When we fight for housing justice at City Life/Vida Urbana, we're fighting for racial justice. That's because evictions disproportionately and unjustly impact Boston's neighborhoods of color, destabilizing whole communities and pushing families into poverty, physical and mental health struggles, unemployment and often homelessness.
Working class Black, Brown and immigrant areas of Boston are enduring eviction filing rates at double to almost quadruple the rates of eviction filings during the COVID-19 pandemic in areas where most renters are white. The good news is that renters in these areas are organizing and building their collective power, challenging corporate landlords and bringing them to the negotiating table.
Click HERE to read the report (or click the image below).
In collaboration with our research partner, Benjamin Walker of MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning, we're publishing a new report, "Evictions in Boston's Communities of Color: The First Year of The Pandemic". In this report, we look at Boston's eviction filings from late February, 2020 to late February, 2021.
We find stark disparities in the rates of eviction filings between communities where most renters are people of color and communities where most renters are white. This report is a precursor to a forthcoming larger report on Boston's eviction crisis and collective organizing for stable housing during the pandemic.
71-year-old Dorchester renter Frank Sharpe was on the brink of homelessness, but with strong legal aid and community organizing, he won a reprieve from eviction
Boston, MA: Mr. Frank Sharpe, an elderly veteran who rents an apartment in Dorchester, was expecting moving trucks and a sheriff to show up at his house next week and remove him from his home. With his small fixed income, Sharpe has been unable to line up an affordable alternative to call home and feared homelessness as coronavirus cases continue to spread.
But on Friday, February 12th, Sharpe won a reprieve from eviction. A judge postponed his eviction for another three months after hearing arguments from legal aid attorney Maggie Gribben ofGreater Boston Legal Services. Sharpe has a "no fault" eviction case - he's been able to make his rent payments, but his landlord is still pushing to evict.
"I feel elated," said Mr. Sharpe from his Dorchester apartment. "It's a relief. The pressure was on me. It’s like a balloon being released, and I want to thank God,” Mr. Sharpe said.
City Life/Vida Urbana, a grassroots housing justice organization that has supported Sharpe throughout the pandemic, organized opportunities for Sharpe to speak out publicly in defense of his home. Throughout the pandemic, Sharpe has shared his story with news outlets andat vigils aimed at preventing evictionsaround Boston.
Photo: Mr. Frank Sharpe speaks out to prevent his eviction at a vigil in December, 2020. Courtesy of City Life/Vida Urbana.
Driven by Sharpe's enduring spirit, a team of community organizers and legal aid attorneys coalesced to prevent Sharpe's eviction. The combination of public protest and legal defense is what the team calls the "sword and shield" model - an effective strategy that has prevented evictions throughout the Boston area since the foreclosure crisis.
The handful of months that Frank won in his home give him a little more time to secure an alternative apartment and avoid homelessness. But nothing is guaranteed.
A flurry of media attention surrounding Sharpe's eviction brought the case to the attention of Governor Baker's office. Whether or not Baker will step in and assist Sharpe in landing an affordable apartment for the long-term is yet to be seen. Anonline petitionis calling on Baker to support Sharpe and all Massachusetts residents facing non-emergency evictions.
"Governor Baker allowed non-emergency evictions to continue in this pandemic, which almost led to a veteran becoming homeless," said Helen Matthews of City Life/Vida Urbana.
"We shouldn't have to work miracles on a case-by-case basis to prevent evictions - and the spread of the coronavirus that flows from evictions. So we're calling on the Governor to stop all non-emergency evictions in the pandemic and to help Sharpe find an affordable home," said Matthews.
"Governor Baker needs to put a ban on all unnecessary and no-fault evictions to protect thousands of families during this pandemic," said Antonio Ennis, a housing justice organizer with City Life/Vida Urbana.
Despite a federal moratorium on evictions in place through next month, many Massachusetts judges are still evicting families in the pandemic. In December 2020 alone, Massachusetts judges executed 449 evictions, according to the Massachusetts Trial Court. Housing justice organizers and attorneys say that the moratorium's failure to clearly address and prevent no-fault evictions is one of its biggest loopholes.
