A woman’s struggle against high rents

On her walk to the fourth floor she tinkles through the crocheted curtains in her new apartment next door, but Frances Amador, 38, is unimpressed. East Boston residents are accustomed to the noise and vibrations of construction in this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.

The condo rises in the footprint of dilapidated buildings. Upscale cafes with $4 coffees are popping up around and around centers like Maverick Square. floating oyster stick He sells two taco plates for $16.

The laundromat down the street is gone, but there’s still the familiar sound of Spanish-speaking people and the neighborhood bodega carrying food from Latin America. Amador was born in Honduras, but has lived in an apartment here in East Boston since he was 13.

“This apartment means home,” Amador said.

A long first stop for immigrants, East Boston has become increasingly attractive to investors over the past decade. home values ​​here Up 227% since 2011 – higher than any other Boston neighborhood. And like many other longtime residents, Amador wonders how much longer he can stay. The owner plans to convert the 123-year-old building into luxury units and has already started renovating a first-floor apartment. His short-term lease expires on 31 August.

“We just create units for people to live and pay the stock market. And then they continue.”

Senator Lydia Edwards, (D) East Boston

Amador and her husband, Franklin Machuca, share the three-bedroom flat with their 4-year-old daughter Rachel, Amador’s mother and aunt. A college-aged girl also returns home between semesters.

They pay a monthly rent of $1000. Amador estimates that a new lease will reflect market price rentals in its neighborhood; Zillow.

“I suppose I can move somewhere else? Can I pay a higher rent? Can I put food on my table?” “I don’t know.”

East Boston state Senator Lydia Edwards, who has represented the neighborhood on the Boston City Council for five years, says an increasing number of local families are unable to pay higher rents.

“We just create units for people to live and pay the stock market. Then they move on.” He worries that the newcomers won’t continue to build community, even if long-time residents are bored.

“It’s tearing apart the tapestry. It makes it difficult for people to start a family. It makes it harder for our schools to have new kids out there and for our seniors to age in place,” said Edwards.

East Boston High School lost 467 students between September 2014 and June 2021. status data.

“We noticed that enrollments were declining. That was when all the gentrification started to happen,” said Nina Gaeta Coletta, coordinator of the family center at the school.

Luxury apartments and condos line the streets of East Boston on June 5, 2022.

Meredith Nierman

Beyond losing students, the dramatic demographic shift is also affecting the school’s finances and programming. Gaeta Coletta said her high school budget was cut by more than $1 million in 2019.

“We took a big hit where there was the consolidation of classes a few years ago,” he said.

Gaeta Coletta shared her 2019 statement with the Boston School Committee, in which she stated that students were forced to leave the area: “The development boom in east Boston and elsewhere in the city is not family-friendly in terms of the number of bedrooms needed or the cost to rent or own.”

She told the story of a parent who was waiting for her daughter to graduate this month before leaving East Boston due to high rents.

“She took on as much work as she could to afford the flat she is in now to put her daughter on stage,” said Gaeta Coletta.

Amador is determined to raise her 4-year-old daughter, Rachel, in this neighborhood. He said that in 2018, when the landlord first decided to sell the building, he refused to go, despite offering to pay him $30,000.

“I’ve decided to stay and fight. $12,000 for the down payment, deposit and realtor fees for the first month only,” he said.

He said the landlord intends to evict all the tenants in Amador’s building to sell it. Amador and other tenants turned to housing advocacy group City Life/Vida Urbana to help them organize their legal representation and stay. They won the right to stay in the building in 2019, but the landlord sued again to evict them and began the process of selling the building by marketing it online.

Developer Francisco Dalfior bought the building in 2020 and began renovating it. He planned to double the number of apartments from four to eight, add another floor and an attic. The tenants wanted Dalfior to add units without displacing their families.

“I think it makes me stronger because I’m not just me and I’m not just fighting for myself, I’m also helping others fight and stay at home.”

Frances Amador, East Boston resident

City Life formed the Harvard Office of Legal Aid to help landlords fight problems with their proposed lease with Dalfior and Wolf Properties, the property management company that oversees the building. The original lease contained a retention clause, a provision that would allow tenants to defend themselves against eviction when the lease expired.

