A group of more than 70 tenants of City Realty Group, LLC, gathered outside the company’s Brighton, Mass. headquarters to protest what they call predatory rent spikes and unfair evictions.
Organized by tenant rights groups: City Life/Vida Urbana and Chelsea Collaborative, the demonstration comes on the heels of multiple attempts to negotiate affordable rents for tenants in recent months – each of which was refused. Advocates like Eliza Parad of the Chelsea City-Wide Tenants Association, argue that City Realty Group is using the foreclosure crisis to buy up homes at rock-bottom prices, then going back on its word to tenants and instituting predatory rent hikes that are well beyond original agreements. The process often ends in an outright eviction case in court, as with Chelsea tenants, Lucia Guardado and Rafael Abarca.
“We know you have a business to run, but the rent increases you are asking for are exaggerated,” said Lucia Guardado, “have compassion for our families.” Thursday, Lucia and Rafael went to court to defend themselves from a no-fault eviction. In November 2012, just a month after City Realty bought the apartment they have lived in for 12 years, they sent a $250 rent increase and a month-to-month lease.
Lucia and Rafael asked for a year lease at $1,100. Until this morning, City Realty Group would not budge, but today in court they finally receded and agreed to Lucia and Rafael’s request. “I am very happy” said Lucia, “I feel like they heard our message and I hope City Realty will continue negotiate with their other tenants as well”.
In communities like Chelsea, Mass – an area of increased foreclosure activity by City Realty Group and its subsidiaries – almost 10% of all housing units were in foreclosure at some point over the last five years. Investors like City Realty are preying on the foreclosure crisis, placing an ever-increasing burden on already-reduced social services such as shelters and schools – which pay to transport kids if they are moved out of district. In the past five years City Realty has purchased 18 foreclosed buildings in Chelsea, each with two to six apartments.
Members of the Chelsea City-Wide Tenants Association have collaborated with City Life/Vida Urbana and other organizations in the NEW ROAD Network (New England Workers and Residents Organizing Against Displacement) over the last four years to stabilize the cities hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis.
City Life/Vida Urbana has already organized a protest in support of Raimundo Fernandez, another City Realty tenant, who recently lost the Roxbury home he inherited from his parents when City Realty outbid him by $3,000 at auction. “When I tried to buy my home back from City Realty they asked for twice what they paid,” Fernandez said. “They’re just greedy investors who don’t care one bit about our families or our neighborhoods. If this is how City Realty wants to treat us, then we don’t want them in communities.”
On Wednesday, protestors promised to return in the future if City Realty continues its pattern of predatory rent spikes and unfair, no-fault evictions.