"There are many people in Frank's shoes right now," said Steve Meacham, Coordinator of Organizing at City Life/Vida Urbana. "No-fault evictions like this are not clearly prevented by the federal eviction moratorium from Centers for Disease Control, so many people are falling through the cracks," Meacham said.
Photo: Boston residents show solidarity with Frank Sharpe at a vigil to prevent his eviction in December, 2020. Photo courtesy of City Life/Vida Urbana.
[Español abajo] Everyone needs and deserves stable housing. In East Boston, Latinx immigrant families are fighting to remain after they received no-fault eviction notices from Fernando Dalfior of Dalfior Development. Dalfior wants to empty their multi-family apartment building at 168 Gove Street in order to build new condos on the land.
Photo: East Boston families at 168 Gove St. are organizing to prevent their eviction.
Despite the pandemic, gentrification drives forward in Boston, and some speculators like Dalfior are still seeking to push families out during COVID-19 for no fault of their own. These are absolutely unjust, profit-driven evictions.
But the families at 168 Gove Street are not leaving - instead, with courage and hope, they're uniting to collectively defend their homes.
Photo: Despite pouring rain, 168 Gove St. families and supporters hold vigil to stop no-fault evictions.
On Saturday, December 12th, the Gove Street Tenants Association held a vigil demanding a new, fair lease from Dalfior. They're demanding stability, fair rents, and no "holdover clause" in a new lease that would displace them in the near future.
City Life/Vida Urbana will continue to fight alongside the 168 Gove Street renters until they win a fair lease and prevent unjust evictions.
Todo el mundo necesita y merece una vivienda estable. En East Boston, estas familias inmigrantes latinas luchan por permanecer después de que recibieron notificaciones de desalojo sin culpa de Fernando Dalfior de Dalfior Development. Dalfior quiere vaciar su edificio multifamiliar de departamentos en 168 Gove Street con el fin de construir condominios nuevos en el terreno.
A pesar de la pandemia, la gentrificación avanza en Boston, y algunos especuladores como Dalfior todavía están tratando de desalojar a las familias durante COVID-19 sin culpa.Son desalojos absolutamente injustos e impulsados por las ganancias.
Pero las familias de 168 Gove Street no se van a ir, sino que, con valentía y esperanza, se están uniendo para defender colectivamente sus hogares.
El sábado 12 de diciembre, la Asociación de Inquilinos de Gove Street realizó una vigilia exigiendo un contrato nuevo de arrendamiento justo de Dalfior.Están exigiendo estabilidad, alquileres justos y ninguna "cláusula de retención" en un contrato nuevo de arrendamiento que los desplazaría en un futuro próximo.
City Life/Vida Urbana seguirá luchando junto a los inquilinos de 168 Gove Street hasta que ganen un contrato de arrendamiento justo y eviten desalojos injustos.
71-year-old disabled Vietnam vet Frank Sharpe is anxiously waiting for a letter from a judge in the mail. The letter will contain the judge's decision about his eviction case, telling him whether or not he will be forced to leave his Dorchester home this winter.
Frank's landlord is evicting him for "no fault", apparently to bring in higher-paying tenants. While Frank's fixed income is very low, he's been able to consistently keep up with his rent, which is more than half of his income.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has enacted a ban on the final stage of evictions, preventing some renters from being forced from their apartments. But Frank couldn't leverage the CDC's eviction ban in his defense in court, because he felt that the declaration he would need to sign under pains and penalties of perjury did not apply to his situation. The CDC ban doesn't clearly apply to no-fault cases like Frank's.
Frank's landlord bought his home from him in 2008 in a short sale when he was going into foreclosure. While she's continued to rent to Frank at a rate he could afford on his small income, Frank's landlord is now pushing for his eviction, despite the threat of illness and death in the pandemic. Frank simply wants to stay for the time it takes to secure another home he can afford, instead of becoming homeless in the dangerous pandemic winter.
SCALE OF MASSACHUSETTS' EVICTION CRISIS: For the 2nd week in a row, eviction filings for non-payment in Massachusetts are breaking 2020 records. Since Governor Baker allowed evictions to continue in October, over 3,400 Massachusetts families have new non-payment cases in eviction court.
