Boston activists call for policies in Renters Day of Action demonstration

Tenants rally to demand gentrification protections

Jule Pattison-Gordon | 9/28/2016, 10:27 a.m.
Tenant activists from across Boston gathered for a Renters Day of Action protest last Thursday where they highlighted issues in ...
Protesters gathered before the Greater Boston Real Estate Board headquarters downtown, criticizing what they said were practices that favored profit over people. Banner photo

Protestors at City Hall raised the spectre that much of the working class could be pushed out of Boston, thus destroying communities and damaging the city’s economic diversity and viability.

Ownership and evictions

Activists called for measures to prevent landlords and developers from speculating on real estate, increase emphasis on affordable housing and promote turnover of public land to community control. Groups such as land trusts would be able to ensure continued affordability or that land use reflects other resident priorities, several activists said.

“It’s not good enough to fight gentrification and rent increases,” said Suzanne Lee, CPA president emeritus and board member of the Chinatown Community Land Trust. “We must control the land in our community. That’s the only way we can make a dent and stem the tide of gentrification.”

Many expressed frustration with what they said was limited community voice reflected in development plans. Among these were members of the Fenway who were protesting Emerson College’s plans to house students for two years in the neighborhood. Protestors said that plan seemed to be progressing, despite local resistance.

Activists said that residents are better able to hold landlords accountable when they are local individuals or community groups, as opposed to large corporate owners. Among protesters’ requests were passage of a just cause eviction law, which would prevent corporate landlords from evicting tenants without providing an acceptable reason, such as property damage or failure to pay rent, thus curtailing their ability to make no-fault evictions. A draft of the just cause eviction bill is with Mayor Martin Walsh and the city council, Darnell Johnson of Right to the City told the Banner.

While an earlier version of the bill gave tenants access to non-binding third-party mediation with landlords prior to any significant rent increases to see if an alternative solution can be found, that provision was removed during negotiations. It was replaced by a requirement that landlords file notices to quit both with the tenant and with the city’s Office of Housing Stability. With many residents unaware of their rights and resources in such a situation, this will cause the city to provide tenants with information, Johnson said.

Once evicted, residents often struggle to find living quarters they can afford. Pei Ying Yu said that when a developer bought their home on Hudson Street, she and other long-time tenants were forced to leave so repairs could be made. Yu qualified for subsidized senior housing, but said her sister, who also was displaced more than a year ago, remains homeless.

Greg Vasil, CEO of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, said in a Banner phone interview that procedures already are in place for handling a situation in which a landlord tries to evict a tenant early. In his view, the just cause eviction ordinance seems designed to prevent a lease from ending on its expiration date, something he said tenants should work out before signing.

Vasil also said there is a danger in tenants’ calls for a rent freeze, stating that national developers testified in a March hearing that rent control in Boston would discourage them from building here. When the city had rent control, many landlords could not afford to make repairs, he said.