The locally controversial firm City Realty was among corporate landlords blasted by activists, officials and disgruntled tenants at an Oct. 20 City Council hearing.
Egleston Square-area Councilor Tito Jackson called the hearing. The JP-based housing rights organization City Life/Vida Urbana, as well as Boston-based Chinese Progressive Association and the national Right to the City alliance, teamed up with Jackson to explore this facet of Boston’s affordability crisis and explore the role of corporate landlords and investors on neighborhood instability and displacement.
At the packed hearing, held at City Hall, dozens of former homeowners and tenants called out landlords that are using abusive, sometimes illegal tactics to get low-income people out of buildings.
Highlighted at the hearing was Allston-based landlord City Realty Group, which operates approximately 72 limited liability corporations (LLC) and owns over 600 units within Greater Boston.
City Realty is currently embroiled in just such a rent controversy in Egleston Square. Seven businesses were at risk of being displaced after City Realty bought two buildings at 3106-3108 and 3152-3160 Washington St. in April and raised rents and other operating costs as much as 65 percent.
One business has since closed, but according to City Realty co-owner Fred Starikov, the remaining six businesses have reached an agreement with City Realty. All that’s left is to actually sign the leases, he told the Gazette last week.
As for the claims laid against City Realty at the hearing, Starikov told the Gazette that less than 1 percent of City Realty-owned units have City Inspectional Services Department (ISD) violations, while 50 percent of their units are low-cost subsidized units.
Starikov also said that City Realty buys up foreclosed properties, bringing them back into the market, and usually renovates them to a higher standard that includes granite countertops and stainless steel appliances.
He also said that 75 percent of City Realty units are priced at or below fair market rents, as determined by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
JP Councilor Matt O’Malley told the Gazette last week that City Realty “has said that they want to change and be better neighbors.”
“I’ve been disappointed with City Realty’s willingness to not work with us,” he said. “It is my hope that the hearing pressed them to grow in a number of different issues.”
City Councilors Frank Baker, Ayanna Pressley, Michelle Wu, Charley Yancey, Michael Flaherty and Josh Zakim, were also present at the hearing.
A Gazette email to Jackson’s office was not returned.
“It is far more profitable to build million-dollar condos then to create a well-rounded city,” Mike Leyba of City Life/Vida Urbana said in a release. “And as long as this is the case, our city’s people lose.”
According to UMass Professor Emeritus Michael Stone, quoted in that same release, two-thirds of residents in the City of Boston are renters. Half of all renters in the city pay over 30 percent of their income to rent, a national affordability standard, and over half of renters are people of color.