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Harrison Ave. businesses fighting eviction

Tenants say developer reneged on pledge to grant 10-year lease

Anna Lamb
Harrison Ave. businesses fighting eviction
Businesses at 1127 Harrison Ave. say they’ve been given a month to quit the premises. BANNER PHOTO

Business owners in a building slated for redevelopment in Nubian Square say they were tricked by the incoming development team, who is now forcing them out of their storefronts. In response, Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) has taken up the case and is urging city officials to halt the approval process for the project.

“One day, I wasn’t there, my husband called me and said there’s a letter — 30 days’ notice,” said Mano Mumin, owner of a halal grocery store on the site.

Mumin, like several other business owners at 1127 Harrison Ave., said she was given a month’s notice that she would be evicted, despite no prior issues with payment and prior promises that she would be included in the renovation. The letter was sent by the Boston Real Estate Collaborative (BREC), who last year, after purchasing the building, submitted a Small Project Review Application (SPRA) to the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) and is on track to be approved for its renovation.

LCR, in a letter to the mayor and zoning board officials, said that in the run-up to its application, BREC approached not only tenants but also leaders from the advocacy group African Community Economic Development of New England (ACEDONE), promising to give businesses a 10-year lease. In return, ACEDONE leaders say, the developers wanted vocal support for the project.

“We had written a letter of support. I participated in public hearings supporting the project,” said ACEDONE Founder Abdul Hussein.

Hussein added that marketing materials for the project even showed BREC developers shaking hands and meeting with Harrison Avenue tenants.

But now, the script has flipped. Hussein said developers have been evasive and have claimed issues such as tenant non-payment. Hussein, advocating for tenants, said he’s tried explaining that rent collection procedures under the prior landlord had been informal, with a landlord representative “often just stopping by the businesses to collect rent” and that a number of the businesses have since sent in rental checks that have gone uncashed.

He added that ACEDONE has further attempted to resolve the issue by offering to become the tenant and having sub-leases with the existing tenants, but to no avail.

“For all the public hearings … We put our face to this in good faith that you’re really helping. But you guys had your own plan. You’re just using us to achieve what you want,” Hussein said.

Mumin said that since receiving the letter, she has been searching for a new location for her business but that it’s been extremely difficult, with the shop’s heavy refrigerators and coolers and considering what she can afford.

“It’s not that easy,” she said.

Mumin also added that if her business is lost, it will impact the community that she has built — especially now, during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan.

“We have a lot of stuff from Africa, from Asia, from America, people come here for shopping, the halal meat,” Mumin said.” It’s very important for them that we stay here to serve them.” 

Priya Lane, an attorney with LCR, is urging the developer to honor its previous commitment to the Harrison Avenue businesses.

“This displacement is a huge hit to this community. And so we encourage BREC to immediately withdraw, because this is a complete violation of what they agreed to do,” she said.

If not, she said, she hopes that the city can step in.

“The best option right now is for the BPDA to do what is completely within their purview, which is not approve the project,” Lane added.

Moreover, LCR is asking that the BPDA only approve the renovation project if BREC provides legally-binding, written assurances of a “no displacement” agreement and 10-year lease, as the firm’s public and oral representations have clearly been insufficient.

ACEDONE says it will withdraw its support for the project if the requested mediation steps are not taken.

“Our ultimate goal is to really protect these small businesses to have what they supposed to have, which is a commercial lease for 10 years,” Hussein said.

LCR and ACEDONE say they are currently in the process of scheduling meetings with BREC and city hall officials. BREC officials have not yet responded to the Banner’s requests for comment.

business, Harrison Avenue, nubian square