In an impassioned plea to preserve affordable housing units at a Jamaica Plain apartment complex, more than 100 residents, activists, and supporters rallied outside the building Saturday, urging owners to sign a new contract with the city.
The tenant association at the Forbes Building, a 147-unit complex that’s included affordable housing units for decades, said it was assured by representatives of the building’s owner that at least 85 units would be preserved for low-income renters, most of whom are elderly, for at least 20 years.
But that plan changed in December, tenants say, when they were told about a new proposal to “turn the Forbes site into a center for creative coworking,” according to a copy of the owner’s plan distributed by the tenant association Saturday.
In the plan, the owner wrote that he will “preserve the affordability of rents for an additional 40 years,” but tenants say he has refused to sign contracts with the Boston Housing Authority that would keep tenants in their affordable units.
“The problem is, he’s holding us hostage,” said David Nollman, a resident of the Forbes Building for about eight years and a member of the tenant association’s steering committee. “We are the people who are going to suffer because the landlord won’t sign contracts with the city and the state to make the apartments affordable. We are the pawns, and that’s what we’re objecting to.”
Representatives of the building’s owner didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Nollman has had two heart attacks and survived two kinds of cancer, he told the crowd Saturday. Before getting an apartment in the Forbes, he said, he was in a 240-square-foot studio apartment where the rent was $850 a month.
“I couldn’t pay it,” Nollman said. The Forbes apartment, he said, “was a godsend to me.”
Seven years ago, when Suzanne Thompson needed a place to live, the Forbes was the only building that had an apartment available for her, she said. Now, she doesn’t know where she’d go if she loses this home, too.
“I have no place to go,” she said. “There are no more places where I am safe, where I am comfortable, and where it’s clean.”
As people arrived at the rally Saturday, several musicians welcomed them with upbeat tunes. Many people held signs reading “Housing is a Human Right,” “Don’t make us homeless again,” “Where will the elderly and disabled go?” And cars honked in support as they drove by.
Many elected leaders and candidates attended Saturday’s rally as well, including City Councilor Matt O’Malley, whose district includes the residents of the Forbes Building, City Councilor Michelle Wu, and state Representative Nika Elugardo.
Elderly residents and those with disabilities need to be prioritized in plans for affordable housing, Elugardo said.
“You’re not an afterthought,” she said. “You’re not a sideline. You’re front and center.”
Conrad Ciszek, of the Burbank Apartments Tenants Association in Fenway, said saving affordable housing units is imperative. Every affordable housing building that’s lost, he said, contributes to the larger housing problem across the region.
“Affordable housing is indeed in peril,” he said, “and we don’t want it to become extinct.”