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 displacement and 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 over 18 months we partnered with researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to look at evictions filed in Boston Housing Court. We zeroed in especially on evictions in private-market (unsubsidized) housing. We also looked at Boston eviction filings during the COVID-19 pandemic (before they were banned in April 2020). What neighborhoods are most impacted? Who lives in these frontline communities?
Eviction filings in market-rate rental housing are disproportionately occuring in Boston’s communities of color. Over 2/3 (70%) of market-rate eviction filings are in census tracts where the majority of residents are people of color (even though only about half of the city’s rental housing is in these areas).
These disparate effects are magnified in predominantly Black communities, where market-rate eviction filings are two times more common than if these filings were equally distributed across the city. Over 1/3 (37%) of market-rate eviction filings occur in neighborhoods in which a majority of residents are Black (though only 18% of rental housing is in these neighborhoods).
We see similar racially disproportionate trends in evictions today, in a context where many more families are at risk of losing their home. During the COVID-19 pandemic, over 3/4 (78%) of all evictions filed in Boston during the pandemic (from the first outbreak to the moment evictions were banned state-wide, a 7-week period) are in census tracts where the majority of residents are people of color.
These trends are related to neighborhood poverty and income levels, but are more closely correlated with the racial composition of a neighborhood than other socioeconomic characteristics. Market-rate eviction filings are more likely to occur in census tracts where there’s a larger share of Black renters, controlling for other variables in predictive statistical models, including rent burden, median household income, and poverty rate.
[español abajo] This past week, Boston saw the ramifications of our government's failure to meaningfully address white supremacy and racial capitalism. In a time when our City’s Black and Brown communities are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, thousands of people risked their health and safety to protest the state-sanctioned lynchings of Black bodies.
We saw a burning rage, whose embers first sparked, when ships of looted black bodies reached these ports four centuries ago; a rage that smoldered as our country exchanged slavery for Jim Crow and then incarceration. These same flames were fanned when the world watched Rodney King beaten -- ignited when Eric Garner was strangled -- and erupted into an inferno when we saw yet another Black life horrifically extinguished after pleading, “I can’t breathe.”
We are murdered, evicted, incarcerated, and sickened by agents of white supremacy and racial capitalism (racialized class oppression), whether they go by the titles of officer, judge, CEO, or president. They all play an active role in the same machine. This machine was first fueled by our looted ancestors, it continues to be oiled by prison workers in factories making license plates and bomb parts, and it is kept humming during a pandemic by Black and Brown essential workers behind the grills and registers.
The insidious nature of racial capitalism plays out in corporate media when it chooses to cover property loss, rather than the loss of Black lives. When the media cover an action, they focus on the fringe destruction, rather than the heart of the action: an unprecedented display of love and solidarity for Black people.
We know who the real looters are. They are the real estate companies displacing us from our Jamaica Plain, our Roxbury, our Dorchester, our Mattapan, our East Boston -- swallowing property with the intention to use it for profit, rather than to use it for a home, for a community.
Our wealth was extracted and stolen, and it still is. This reality was made painfully clear in 2015, when the Federal Reserve published data showing the median wealth for white households in the Boston area was $247,500 -- while for non-immigrant Black households it was only $8. We are still suffering from the lingering effects of capitalist tools rooted in white supremacy and white ideologies. These fueled the government policy of redlining, and the continuing government war on the community called the “war on drugs.” The losses Black communities have endured vastly outweigh the damage to commercial property here in Boston.
We know that white supremacy is not the only tool racial capitalism uses to extract wealth. It also uses patriarchy to exploit womxn, transgender people, and gender nonconforming people. It uses imperialism and militarism to exploit lands and immigrants, and it divides oppressed people around the world.
That is why now, more than ever, the display of unity and love for Black lives happening around the world is urgently needed for all of our survival.
City Life / Vida Urbana stands in solidarity with millions of people rising up demanding justice. We will stay true to our mission to fight for racial, social, economic, and gender justice by building working class power. We will continue to promote individual empowerment, develop community leaders, and build collective power to effect systemic change and transform our society.
JUSTICE FOR GEORGE FLOYD
JUSTICE FOR BREONNA TAYLOR
JUSTICE FOR AHMAUD ARBERY
JUSTICE FOR TERRENCE COLEMAN
JUSTICE FOR BURRELL RAMSEY
DEFUND POLICE AND PRISONS, FUND BLACK AND BROWN LIVES & COMMUNITIES
Defund the Boston Police Department, Department of Corrections, and sheriffs.