Tenants, meanwhile, focused on the Boston Zoning Appeals Board, where Dalfior presented its proposal to expand the building with the intent to remove existing tenants before construction begins.

“We all worked together. We got in touch with the elected officials, went to the neighborhood, our neighbors, the contractors, and told them what had happened,” Amador said. “It’s a dead end. So everyone knows us. And everyone signed the petition to reject the project.”

The tenants association protested the Zoning Appeal Board meetings and had 800 Boston residents, including longtime senior residents, sign a petition to the board of directors. The Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services and Edwards opposed the project.

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State Senator Lydia Edwards stands on the waterfront in East Boston.

Sarah Betancourt / GBH News

The board rejected the host’s plan in September 2021 due to technical issues, but may resubmit it. In February, Dalfior offered residents a new lease that expires on August 31.

Tenants want Dalfior to offer below market leases with longer leases. Amador believes this will be a tough battle and that Dalfior will not renew his contract.

“If he gives us a quit warning, I think it’s going to be another fight,” Amador said. “I guess no one wants to leave here.”

Questions sent to Dalfior and Wolf Property Management Company remained unanswered.

During the four-year battle with multiple hosts, Amador met the staff at City Life/Vida Urbana, and an organizer suggested that she apply for a job. He got it, and it started in 2020 when the pandemic started.

Since then, she has been channeling her own experience of possible displacement to organize other tenants in East Boston, three of whom face faultless eviction in an apartment on Meridian Street.

As tenants appear in housing court, Amador and City Life held a public event for the press and community members that same morning – the kind of thing they do to support the people they help.

“Where families are gentrifying our neighborhoods by large corporate landlords and contractors. Shame on them. Many families are forced to leave their homes because their prices are low.”

The situation in Amador’s apartment could have been different.

In 2019, City Life/Vida Urbana teamed up with East Boston’s community development company NOAH (Neighborhood of Affordable Housing) to purchase the building.

NOAH buys buildings, renovates them and makes them affordable. The organization has 189 units in East Boston and more in development.

“We weren’t able to buy properties in that area – so we were looking forward to participating,” said managing director Phil Giffee. City Life and NOAH enlisted tenants’ support for the effort.

NOAH offered about $1.2 million, but lost the offer to Dalfior, who bought the building for $1.3 million, according to Giffee.

“I was disappointed that it was a building and a really solid structure in a really changed neighborhood close to the airport,” Giffee said. “People wanted us there, they were large units and we could stabilize that area,” he said.

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Frances Amador at a City Life Vida Urbana protest in East Boston.

Lance Douglas / GBH News

According to the real estate marketing company, there are more than 18,400 homes in the neighborhood. Point2Homes.com and by city, 2,700 are affordable – about 14%. Total percentage across Boston affordable housing 20%. The city says 300 new affordable units are on the way for East Boston.

“We know that’s not enough, and we’re very, very committed to increasing that number,” said Boston housing chief Sheila Dillon. He said this will happen by building more affordable housing and, with the help of nonprofits like NOAH, removing existing units from the market and making them affordable.

About 65% of Boston residents rent a home. More than half of tenants spend more than 30% of their monthly income on housing. Mayor Michelle Wu.

According to the US Census Bureau’s Survey of the American Society, more than a quarter of all tenants statewide pay half or more of their income in rent.

Wu has included $206 million in its latest budget from federal pandemic relief funds to increase affordable housing.

“I hope we’ve been approved for $206 million, and I’d love to see a significant portion of that money spent in East Boston.”

Amador believes that faith played a role in his war. She described her journey from personal care worker to City Life Vida Urbana tenant organizer as “a blessing”.

“I think it makes me stronger because I’m not just me and I’m not just fighting for myself, I’m also helping others fight and stay at home,” she said.

A floral wooden plaque that reads “Jesuchristo, oh buen timonel que guiando mi barga estas” (the good captain Jesus Christ is here, who steers my boat) hangs beside the kitchen.

“God won’t make you go through these things unless there’s a way in the end,” he said.

GBH News will continue to follow Frances Amador’s story as part of the reporting project Priced Out: Fighting for Housing in Massachusetts. Follow at GBHNews.org/pricedout.

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