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Housing activists seek to expand land trusts

Anna Lamb
Housing activists seek to expand land trusts
Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative Executive Director John Smith addresses reporters during a press conference in Dorchester. PHOTO: ANNA LAMB

Last week, tenant organizers celebrating the acquisition of a multifamily home by the Boston Neighborhood Community Land Trust came together to announce that their work is not done — they are now asking that city and state officials use federal ARPA funds to continue purchasing area homes to be preserved as permanent affordable housing.

Humphreys Place, a six-unit building in the Uphams Corner section of Dorchester, was obtained by the Boston Neighborhood Community Land Trust back in December 2021, after years of legal battles between tenants and the landlord who tenants say attempted to force them out.

“After all the struggles we’ve been through, we are stronger than ever, and we know we don’t have to leave. We advise anyone like us to always fight for your rights. Our victory is not just for the tenants of 6 Humphreys, it’s a victory for the whole community,” resident Jean Paul Doh said at the Thursday morning gathering.

Using the momentum of the victory, organizers from the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, Chinatown Community Land Trust and City Life/Vida Urbana are now rallying behind the Boston Neighborhood Community Land Trust asking for additional support. Organizers outlined the following as necessary to stave off unaffordable development across Boston and surrounding areas:

$50 million in federal ARPA funds to the City of Boston Acquisition Opportunity Program that provides loans for buying occupied multi-family rental properties   

$200 million from state ARPA funds to support acquisition and preservation of 500 units in Boston and more than 500 units in other cities and towns and permanent removal of the units from the speculative market

$10 million to double Project-based rental assistance vouchers, and prioritize pairing these vouchers with permanently affordable, community-controlled, scattered-site housing

$5 million in federal ARPA funds to a Community Land Trust Fund matched with a $5 million annual allocation as a city budget line item.

Organizers said Thursday that the funds could help reach a goal of 1,000 permanently affordable units by 2026.

“As the city and the state prepare their FY 23 budgets, and with the opportunity to use federal funds, we have an opportunity to really keep people in their homes and in their communities,” Chinatown CLT director Lydia Lowe said. “If we grab this moment.”

Lowe told the Banner that now is an important time for struggling residents to band together.

“Roxbury, Chinatown, Dorchester and Chelsea all have the same goal of permanently affordable housing and stabilizing our communities,” she said. “Each community has different conditions and is doing it in different ways, but that’s what really ties us together.”

Speakers on behalf of the proposed investments echoed Lowe, noting that gentrification has been spreading throughout the city and its outlying towns that once served as working-class communities.

“It’s happening in Dorchester, it’s happening in Mattapan, it’s happening in Roxbury and in Hyde Park — it targets communities of color,” said Denise Matthews Turner, co-director of CLVU. “Their motive is profit, but what they’re dealing with are the homes of people.”

John Smith, executive director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, also spoke about the need to keep communities of color in their homes, especially as coronavirus recovery remains slow.

“People can’t save money or build wealth when rents are high, or they’re being constantly displaced and they have to find somewhere else to live,” he said.

Now advocates hope to find supporters to introduce their line items in budget discussions happening in the coming weeks. So far, City Councilor Kendra Lara, chair of the Council’s Housing Committee, has voiced her support for such measures, as well as state Sen. Pat Jehlen, whose district includes Somerville and Cambridge and who is a lead sponsor of the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act.