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.