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The rent is too high: state rep. candidate priced out

Anna Lamb

Last week State Representative hopeful Mark Martinez announced on Twitter that he would be withdrawing his candidacy for the 7th Suffolk District, citing his inability to find affordable housing in the district as the reason for the early end to the campaign.

“Like far too many people before me, and far too many after me if Beacon Hill continues to abdicate its duties, I have been priced out of the district and, more sadly, priced out of the place that I call home,” Martinez wrote in a statement posted to social media.

Most recently, Martinez served as legal counsel and budget director to state Sen. Patricia D. Jehlen, during which he co-founded BeaconBLOC, a “collective of State House staffers that came together to demand institutional changes designed to better recruit, retain and support staffers of color, and in particular Black staffers.”

Building on that work, Martinez’s campaign centered on creating equity across the Bay State, including economic opportunity for Black and Brown residents and fighting climate change.

Ironically, the former State House staffer, prior to his candidacy ending, was running a campaign based largely on creating housing security across his district — an issue clearly close to home.

“Boston is a place where working people can’t afford to live,” Martinez said in a conversation with the Banner. “This wasn’t an accident. This isn’t something that nobody saw coming. We knew what the consequences were if we didn’t take care of people, if we didn’t enact housing policies that kept housing affordable, and paid people good wages. We let this happen.”

A six-year resident of his apartment in Roxbury, Martinez was paying $1,200 a month for his unit before receiving notice from his landlord that she would not be renewing the lease and he had less than 30 days to move. He said the landlord did not give a reason for her decision not to renew.

Martinez said between first, last and security deposit and the month-to-month rents he was seeing in other apartment listings, he wouldn’t have enough to pay both the rent and be able to feed himself and pay other bills.

“Not many people have six, seven, eight thousand dollars laying around in order to be able to pay all the upfront costs,” he said. “Some of the apartments that I was looking at that would have been available to me, I’d be paying over 50% of my income on rent.”

According to housing data from the online marketplace ApartmentList which compiles statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Boston is $1,970. Other data-compiling services that use apartment listings in their figures show average rent broken down by neighborhood as high as $2,250 for a one-bedroom in Roxbury.

To support himself during the campaign, Martinez has been working as a bartender at the Trident Booksellers cafe on Newbury full time, on top of cold calling, knocking doors and completing the other duties that running for office demands. He said that as a bartender, he makes between $4,000 and $5,000 a month.

According to Martinez and local political activists, the end of a campaign because of housing insecurity points to a major flaw in electoral politics.

“We’re excluding people who want to make changes in the system,” said Kristen Halbert, a Massachusetts Democratic political strategist. “We’re excluding people who are willing to go toe to toe with power and current structures. Because the only reason that those activists get put into that position is because someone who already was in power did not protect the community and the constituents of the neighborhood.”

Halbert said that in a state like Massachusetts, where campaigning is extremely costly, and housing is as well, it makes it extremely difficult for candidates with progressive ideas about housing justice to be elected.

“Running is always a risk,” she said. “It is expensive. It is time-consuming. It is emotionally and physically draining. And if you are already someone who was in any type of insecurity — food, housing, whichever — then you need to realize that those are the kinds of people whose voice is what you need. And that is the exact type of person that our system has just gotten further and further and further against.”

Martinez echoed this sentiment saying, “if you’re a regular working person, someone that doesn’t have family money, or are the beneficiary of generational wealth or have a partner that makes enough money that you don’t have to work, or at least don’t have to work full time, it’s a major obstacle.”

He went on to say that without bold policy intervention, other political hopefuls renting in Massachusetts will face the same fate.

“I’m not the only person to get pushed out of the city. I’m not going to be the last. And our elected leaders at both the state and city level, just are not meeting the moment and this crisis with the urgency that it deserves, which is why I was running,” Martinez said.

Currently, the district, which includes parts of Roxbury, Fenway, Back Bay, and the Longwood Medical Area, is represented by Chynah Tyler. Tyler, a third-term lawmaker, is currently serving as chair of the Black and Latino Caucus and vice-chair of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee.

Martinez, who identifies as nonbinary, would have been the first legislator with said identity and the only openly LGBTQ+ legislator of color in the district.

Living in Somerville for the summer, the former 7th Suffolk candidate added that he’s eager to get back to Roxbury and the community that he’s built there.

“That’s my home. That is where I want to be.”