May Dispatch From Boston

Residents at Grant Manor protest the rent hike.

Over in Boston, good ole Governor Baker decided to start the new year with a great present for tenants: a housing bill that will give our local developer friends the green light to seize land and churn out some lux- ury apartments! The “Housing Choice” bill will make it easier for the zoning board to override zoning re- strictions with a simple majority vote. Couldn’t build up condos in a restricted area before? Not a problem anymore! In Baker’s words, the bill will be Boston’s foolproof solution to the national housing crisis. How, might you ask? Well, get this: since the 2000s, the city has mandated that every new market-rate housing development set aside 13% of units to be affordable. Let’s make clear this idea of “affordability”: In Boston, you can be in the running for an “income restricted” studio apartment while making, as an individual, a whopping 60K a year! If you’re lucky enough to land one of these rare breeds, you could be looking at an “affordable” rent of $1,100+—for a studio! In sum, our pal Baker will solve the housing crisis by continu- ing to price out tenants. Creating these pricey “afford- able” units has long been used as a justification for de- velopers to build up in the name of “solving housing inequality”—so what’s new with this bill? The new lax regulations will grant developers permits to build with ease, ramping up housing production in the name of solving a housing crisis which will only deepen…

… and meanwhile, over in Boston’s South End, resi- dents of the Lenox Street Housing Project recently got a new present: the finalized privatization of their project. Even before the privatization was finalized, residents were already feeling its effects in the form of a miserably botched start to some renovations. And now that the transfer of ownership is complete, the new owners (Beacon Communities LLC and Bank of America) have surprised residents with a slew of new rules that treat them like “riffraff ” (in the words of a Beacon-hired administrator). Here’s some of the most absurd ones:

  • Rule #8: No “loitering or playing” in hallways, walk- ways, or landscaped areas.
  • Rule #22: Installing radio, TV antenna, satellite dish,
  • or cable is prohibited.
  • Rule #24: If “at any time” Beacon thinks your apart- ment floor is dirty, you must pay for a cleaning com- pany.
  • Rule #29: No laundry machines, freezers, or “other appliances” allowed—despite the fact that many people already have laundry machines.
  • Rule #47: You must tell Beacon if you are away for 1 week or more.

Y’all can bet residents are gonna return this present… stay tuned for updates on the struggle against the privatization!

Across the street at the Grant Manor Development, residents woke up on a fine January morning to find a piece of paper shoved in their doorway— the “pro- posed” rent increase for their apartments had been approved. The timing was impeccable, a $200-$1000 rent increase to ring in the new year!

Basically, what is happening is that Grant Manor has a contract with HUD so that most, though not all, residents have their rents subsidized by Section 8. This contract was set to expire in April of this year. In the name of preserving affordability, the oh-so-generous management company Wingate and the owners ap- plied to renew the Section 8 contract under an option that, by design, dramatically raises the base rents for all the units! This way the management company gets a nice payout, as does a shady cabal of consultants, banks and nonprofits that serve as fronts for banks and developers.

Former Boston Planning and Development Agency official John
Lynch caught on camera accepting a cash bribe from a developer in exchange for speeding a proposal through zoning review. Lynch was sentenced to 40 months in prison, but his corruption is not an exception, but the rule at the BPDA.

Of course, residents weren’t consulted. Tenants only heard of the proposed rent increase after the paper- work was already submitted to HUD. In response to residents’ questions and concerns, management simply “invited” residents to “call the office to help clarify any questions or concerns” about the proposal, with no intention of revoking it.

Who were the conspiring entities of this operation? The management company, Wingate, shady inter- ests such as the Planning Office for Urban Affairs (POUA), and last but not least, the corrupt tenant board of the Grant Manor Homeowners Association. Residents have waged a struggle against the proposed rent increase since they were first notified, as well as the board which has long exceeded its term limit and violated its own by-laws. Although headway has been made, the contract that approved the rent increase is still yet to be released, the autocratic board has refused to recognize their violation of the by-laws, and elec- tions for board seats are still being stalled by the excuse of “the pandemic.” All the while, the board intermit- tently operates a food bank in the back of the build- ing. But that’s COVID safe, right?

Alas, here we are months later, with the new rent in- crease due to take effect next month. In response to the election stalling and new rents, residents took to protest. On March 13th and April 17th, residents and activists alike spoke out against the corruption at Grant Manor by the board and management company, and called for residents to come together and fight.

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