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Housing activists, teachers protest in Nubian Square

Morgan C. Mullings
Staff reporter covering state and local politics. Report for America Corps Member. VIEW BIO
Housing activists, teachers protest in Nubian Square
Activists with City Life/Vida Urbana and the Boston Teachers Union demonstrated in favor of eviction protections and against in-class instruction. PHOTO: MORGAN C. MULLINGS

In the fight to pass eviction legislation that could protect renters and small landlords during the COVID-19 crisis, City Life/Vida Urbana has partnered with other COVID-related causes. Teachers from the Boston Teachers Union, parents and renters in Nubian Square voiced their concerns about housing, school reopening and job loss in a rally Wednesday in front of the Boston Public Schools Bolling Building headquarters.

The state’s eviction moratorium ends on Oct. 17, and Boston Public Schools open Sept. 21 with a recently-announced remote start and a phased-in return to school buildings. Several sectors of Boston business have reopened through the governor’s phased approach while some Massachusetts cities are seeing dangerous spikes in COVID-19 cases. Organizers believe these issues will exacerbate each other during the fall.

“I think they all relate to safety,” James F. Condon K-8 School teacher Becca Maclean told the Banner. She and several other teachers voiced their support for the COVID-19 Housing Stability Act and promoted the BTU reopening plan that calls for a remote start to the school year.

“We know as teachers that students aren’t going to be able to learn unless they are safe in their homes, in their communities, in the school buildings. And so also one thing that we’re working on as a teachers union is how to leverage the power that we have in order to fight for common good demands,” she said.

The rally was organized by Judy Burnette, who said her experience with eviction led her to apply to work for City Life/Vida Urbana.

“I’m thinking about the parents … who live in Nubian Square,” she said. “Because they don’t have jobs, they’re in jeopardy of being evicted … which means your kids are going to be uprooted. So it’s a vicious cycle.”

Burnette invited parents up on the steps of the Bruce C. Bolling Building to speak on behalf of their children, and to detail how a return to classrooms could be dangerous.

Amanda Govan, a parent and representative for Reclaim Roxbury, brought her 8-year-old daughter to the rally.

“I shouldn’t have to sacrifice my child for a semi-decent public education. I was her teacher for the past four-and-a-half months due to the remote learning,” she said. “A lot of this has to stop. We can’t sacrifice our children because of COVID-19.”

Govan and many others spoke of the lack of soap in school bathrooms, the lack of windows in classrooms and the inability to social-distance large numbers of students.

Previously, counter-protesters from the Small Property Owners Association in Cambridge were present at City Life/Vida Urbana demonstrations with their own message: Pay your rent. Though they didn’t attend this rally, SPOA President Skip Schloming says he is aware of the magnitude of the issues renters face. He mentioned options like bringing in extra tenants, moving in with family members or taking out a loan. But when asked about parents in low-income neighborhoods who don’t have these options, Schloming said, “I have complete sympathy for that situation … but if you stop evictions, landlords have lost the only tool that allows them to enforce payment of rent, and to enforce good behavior.”

Following the rally, several protesters calling for a remote school year joined a larger group at the State House, while others attended an online school committee meeting to voice their opinions. Two days later, Mayor Martin Walsh announced that all Boston Public Schools will start fully remote, and students will return to classes gradually throughout October and November.

“We are pleased to see that the time period to prepare for safety is being rightfully extended, particularly in light of the increasingly troubling data we are seeing both across the state and the nation,” BTU President Jessica Tang said in a statement.

City Life/Vida Urbana continued their efforts on housing stability on Saturday in Mattapan with the residents of Morton Village. According to their press release, the building is being purchased by Avanath Capital Management, and over 100 residents have signed a letter asking them that rent remain “within reach and no one be unjustly evicted.”