Saturday, July 17th, 2021: About 75 tenants and supporters rallied at SoMa Apartments to demand that DSF Group, the corporate owner of the housing complex, either negotiate affordable, long-term leases with households living there or sell the property to an owner who will do so. The protest was led by the SoMa Apartments Tenant Association in collaboration with City Life/Vida Urbana.
The crowd rallied at the entrance to SoMa Apartments and then paraded along the winding footpaths of the property, accompanied by a lively brass band while displaying colorful signs that said "People Over Profit" and "We Shall Not Be Moved".
Photo: A resident of SoMa Apartments rallies with the tenant association to stop rent hikes and displacement at the 300+ unit apartment complex (credit: City Life/Vida Urbana).
The parade ended in Mattapan Square, where long-time residents of SoMa Apartments performed street theater depicting a mock trial in which DSF Group is charged with outrageous rent hikes, threatening no-fault evictions, and giving organized residents the silent treatment when they call for meetings.
"I've been a resident of here for 48 years and I've always paid my rent on time," testified Ms. Annie Gordon, a SoMa Apartments renter, as part of the street theater. "But 3 years ago, when DSF Group bought the complex, they raised my rent by over $300," she said, noting her inability to pay the increase on her fixed retirement income.
After hearing from several resident "witnesses" in the mock trial who shared similar experiences about receiving overnight rent hikes of hundreds of dollars and threats of eviction, the "judge" in the skit issued a lyrical decree.
"This is my ruling, DSF Group: to your wealth you are addicted, your behavior must be restricted, in this trial you have been convicted. So, DSF, YOU'RE EVICTED!," the mock judge pronounced.
Photo: SoMa Apartments resident Betty Lewis (foreground) rallies for stable housing with the activist street band BABAM! (Boston Area Brigade of Activist Musicians) in front of her apartment complex (credit: City Life/Vida Urbana).
"We asked DSF Group to sit down with our tenant association and negotiate a fair rent increase, but they refused to sit down with us," said Gordon.
During the time in which Gordon hasn't paid the unaffordable rent hike codified in the lease DSF has presented, the company has repeatedly sent her $500 charges on a monthly basis. Those charges, which Gordon is also unable to pay, have racked up to several thousand dollars that DSF alleges she owes. Other longtime households at the complex have similar stories.
Photo: Residents of SoMa Apartments and supporters march for affordable, long-term leases holding a sign in Haitian Creole that reads "Housing Is The Cure!" (English translation). Credit: City Life/Vida Urbana.
"Corporate greed doesn't even stop for a global pandemic," said Helen Matthews, Communications Director at City Life/Vida Urbana. "The only thing that can stop corporate greed is collective organizing like what the SoMa Apartments Tenant Association is doing here," Matthews said.
Lawmakers locally and nationally are debating the eviction crisis as a problem of non-payment evictions during the pandemic, and many are essentially ignoring families' struggles with rent hikes, luxury redevelopment, and the "no fault" evictions that follow corporate profit-seeking, say organizers at City Life/Vida Urbana.
"They're greedy," said Manuel Mena, a SoMa Apartments resident when describing his landlord's refusal to meet negotiate with tenants.
Rally participants also called for the passage of a state-wide law known as the COVID Housing Equity Bill which would pause no-fault evictions, prevent non-payment evictions, and support distressed homeowners during the pandemic recovery period.
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.