Over 150 people took to the streets of Roxbury on Saturday, March 17 to stand in solidarity with tenants facing eviction in the area, and to urge a state house vote on the Jim Brooks Act which would potentially curb housing displacement in Boston. Despite the rally’s large attendance and political support, the Massachusetts General Court ultimately decided to postpone the Jim Brooks Act vote by six weeks.
Led by housing advocacy group City Life/Vida Urbana, demonstrators and activists started at the Walnut Park Play Area in Roxbury, where they demanded a more ethical housing market and an end to rising rent prices. City Life/Vida Urbana and other housing advocacy groups attest that with the rising rent prices, Boston has also seen an increase in evictions in recent years, with working class and minority families baring the worst of the changes.
“I’m tired of being tired of the same thing,” said Ronel Remy, Housing Justice Organizer for City Life. “We’re cursed for not being rich… [and] we are exposing what is wrong with this system.”
The Boston Area Brigade of Activist Musicians (BABAM!) — there to lead protesters in song — played tunes such as “Down By the Riverside,” “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and “This Little Light Of Mine” between tenants’ testimonies. given by distraught Xavier was one such tenant, who was relatively new to Roxbury and shocked at the conditions he and his friends found themselves in.
“Rent is rising but the conditions are dwindling; that’s not how it works, Mr. Dabney,” Xavier said, targeting landlord Scott Dabney, who has been actively threatening to evict tenants residing in his apartment buildings. Xavier spoke about his experience dealing with rats and roaches in his apartment, and told the crowd about of a friend whose bathroom ceiling caved in.
“[The landlords] don’t care as long as their pockets are being padded,” he said.
City Councilors Kim Janey and Ayanna Pressley also spoke at the rally, calling for an end to the detrimental housing trends and for the Massachusetts General Court to stop delaying their vote on the Jim Brooks Act.
“It’s a war on families, a war on poor people,” Councilor Janey said, before starting a chant of “Hell no, we won’t go.”
“This is everyone’s problem,” Councilor Pressley said. “[The state house] keeps saying we need more data; you are the data. We don’t need anymore data.”
After the initial rally, the group marched to 26 School St. to protest threatened evictions eviction threats by Dabney and City Realty Management (CRM). There, the activists heard the struggles of effected tenants and urged CRM to let them keep their homes. According to Rita — one of the tenants, who has been living in her apartment for nine years — CRM raised the monthly rent by $450 and threatened eviction if the difference could not be paid.
“They say they’re negotiating with us, but this is no negotiation,” she said.
While housing justice activists continue to demand a more equitable system, the fate of the Jim Brooks Act seems hard to predict for some. “It’s all a matter of logic vs. real estate money,” said Steve Meacham, a community organizer for City Life. “[The Jim Brooks Act] is a very modest proposal… real estate working groups had even said they weren’t against it. But now they’re attacking it full throttle.”