EGLESTON SQ.—Protesters joined by City Councilor Tito Jackson took to the streets Sept. 16 to protest rent hikes and evictions they say City Realty Group leveled against seven businesses in Egleston Square, including the popular Pin Bochinche Restaurant.
The protest continued into a Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) Zoning Committee meeting the following day, where City Realty sought approval for a residential project on Hyde Park Avenue in Forest Hills. The protests led the committee to reject the variance requests.
A Gazette call to Fred Starikov, co-owner of Brighton-based City Realty, was not returned.
City Realty bought two foreclosed buildings at 3106-3108 and 3152-3160 Washington St. in April. Those two buildings housed seven businesses, some for over 30 years.
The affected businesses include Pin Bochinche Restaurant; Nelly’s Flower and Fragrance; Tony’s Travel; Anibal Color Studio; Buena Vista; and Cellular Nutrition. Yamel Beauty Salon, formerly at 3156 Washington St., has already closed.
According to an email sent by the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) last week, City Realty engaged in lease negotiations with the business tenants while simultaneously initiating eviction processes.
Those rent negotiations would cause rent and occupancy cost increases totaling as much as 65 percent for the business tenants, the JPNDC claims.
Over 30 people gathered outside Pin Bochinche at 3160 Washington St. on Sept. 16 with posters and banners to protest City Realty’s rent increases and potential evictions.
“We’re facing rent and occupancy cost increases totaling 65 percent, which our businesses will not be able to survive,” Pin Bochinche owner Manuel Mejia said in a JPNDC release. “Our customers are primarily people in this neighborhood, people who have modest incomes. We can’t pass on the increase to them.”
At the street protest, Mejia said in Spanish that Pin Bochinche has been in business in the neighborhood for 32 years.
“We want to send a clear message. If they’re coming to JP, to our community, they need to work with us,” JPNDC Business Development Director Alison Moronta said at the street protest.
“They don’t care who they have to ride and take over,” said Maria Christina Blanco, an activist with the Jamaica Plain-based tenants rights organization City Life/Vida Urbana, during the protest.
“Like the rest of our city, JP needs more safe, quality housing that its residents can afford, but we need responsible owners, not greedy vultures,” she later said in an email.
Councilor Jackson said at the street protest, “We will not support organizations that come in and bust up our communities.”
“I’m here to stand with this community,” Jackson said.
City Realty has been working with Forest Hills-area residents on a proposed mixed-use redevelopment at 38-42 Hyde Park Ave., replacing a vacant commercial building.
City Realty recently got support from local residents after agreeing to reduce the scale of the proposed new building.
That Hyde Park Avenue project was on the agenda for Sept. 17’s JPNC Zoning Committee meeting, where over 40 people showed up to protest City Realty.
City Realty’s attorney, George Morancy, asked Committee Chair David Baron to remove the project from the agenda before leaving.
Baron instead devoted over an hour of the meeting to listen to testimony from current and former City Realty tenants, all claiming City Realty is an unresponsive landlord and prone to sudden and drastic rent increases.
Jackson’s aide, Nichelle Sadler, said at the meeting that City Realty “doesn’t show up to community meetings.” It also failed to disclose other purchases in Jackson’s Roxbury-area district after its representatives said they would do so, she said.
“They are not humane enough or considerate enough” to be good landlords, City Life activist Heather Gordon said at the committee meeting. “They have to realize they have to put people before profit.”
“They come to our neighborhoods to flip houses and flip us the bird,” she said.
The Zoning Committee ended the meeting by unanimously voting against supporting the eight variances requested by City Realty.
“We have ample justification” to deny the petition, Baron said. He added that City Realty is welcome to request a new hearing with the Zoning Committee before its planned Oct. 21 hearing date with the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals.