Local residents, artists, and organizers gathered on Oct. 4 at City Life/Vida Urbana to discuss displacement and how it is impacting their lives and the community.
City Life/Vida Urbana is a Jamaica Pain-based community advocacy group.
Alex Ponte-Capellan, an organizer at City Life, talked about how new luxury towers in the city are driving the rents up in the surrounding area and displacing people.
“We need to reframe it from a housing crisis to a displacement crisis,” he said.
Ponte-Capellan said that the area does not need housing, but affordable housing. He qualified the last part, saying it needs to be “real affordable housing.” Ponte-Capellan said that half of Boston is making less than what is deemed “affordable” by the City, which uses a formula consisting of the area median income. A person typically needs to earn around $50,000 and $75,000 to qualify for affordable housing.
Ponte-Capellan said the issue is a “displacement crisis of people of color.” He said that a person can go to housing court and “it’s all people of color.”
“This is a racial justice issue,” said Ponte-Capellan.
City Life organizer Antonio Ennis spoke about a house in the Four Corners section of Dorchester that had been in foreclosure for eight years. The bank that held the mortgage on the house would not sell to a nonprofit, looking instead to investors. Protests were staged against the bank, whose reputation had already suffered because of another situation. The City became involved and the bank eventually sold to a nonprofit earlier this year.
“It’s one of our biggest victories,” said Ennis.
Chandra Bridges, who lives at the Four Corners house with several sisters and her mom, Karen Mason, said that they didn’t know where to go or where to turn during those eight years. She said they did not know if “yesterday, today, or tomorrow someone would come to the house and tell us to vacate.”
“My mom worked hard to have something of her own. It was very devastating,” said Bridges. “We can finally say it is ours again.”
Several artists talked about being in the displacement process or already having been so.
Wayne Strattman, a sculptor with a studio in an artist building in the South End, spoke about how they were being evicted to make way for luxury residential units. He said the artists have been there for an average of 30 years, but the owner refuses to negotiate with them and have denied any help with moving costs. Those costs are considerable because of the delicate nature of their artwork.
Cary Rapaport, an assistant to Strattman and a sculptor in her own right, discussed how the situation was part of a larger trend of artists being displaced in the area, citing examples in Jamaica Plain and Cambridge. She said that the artists at the South End building are internationally recognized, but “they are not getting support from their own city.” She added that there needs to be more awareness and more talk about the issue.
Jamaica Plain resident and painter Brendan Killian prefaced his remarks by saying he was humbled by hearing the stories about people being displaced from their homes, as he has a place to live and his story is about his working quarters. Killian spoke about facing displacement from his studio, along with several other artists, in a building in the Stonybrook neighborhood. A new buyer was looking to transform the building into residential units. Killian said he looked into “every legitimate channel” to fight against the displacement.
“We did everything we possibly could,” said Killian.
The City agreed to keep the area where the building was located zoned as light industrial and the artists thought the buyer would back out of the deal, but didn’t. The artists were forced out and there is currently “a giant hole in the ground and probably going to sit that way for years,” said Killian.
“We’re talking about a big pile of money and it doesn’t care. We are expendable,” he said.