Op-Ed: The State of JP: Racial equity through housing justice

By Carlos Espinoza-Toro, Juan Gonzalez, Orion Kriegman, Abigail Ortiz, Giovanny Valencia, and Tracy Bindel/Special to the Gazette.

For the fifth consecutive year an estimated 250 residents will gather to engage in a productive dialogue, with each other and with our elected officials, about top community concerns. This year, the 2015 State of Our Neighborhood event will focus on increasing racial equity through housing justice. The gathering will take place on Thurs., Feb. 26, 6 to 9 p.m. at the Kennedy Elementary School (7 Bolster St).

This dialogue will build on previous conversations regarding gentrification, affordable housing, food systems, small businesses and building equity. In 2014, our community saw a tremendous increase in development projects in JP, which will primarily create apartments priced higher than $2,000 per month. Rents continued to rise in existing housing and force out many longtime residents. Public housing residents, meanwhile, experienced cuts in resources that mean poor building and safety conditions.

The residents most hurt by these changes in the neighborhood are people of color, who are disproportionately renters and, in JP, have incomes in general between 37 and 42 percent that of white households. Eighty-three percent of Latinos, 75 percent of Asians and 72 percent of African Americans are renters, compared to 57 percent of white households. The median income of Boston renter households is only $34,400—two-thirds of the median income for all Boston. That $34,400 a year is what you would earn working full time at $16.50 per hour—way above minimum wage, but at JP market rents you have only $500 or so left per month for food, transportation, childcare, clothing, school supplies and everything else.

How do people manage? Parents working 16-hour days. Families constantly moving in hope they can find a stable place to live for a year or more. Children without enough to eat—right here in our community. But that’s not the only reason we should all care. These conditions hurt our whole community, making it unstable and increasing isolation. That’s not the JP anyone wants.

As attention grows in our country on income disparity and the systemic conditions that are at its root, we believe that housing justice is part of the solution and one that is within our reach. At the 2015 State of the Neighborhood event, residents will present concrete “asks” to our elected officials around housing planning, regulations and resources. A comprehensive planning approach could define a community vision about how development could guarantee a balance of opportunities for all residents who call JP their home. Tenants need additional protections so they can stay in their apartments and/or access the new homes being built. Our legislators need to find a way to overcome the budgetary cuts that have severely limited the construction of new affordable housing.

This year we seek specific commitments and actions at the City and state level to promote housing justice in our neighborhood.

Come and join this event, and bring your neighbors!

The writers are members of the State of the Neighborhood organizing team.

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