Kendra Hicks, a Boston City Council candidate for District 6, has been sued by landlords alleging she was arrears in paying rent at least three times in the past eight years, and she was sent a document threatening to terminate her lease over owed rent as recently as August, records show.
Hicks, in written responses to a series of Globe questions, acknowledged that there were “three separate instances where unexpected financial emergencies came up, and I could not pay my rent on time, even though they were ultimately paid in full.”
“I have been renting in the greater Boston area since I was 19 after being housing insecure my last two years in high school,” she said in a statement. “For the supermajority of the time, I have been rent-burdened in a single-income household (paying more than one third of my income on rent), a reality for about 338,000 other Bostonians.”
Hicks, a 32-year-old community organizer and artist who has received the endorsements of Senator Edward J. Markey and Representative Ayanna Pressley of Boston, is running for the seat being vacated by Matt O’Malley, a 10-year veteran of the council from Jamaica Plain who is not seeking reelection. This is her first time seeking public office. Her opponent in the general contest is Mary Tamer, a former School Committee member from West Roxbury.
The council district includes Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury, and parts of Roslindale, Roxbury, and Mission Hill. The District 6 race erupted in controversy recently, when a mailer sent by the Tamer campaign featured an image of Hicks that sparked outrage and accusations of racism. On the flier, Hicks, who is Black, was in black-and-white, while Tamer, who is Arab American, was in color.
Hicks has publicly addressed her experience with rent problems, tweeting after an affordable housing event earlier this month that “as someone who has faced eviction and housing insecurity, the #personalispolitical.” In a text on Thursday, Hicks said she’s publicly spoken about the issue often but could not say how many times exactly.
The Tamer campaign declined to comment for this story.
In 2019, there was an extensive paper trail detailing how Hicks’s current landlord, Bell Olmsted Park LLC., tried to kick her out. In February, for instance, legal documents from the landlord’s attorney said that her tenancy would be terminated 30 days from the date she received the notice because of more than $2,500 in back rent owed.
The efforts culminated in June when Hicks received an eviction notice, delivered by a constable, informing her she had 48 hours to vacate the property. Two days later, Hicks wrote in sworn court documents that she had already paid back rent for April and May. She promised to pay her full June rent for her unit at 161 South Huntington Ave., where she currently lives, by mid-month.
In that instance, Hicks told the Globe that she tried to pay her rent in full, but the management company claimed to have never received her check, which she says she mailed. She said she brought to court a bank letter confirming her attempt to pay. The rent was paid in full on top of “unnecessary legal fees, which could have been avoided if they had waited a few days for the check to arrive,” Hicks said.
In early 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the region, another eviction complaint was filed in housing court against Hicks. Again, this one was for alleged nonpayment of rent for her Jamaica Plain unit; the landlord claimed more than $2,534 was owed.
Soon after that case was filed in court, she paid the rent she owed and the case was dismissed at the landlord’s request, Hicks said.
And just this past August, her landlord sent a notice to her unit, stating that tenancy at the unit would be terminated 30 days from the notice for nonpayment of $1,443 in rent, according to city documents.
Mandatory nonprofit filings with the state attorney general’s office show that Hicks earned more than $80,000 as the codirector of radical philanthropy for Resist Inc. in 2020. Hicks said the gross income for her household was $93,000 last year.
Hicks’s unit is income-restricted; it is tied to an area median income cap, or AMI, that households are not supposed to exceed.
Hicks said she has to recertify her eligibility to renew her lease every December and acknowledged in her statement that this year, “it’s likely our family will not meet the income criteria, and we will have to find new housing when our lease expires.”
In October 2013, a similar story of rent problems appeared to unfold in Braintree, according to documents on file at Quincy District Court. At that time, Hicks’s landlord said she intended to terminate Hicks’s tenancy and she should leave her apartment no later than Dec. 1 of that year.
In the Braintree case, Hicks said she was “fleeing a domestic violence situation,” and she paid the portion of rent that she was able to at the time. She eventually reached an agreement with the landlord to move out and pay $550 in back rent.
Some housing advocates say eviction proceedings such as those experienced by Hicks should not carry a negative connotation for renters, including any running for public office.
The system, in many regards, is broken and racist, said City Councilor Lydia Edwards, a former housing attorney who is now a landlord, speaking generally about the state’s eviction processes. Edwards has not endorsed anyone in Hicks’s council race.
Black women in Massachusetts are 2.5 times more likely to be evicted than white women, she said. That statistic does not mean Black women are more likely to be bad tenants, Edwards said, but it does mean they are “less likely to be given a softer landing in our system today.”
“Other groups facing equal conditions are more likely to be given a second or third chance, more time, resources, and negotiated agreements than Black women,” Edwards said.
Another systemic failure of the eviction process is that eviction records are public and permanent, said Edwards, who is currently running for a state Senate seat. Edwards favors sealing some eviction filings, particularly documents that don’t reflect a judgment in a case.
“Someone having something filed against them doesn’t mean anything,” she said.
Massachusetts, she said, should take a closer look at “how this system punishes people for the rest of their lives. ... It’s cruel.”
Meanwhile, a trio of attorneys from Greater Boston Legal Services said in a joint statement recently that they “strongly disagree with any implication that experiencing an eviction should disqualify someone from holding public office.”
“Here in Boston, the research shows that evictions disproportionately occur in communities of color and that evictions during the pandemic have deepened pre-existing and sharp racial disparities in the housing market,” they said in a statement.
Hicks came out on top in the September preliminary contest, garnering 49 percent of the vote compared to Tamer’s 43 percent. Winnie A.I. Eke came in a distant third, with 6 percent, and was eliminated. About 18,400 people voted in that preliminary.