or unaffordable rent hikes,” said Gabrielle René, a housing justice organizer with City Life/Vida Urbana who supports the Morton Village Tenant Association. 

Legal aid attorneys Maggie Gribben and Loren Forbes of Greater Boston Legal Services supported the tenants association in the negotiations, helping draft and refine the agreement. The negotiations were also supported by the City of Boston's Department of Neighborhood Development, which is in ongoing discussions with Avanath Capital to create long-term affordability at Morton Village beyond the 5-year leases.

Avanath Capital proved willing to meet with tenants as their acquisition was underway and ultimately agreed to meet with the tenants association. A series of meetings between the tenant association and Avanath produced the housing stability agreement.

The Morton Village Tenant Association organized a few rallies prior to the negotiations. A crowd of about 75 people rallied in the courtyard of the property in August. The tenant association includes several decades-long tenants. The property is home to low-income families of color, including many recent Caribbean immigrants. 

At the August rally, 25-year resident Sondra Hardy exclaimed, "We collectively need to save the very roof over our heads. Do not meet with them individually. We are united!" 

Sheila Gunn, a resident of Morton Village who has lived in her apartment for over 40 years, announced through a megaphone, "This is home. And I can't afford to have significant rent increases." Gunn hopes to retire soon  - and, under the new agreement, she'll no longer have to worry about a major rent hike while she's earning a fixed income.

"This place needs to remain affordable. People all over Boston are being squeezed out," Gunn said.

In the weeks leading up to the agreement, virtual meetings of the Morton Village Tenant Association attracted dozens of residents, and over 100 residents signed a letter to Avanath Capital Management asking for negotiations with the goal of creating long-term housing stability. 

Photo: Members of the Morton Village Tenant Association pose for a photo after rallying for housing stability.

Avanath Capital describes their company as "value-oriented" and focuses on developing workforce housing across the country. But nearby, a similar investor, DSF Group, purchased Fairlawn Apartments and immediately rebranded it as SoMa at The T to attract higher-paying newcomers. They quickly issued nearly 20% rent hikes to many long-time tenants, amounting to hundreds of dollars more per month. 

Despite strong organizing from the Fairlawn Tenants Association, DSF Group hasn't met the residents' demands for stable housing.

“The agreement at Morton Village sets a precedent for other tenant associations that are struggling to have a conversation with their landlords. This is a replicable model," said René.

Photo: Morton Village Apartments resident Sheila Gunn speaks to crowd at rally for housing stability.

Read more about this victory in The Boston Globe.