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Housing activists discuss anti-displacement strategies

Groups from across the city convene at Rox. church to fight displacement

Allie Miller
Housing activists discuss anti-displacement strategies
Activists plan to call on the city to require that 50 percent of new housing be affordable to moderate-and low-income residents. Photo: Lauren Miller

Grassroots community groups and city councilors, devoted to addressing gentrification across Boston, held a meeting on Saturday to present three anti-displacement initiatives to the public and to discuss solutions for equitable city development.

The three solutions proposed at the Homes for All Assembly, held at the First Church of Roxbury in John Eliot Square, targeted improvements to community governance, affordable housing and changes to city zoning. Roxbury is especially at risk for gentrification and displacement, with the proliferation of luxury condo units beyond the reach of most neighborhood residents.

Activists plan to call on the city to require that 50 percent of new housing be affordable to moderate-and low-income residents. Photo: Lauren Miller

Activists plan to call on the city to require that 50 percent of new housing be affordable to moderate-and low-income residents. Photo: Lauren Miller

Amanda Govan of Reclaim Roxbury, a group focused on neighborhood empowerment, and one of the event’s organizers, stressed the power of community organizing: “This is hitting city-wide. It doesn’t matter what color your skin is. We all should have rights to live comfortably.”

The Sept. 22 meeting comes after District 7 City Councilor Kim Janey, earlier this month, called for a city council hearing on gentrification. Janey proposed a voucher program for equitable development that explores options for revenue, including the taxing of new luxury condos. Janey couldn’t attend Saturday’s event due to a board meeting, but she said she supports the organizers of the Homes for All Assembly and its mission.

“I applaud the work that is raising awareness on what is happening,” said Janey in a phone interview. “Too many are being displaced.”

The 12 meeting organizers, including City Life/Vida Urbana, New England United for Justice, Reclaim Roxbury, and Alternatives for Community and Environment, emphasized the importance of creating a “massive social movement” led by the people most impacted.

After introducing three plans developed by the event’s organizers prior to the event, meeting attendees split into small groups where they asked questions and provided feedback. The first plan calls for establishing “inclusive and democratic” neighborhood governments made of neighborhood residents, who would push for zoning changes. The second solution calls for a demand to Boston government that 50 percent of new housing be made affordable based on an area’s median income The last plan seeks to establish anti-displacement zones, which would “protect neighborhoods most impacted by displacement.”

At the end of the small group sessions, attendees, including residents, Boston city councilors and Massachusetts state representatives, placed votes on which solutions they favored. Taking the meeting’s votes and feedback, Homes for All organizers will revise the solutions for further action.

City Councilor Michelle Wu and former Councilor Chuck Turner, and state Representatives Mike Connolly and Byron Rushing also attended the Homes for All Assembly.

“I was there at the assembly to show my support for building the grassroots organizing necessary to accomplish that,” said Rushing. “I was impressed with the range of organizations represented.”

Connolly said he is excited by the community-led response to what he called “the ongoing displacement emergency and the ongoing emergency in the shortage of affordable housing in the Boston area.” Connolly added that he is about to propose a new “Guaranteed Housing For All” policy through a comprehensive public process.

Wu echoed the urgency of the meeting.

“I wholeheartedly agree that housing is a human right, and we must take urgent, strong actions to stop the displacement happening across our city,” she said.

Roxbury residents like Rachel Domond and Joseph Eubanks Jr. expressed concern for their neighborhood.

“Of the neighborhoods that are being impacted, Roxbury is one of the neighborhoods that has a more concentrated population of low-income black and brown people,” said Domond. “I think that this is a really good opportunity to come together as a city.”

Eubanks said, “I came here to talk about how we can move Boston along whereby the city is more inclusive. It’s like the tale of two cities right now. You have the richest against the poor.”

Following the meeting, attendees marched to a nearby “Regional Thinking” meeting led by Yes In My Backyard, or YIMBY. There, Homes for All entered the Roxbury Community College Media Arts Center, interrupted the meeting that was taking place, and called for a stop to neighborhood displacement.

Lisa Owens, executive director of City Life/Vida Urbana, a grassroots community organization focused on racial, social and economic justice, led the protest and criticized the YIMBY group’s strategy.

“We definitely don’t think that the solution is to change housing laws so that developments are allowed into the neighborhood,” said Owens.

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