End BPD presence in schools and the racist gang database, end police sweeps, and end building new jails and prisons.
Cut the police budget from $414 million to $374 million. REINVEST IN COMMUNITY NEEDS, including $15 million for youth jobs and support for formerly incarcerated people.
El pasado 31 de mayo, Boston vió las ramificaciones de la incapacidad de nuestro gobierno para abordar significativamente la supremacía blanca y el capitalismo racial. Durante estos tiempos en los que las comunidades de color de nuestra ciudad están siendo afectadas desproporcionadamente por COVID-19, miles de personas sintieron necesario arriesgar su salud y seguridad para protestar contra los linchamientos de La gente de color.
Vimos una rabia ardiente cuyas brasas chispearon por primera vez cuando los barcos con gente saqueada de color llegaron a estos puertos, hace cuatro siglos. Una rabia que ardió mientras en nuestro país se intercambiaba la esclavitud por el encarcelamiento. Cuyas llamas se avivaron cuando el mundo vió a Rodney King vencido—se encendieron cuando Eric Garner fué estrangulado-- y que estallaron en un infierno cuando vimos otra vida de color horriblemente extinguida después de suplicar: "No puedo respirar".
Somos asesinados, desalojados, encarcelados y enfermados por agentes, independientemente de sus títulos de oficial, juez, CEO o presidente. Son partes de dos piezas más grandes de la misma máquina, la supremacía blanca y el capitalismo racial. Esta máquina que fué construida por nuestros ancestros saqueados, continúa siendo engrasada por los trabajadores de la prisión fabricando placas vehiculares y piezas de bombas, y sigue tarareando durante una pandemia de trabajadores esenciales de color detrás de las parrillas y de las cajas registradoras.
La naturaleza insidiosa del capitalismo racial se ve reflejada en nuestros medios de comunicación cuando el sujeto es referido como la pérdida de propiedad, en lugar de la pérdida de una vida. Esta naturaleza es clara cuando se centra en la destrucción parcial, en lugar de lo que estaba en el corazón de la acción: una muestra sin precedentes del amor y de la solidaridad con la gente de color.
Sabemos quiénes son los verdaderos saqueadores. Son las compañías de bienes raíces que nos desalojan de nuestro Jamaica Plain, de nuestro Roxbury, de nuestro Dorchester, de nuestro Mattapan, de nuestro East Boston – adquiriendo propiedades con la intención de usarlas con fines de lucro, en lugar de usarlas para proveer viviendas.
Nuestra riqueza estaba, y sigue siendo, extraída y robada. Esta realidad quedó dolorosamente clara en 2015, cuando se publicaron datos que mostraban que la riqueza promedio de las familias blancas en Boston era de $247,500, mientras que la de las familias de color era sólo de $8.00. Seguimos sufriendo los efectos persistentes de las herramientas capitalistas arraigadas en la supremacía blanca. Estos alimentan la política del gobierno de “las zonas rojas”, y la guerra del gobierno contra la comunidad, llamada la "guerra contra las drogas". Las pérdidas que las comunidades de color han sufrido superan enormemente los daños a la propiedad, de los vidrios de las tiendas aquí en Boston.
Sabemos que la supremacía blanca no es la única herramienta que utiliza el capitalismo racial para extraer la riqueza. También utiliza el patriarcado para explotar a las mujeres y a las personas inconformes con un género. Utiliza el imperialismo y el militarismo para explotar las tierras y a los inmigrantes. Es una máquina que se alimenta dividiendo a personas oprimidas en todo el mundo.
Es por eso por lo que ahora más que nunca, la exhibición de unidad y amor por las vidas de la gente de color que sucede en todo el mundo es urgentemente necesaria para la supervivencia de todos nosotros.
City Life / Vida Urbana es solidaria con millones de personas que se levantan exigiendo justicia. Nos mantendremos fieles a nuestra misión de luchar por la justicia racial, económica y social; y por la igualdad de género, mediante la construcción del poder de clase trabajadora. Continuaremos promoviendo el empoderamiento individual, desarrollando líderes comunitarios y construyendo el poder colectivo para llevar a cabo el cambio sistémico y transformar a nuestra sociedad.
