Five years ago, Jean Paul Doh was set to enjoy retirement in Boston. Climbing into his 60s, he had settled in at a small apartment building on Humphreys Place in Dorchester, near Uphams Corner. But in a matter of months, a new owner acquired the property. And he wanted Doh out so that he could raise the rents.
Doh was able to resist the unjust eviction in housing court, working with the advocate organization City Life/Vida Urbana. He also helped form a tenant association, and the group worked over the last several years with the Boston Neighborhood Community Land Trust to purchase his apartment building, so that it could be preserved as affordable.
Doh’s was a success story in many ways. But he and other housing advocates joined at a rally Thursday to call for greater financial support from the city and the state — a $250 million commitment — saying hundreds of other homes across Greater Boston remain at similar risk of being sold to private developers who are looking to capitalize on a booming housing market, by raising rents and pushing residents from their communities.
“People are born in Boston, or they live in Boston, and this is their village. They have a right to be here,” said Doh, now 65, to applause. “This is a victory for not only us but the whole community,” he said.
The rally occurred as Mayor Michelle Wu has a windfall of hundreds of millions of dollars in undesignated federal COVID relief funds in hand. The mayor has already said she will use the bulk of that cash on housing programs and could outline a plan in the coming weeks.
But housing advocates Thursday specifically called for a $250 million commitment from the city and state to protect 1,000 homes from the speculative housing market and to preserve them as permanently affordable. The 1,000-home benchmark represents only a fraction of what working families and communities of color lost to the private market following the 2008 housing crash, and the COVID-19 pandemic further disproportionately impacted communities of color, housing advocates said.
The advocates on Thursday said a $250 million commitment would help preserve a housing stock as affordable, by keeping it out of the hands of outside investors.
“The people of Boston are our biggest investment and resource,” said John Smith, of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative. “For us, the value is the people, and the strongest housing policy is to keep people in their homes.”
The group specifically called for the use of $50 million in federal relief funds for the Boston Acquisition Opportunity Program, which helps applicants build or acquire multi-family rental properties they intend to live in and rent out to families as affordable. The group also called for the use of $200 million in state federal relief funds to acquire and preserve 500 units in Boston and another 500 across other nearby cities and towns to remove them permanently from the housing market.
In addition, advocates called on the city to spend another $10 million to double the amount of existing spending on a rental voucher program and to contribute $5 million in federal relief funds, with a $5 million match in operating city funds, to a Community Land Trust Fund. A land trust is a nonprofit organization that owns and controls land on behalf of its local community and serves as the steward for civic-minded purposes, such as affordable housing or green space.
Several land trusts operate in the city, including the Boston Neighborhood Community Land Trust, which recently acquired the Humphreys Place property and 14 others over the last year.
“We are doing it sometimes one building at a time,” said Denise Matthews-Turner, a codirector of City Life/Vida Urbana, and a board member of the Boston Neighborhood Community Land Trust.
Imagine what would be possible, she said, if the city and state committed more funding to the effort.
“We are really calling on the city and state to make the investment now, for our residents long-term,” she said.
Milton J. Valencia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia and on Instagram @miltonvalencia617.