Activists continue protest over housing access

In The Boston Globe on June 11, 2014, by Jacqueline Tempera

A coalition of community groups protested outside a foreclosed Dorchester home Tuesday and called for more affordable housing in Boston.

The group, made up of seven nonprofit organizations, took to Norwell Street for the second time this week. Over the weekend, the group attempted to move a homeless family into the vacant house, only to be driven out by law enforcement officials, said Darnell Johnson, a coalition spokesman.

The Norwell Street house has been vacant for months. The Federal National Mortgage Association — widely known as Fannie Mae — took over the home after its previous owners were removed but has rejected offers from nonprofit developers to buy it, Johnson said.

Fannie Mae did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment.

The Norwell Street house and others remain unoccupied while families live on the streets, said Johnson, who advocates for more affordable housing and a restructuring of the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

The protest drew a crowd of about 75.

“It was inspiring to see people from East Boston, Chinatown, Dorchester, and Jamaica Plain all converging,” said Maria Christina Blanco, a community organizer with City Life/Vida Urbana, which is part of the coalition. “When homeless families are on the line, vacant houses are a crime.”

In many Boston neighborhoods, rising rents have led to evictions, Blanco said. “We need to bring our neighborhoods together and create a national agenda that puts people first,” she said.

The Boston group is part of a national movement that focuses on what it calls “the rise of the renter nation.” A document released Tuesday by the group, called the Homes for All Campaign, draws attention to the increasing number of renters fighting back against steadily increasing monthly costs.

“We need to increase accessibility to housing,” Johnson said. “This should not be unattainable for citizens.”

Coalition leaders said they were pleased to see that Sheila A. Dillon, Boston’s chief of housing and director of neighborhood development, attended Tuesday’s rally and pledged her support.

“The city certainly agrees with the protesters,” Dillon said in a telephone interview. “More affordable housing needs to be built.”

Jacqueline Tempera can be reached at jacqueline.tempera Follow her on twitter @jacktemp