JUSTICIA PARA GEORGE FLOYD
JUSTICIA PARA BREONNA TAYLOR
JUSTICIA PARA AHMAUD ARBERY
JUSTICIA PARA TERRENCE COLEMAN
JUSTICIA PARA BURRELL RAMSEY
QUITEN FONDOS PARA LA POLICÍA Y PRISIONES, DEN FONDOS PARA LAS COMUNIDADES DE COLOR
Desfinancien al Departamento de Policía de Boston, al Correccional y a los alguaciles.
Acaben con la presencia de BPD en las escuelas y con la base de datos de pandillas racistas, poner fin a las redadas policiales y terminar la construcción de nuevas cárceles.
Reduzcan el presupuesto de la policía de $414 millones a $374 millones. REINVIERTAN EN NECESIDADES COMUNITARIAS, incluyendo $15 millones para empleos a jóvenes y apoyo a personas que han estado en la cárcel.
Remembering The Life and Legacy of City Life/Vida Urbana Leader Mary Wright By Steve Meacham
“I was born by the river in a little tent Oh and just like the river I've been running ev'r since It's been a long time, a long time coming But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will”
(“A Change Is Gonna Come”, Sam Cooke, Ben Sollee)
Listen to Mary's powerful rendition of this song here:
Mary Wright passed away on May 8, 2020. She played a leading role in the Housing Justice Organization City Life Vida Urbana. In our weekly mass meetings, she would often be called upon to sing this song by Sam Cooke. Although I heard her sing it countless times, it always brought tears.
The song symbolized her personal and movement for justice narratives. She moved from Selma, Alabama, where she witnessed the heart of the Black Liberation movement, to Boston.
I met her when she became involved with City Life. She started coming to our meetings when she and other tenants from her building received notices of a $1000 rent increase. Mary was an organizer, and she lost no time organizing those tenants to come to City Life. She led a multi-year struggle to defend her and her neighbors’ homes.
Mary wrote letters, held meetings, spoke to media, and led protest pickets. She helped arrange legal defense with the aid of the famous David Grossman, a lawyer at the Legal Services Center and later the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. Mary ended up winning a 10-year collective bargaining agreement for all affected tenants that kept rent increases modest during that period.
During this fight, Mary became more and more active with City Life. She attended countless rallies for other tenant associations, spreading the gospel of solidarity. When the foreclosure crisis hit in 2007, she extended her understanding of solidarity to the flood of small owners who were flocking to City Life meetings. Mary was at many eviction blockades where members risked arrest to stop auctions and evictions.
Mary was fearless. At one City Council meeting where a huge gathering demanded some form of tenant protection, the vote went against us. Mary led the huge crowd in singing the Sam Cooke song as people slowly marched out the door, pledging to return.
When we had the ability, City Life hired her. For years over 100 people have been attending City Life’s weekly mass meetings. Mary was an emotional anchor there, singing, educating, giving testimony. She represented City Life at many events. Mary collaborated with Dave Grossman to talk at Harvard Law classes.
One memory all City Life members share is the relationship between Mary and Jim Brooks. They came into City Life together. They helped lead most Tuesday meetings. Jim was a wheelchair user (he passed four years ago), frequently chaining his wheelchair to the balustrade of a front porch to stop an eviction. They became close friends, bantering back and forth in front of our meetings to give courage and community to many isolated and fearful people. Jim would frequently ask Mary to sing the Sam Cooke song to accomplish that goal.
Mary had a stroke just as City Life was renegotiating her collective bargaining agreement. She was placed in a nursing home, but continued to receive all kinds of visitors. Recently she tested positive for the Corona Virus and was taken at a much too early age of 76.
Mary was a deeply spiritual person. She was part of two churches. One was her beloved New Hope Baptist Church, where she was a long-time leader. The other was City Life, which has sometimes been called “housing church”.
Therefore it’s fitting to end with this (slightly amended) verse from the Sam Cooke song.
It's been too hard living, but I'm not afraid to die 'Cause I know there is someone, up there, beyond the sky It's been a long, a long time coming But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will.