Demonstrators rallied around the older tenants of Our Lady’s Guild House, many of whom are facing eviction. Photo: Marilyn Humphries.
Our Lady’s Guild House (OLGH) tenants, looking to schedule a meeting with property manager Marc Roos, were ignored during a demonstration held on Saturday, August 25 with City Life/Vida Urbana.
More than 50 people demonstrated to demand a stop to no-fault evictions, gathering across the street from Roos’ office on Commonwealth Avenue.
Demonstrators, led by the Boston Area Brigade of Activists Musicians, held up signs, saying “Halt No Fault Eviction!,” “Stop Ruthless Roos” and “Renew the Ladies’ Leases Now.”
In a letter to Roos, tenants allege that their attempts to meet with him have been unsuccessful and said they would be stopping by the building for a meeting with him that Saturday.
Leigh Graham, a tenant who visited the building’s owner – the Daughters of Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Connecticut – said that they have placed the responsibility on Roos, who has denied to media that he is behind the evictions.
The tenants have told Spare Change News and others that they have been given lease termination notices as the building makes room for younger women in college and those looking for lodging in Boston on Airbnb.
“My understanding is when [Richard] Cardinal Cushing gave the building, part of the mission really was for the working poor,” Graham told the crowd. “I just want the opportunity to renew my lease. I’m not looking to live there forever but for now I’m paying rent and I don’t see why I should be displaced so that a student can move in who should be able to find housing through their school.”
Judy Burnett, one of the few tenants behind the effort to renew long-term leases at OLGH, said women in retirement used to be the vision for building administrators and that’s what she was told when she moved into her building.
“Women in retirement are us,” she told the crowd. “Some of them moved out, but we are the ones that are still here and we know that we can’t find another place to live.”
Siobhan O’Connor, a recently unemployed, older woman, said she is supposed to be out of the building on September 1, but has essentially exhausted all of her options. She said the demonstration is meant to get Marc Roos Realty to reevaluate its decision that displaces older women.
“They list Airbnb for the house and they’re renting it to students and they’ve changed their mission statement,” O’Connor told Spare Change News. “I don’t even know what I’m going to do … I feel like I’m running in circles.”
Fenway Community Development Corporation Community Organizer Colleen Fitzpatrick said OLGH has been displacing older women since 2009, some whom have since been housed through her organization.
“In this case we have a very explicit example of women over 50 getting lease non-renewal notices, meanwhile all of the students and all of the younger people in the building have not gotten those notices,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’re looking at the voter rolls, we’re looking at the people that are there that are talking to us and it’s pretty clearly along the lines of age, so that’s age discrimination – I don’t know what else to call it.”
Marc Roos Realty did not answer the door when demonstrators marched to the office and pressed the doorbell repeatedly that Saturday, though office hours are listed as 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.
Instead, demonstrators delivered a handful of petitions in support of the tenants that were stuffed under the front door.
Burnett said Marc Roos Realty could be considering its options since a bulk of tenants whose leases were up on July 31 have not been evicted.
Spare Change News contacted Marc Roos Realty for comment, and they referred all questions to Don Martelli, vice president of Schneider Associates, the PR firm tasked with handling media inquiries for the realtor.
Martelli said Roos just handles the maintenance and systems with the building and leases were signed with OLGH. He also said that rooms will no longer be listed on Airbnb in “sensitivity to the current issue.”
OLGH Mother General Carol Jennifer released a statement saying the Daughters of Mary of the Immaculate Conception “generously agreed to provide the long-term residents with up to four years of time to secure new housing” in 2014.
“A small number of individuals who were part of the 2014 agreement, signed and renewed annual leases, [and] chose to ignore the commitment agreed upon in 2014,” Jennifer said in her statement, making it difficult “to provide short-term housing to other women who require this service.”
Sheila Dillon, Boston’s chief of Housing & Neighborhood Development, told NBC 10 Boston that the city is working with the tenants to find a solution and is in contact with the nuns that own the property.
A demonstrator told Spare Change News of a death in the building on the day of the demonstration, which authorities confirmed to be a non-criminal sudden death.
Though the deceased does appear to be a long-term resident, the matter is still being looked into.