The problem of evictions and rental increases in East Boston
By Luis Bravo
The eviction crisis in East Boston has gone from bad to worse. If at one time, it was thought that the Latino community would be the most affected by evictions due its social and/or economic situation, or perhaps its migratory status, which makes it a much more vulnerable community, through attending the City Life/Vida Urbana meetings, we find that evictions are also affecting the rest of the working class in East Boston.
At the beginning, these meetings were initiated by Andrés del Castillo, City Life’s Organizing Leader, but now the neighbors who were victims of landlords who wanted to evict them from their properties in order to renovate or sell the real estate with the intention of generating huge profits are initiating the meetings for themselves. In any case, in each meeting that City Life organizes at the Lutheran Church in East Boston, one can see more and more people from other nationalities and communities attending these events. Arab immigrants and Muslims, but especially Anglo-Saxon Americans and war veterans who have lived in Eastie for decades and now they and their children who also live in our neighborhood, are being affected by this urban development. This means that the working class in general can no longer afford the rental prices for housing in this area, and this is aggravated further by the various new regional projects that are being created, which are exaggerating the impact on our and other communities.
Before it was just the development in East Boston, but now Revere wants to have the Suffolk Downs land for a housing project, and this is greatly influencing the cost of housing in that city.
Everett is now constructing the casino and its owner has begun to buy all the houses around the casino because he wants to make a Las Vegas style casino, with a gigantic highway, an open zone, commercial centers, trees, etc., and this is also causing much speculation in the housing market.
In Chelsea, for example, we have the extension of the Silver Line’s MBTA busses, in which the city’s project will be investing millions of dollars in the Bellingham Square area, which includes Chelsea City Hall, the former Bunker Hill Community College building, and Broadway St. This is worrying the neighbors, since they are buying up houses and businesses in this zone.
So, if we sum up all these projects, we can visualize the magnitude of harm that this problem of gentrification is causing. Displacement has been growing, along with evictions, and rental increases continue to multiply, including in Lynn, which is one of the cities where public transportation is extremely limited, creating yet another social problem for minority communities, in which obtaining a driver’s license is not exactly easy, pushing many people to drive without one.
Although many say that this is irresponsible, the reality is that for many of these people, driving without a license is not a question of responsibility, but of a simple basic necessity, the need for transportation, to go to work, to take one’s kids to school, to the doctor, etc. While the displacement problem continues to grow, and people have to move farther and farther away from the center of the city where the jobs are, many more people are going to have to get themselves from here to there however they can, and this puts us in an even more precarious situation. In summary, we are now seeing the secondary and tertiary effects of displacement, a problem which is serious, very serious.
According to Andrés del Castillo, Organizing Leader of City Life/Vida Urbana “The community has to understand that the eviction situation has not improved, and on the contrary, has gone from bad to worse. To put this in political context, we can realize that there are other topics for which we have become activated politically and have demonstrated publicly such as the case of migration, which has motivated and pushed politicians to be more proactive with regard to the topic of undocumented migration. But the situation with evictions in East Boston has not improved, but rather grown worse, and if we pay attention, we can see that we have more influence at the local than federal level, because we have been able to hold marches, campaigns, protests, etc. So just as we push actions in defense of tenants, we can also push actions to create resources, and programs that benefit us directly or indirectly, such as the program to acquire housing at reasonable prices, which gives a certain amount of funds to organizations so they can buy units of occupied housing with the idea of maintaining these tenants in these units, paying reasonable rents for their apartments, providing benefits to both sides, first to the owner who is selling because he wants to cash out of his investment now that market rents have risen astronomically, and second, to the tenants, who can continue living in their apartments at reasonable rents, and thus everyone wins.”
This gives us pause to think that one of many projects has been won through mobilizations, but the actual project that is still being pushed and that we are trying to win, is with a municipal legislative measure that changes the situation. It’s not about buying houses and stabilizing them, which is a great strategy that helps us, but we can’t buy all of East Boston overnight, and thus call the problem solved!
The Community Preservation Act (CPA) is a referendum that passed in November 2016 and is permitting the creation of a 0.1% property tax that will be used as funds to “stabilize” East Boston, and since these funds don’t have a direct destination, they can be used to invest in parks, street cleaning, public lighting, etc., as well as investing in buying properties and renting the units so that people can continue living with reasonable rents. For this reason, it is important that community leaders, tenants, and everyone affected by urban development apply much political pressure to receive a favorable ruling so that these funds can be used this way to give the neighborhood a decent life with decent homes, for what good are beautiful parks if at the end of the day, they raise our rents and kick us out, for then these parks were not really for us. The idea of the CPA funds is that they are going directly to the most vulnerable communities. Besides, the acquisitions program is a pilot program that can give us a reference point as to how we can use these funds.
Thank goodness, the Community Preservation Act passed, and soon will take effect. Now the third legislative component is upon us, which is called the Jim Brooks Stabilization Act, which offers three very important things. First, it will give more protections to the owners who are being foreclosed upon. Second, it will make it illegal to buy a building and immediately evict its tenants. Third, it would oblige the landlord to deliver notification to the tenant at the time of eviction – which is actually the current law – but this same notification would now be required to be sent to the Municipality, so that the city knows the exact address of the apartment where the tenants are being evicted, in order to send them a pamphlet about their tenant rights, with a list of community legal resources so those being evicted can seek help.
This act was proposed by the very same Mayor of Boston and it’s being considered by the City Council. The Jim Brooks Stabilization Act is being revised for approval by a committee led by Michael Flaherty, Councilor-at-Large. Some councilors are opposed to this act in its current form, but the community is in a very good position to negotiate some changes. Besides, we have arrived at this point due to the city’s political negligence. The mayor and the city councilors are responsible for this situation, because we and the tenants united in an event and asked them about the solutions that the city has to resolve this problem, and instead of giving us a concrete answer, they asked us about the solutions that we had, as if we were urban developers, legislators, lawyers, and knowing full well that the neighborhood is comprised of a working class community that is not appropriately qualified to give a specialized and legislative response regarding this problem. During all this time, the city has not done anything concrete until now, we have just had a conversation, while the situation continues to degrade the stability of the tenants, and for that reason we are pushing this legislation because we don’t see other alternatives to stop the evictions and this irresponsible urban development.
Unfortunately, Councilor Sal LaMattina betrayed us, to say it clearly and frankly. We invited to our meeting LaMattina, and Rep. Adrian Madaro, who said that they supported this legislation in front of 80 tenants who were being affected. Initially, LaMattina said he did not understand the legislation, but after someone explained it clearly, he said he didn’t have any problem with it and agreed to support this initiative. Those were the words of LaMattina in that moment, and now that the legislation is on the floor and he is at the point of leaving his post, he is saying that he is against the legislative proposal. We consider this attitude as treason that will leave a sad legacy. For his part, Madaro continues supporting our proposal. The important thing to know is, what will be his position if the mayor signs the bill at the city level and sends it to the State House for approval?”, concluded Del Castillo.