Mark Martinez thinks he has what it takes to represent the 7th Suffolk District in the Legislature. He has several years’ experience as a State House staffer, involvement in multiple community groups, and a drive to bring change to his neighborhood. But he’s missing one thing: a place in the district to call home.
Martinez, 28, has dropped his bid to challenge state Representative Chynah Tyler in the Democratic primary, announcing in a tweet last week he’s been priced out of the district, which includes parts of Roxbury, the Fenway, the Back Bay, and the Longwood Medical Area.
“Housing is what I spent the vast majority of my time on at Beacon Hill,” said Martinez, who is non-binary and uses feminine, masculine, and gender-neutral pronouns to describe himself. “It’s a cruel irony that a campaign spent on housing justice was ended because I couldn’t find housing.”
Today Im announcing the end of my campaign. Heartbroken that this journey is over and furious that policy choices, and not voters are the ones bringing it to an end. But most of all grateful for everyone that supported us.— Mark Martinez (@yo_era_mark) June 2, 2022
The fight does not end here. Full statement below: pic.twitter.com/GIZea59Wu6
Martinez, in laying the groundwork for a run, had already built a campaign website, hired a campaign manager, and spent weekends knocking doors. His campaign committee, created in January, had just under $18,000 cash on hand at the end of May, according to state records. Martinez didn’t submit signatures by the May 31 filing deadline, said Debra O’Malley, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s office. Martinez said he chose to not file after realizing he wouldn’t be in residence at the time.
His situation highlights one of the many consequences of Boston’s housing crisis: Many young Black Bostonians like Martinez who are hoping to bring their talents, visions, and dreams to the city must plant their roots elsewhere.
“We have job opportunities, great universities, and global companies willing to build their headquarters here,” said Beyazmin Jiménez, co-founder and president of Abundant Housing Massachusetts, a housing advocacy nonprofit. “What we don’t have is the opportunity to house people.”
And the affordable housing crisis has disproportionately hit Boston’s Black community. The percentage of Black people in Boston dropped 3.3 percentage points between 2010 and 2020, even as the city’s overall population rose, according to the most recent census data. The data showed some are moving to suburban communities like Brockton and Randolph, whose Black populations rose 27.6 percent and 23 percent, respectively. And Stoughton’s Black population skyrocketed 76 percent since 2010.
But Black political hopefuls hoping to kickstart their careers outside Boston face an uphill battle to secure elected office in the suburbs, said Sharon Cornelissen, a postdoctoral fellow who has studied the migration of Black Bostonians at Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.
“Just because people are displaced to suburban cities doesn’t mean they’ll get political power,” Cornelissen said. “It hasn’t been transferred from the wealthy, white old-timers to the new groups that have made a home.”
The movement of Black people out of Boston also has cultural and social implications. Derek Lumpkins, a longtime Roxbury resident and former executive director of Discover Roxbury, a nonprofit focused on the neighborhood’s cultural and historic preservation, says it’s now harder to easily connect with other Black peers as the community leaves for the suburbs.
“Our community has been stretched across the region‚” Lumpkins said. “Five years ago, people used to say, ‘Roxbury is the heart and soul of Black Boston,’ but I don’t know if I feel that anymore.”
Apartment List, an online marketplace, shows that the median rental price for a 1-bedroom apartment is about $1,970. Boston Pads, which compiles data from the city’s largest real estate firms, projects the city’s vacancy rate is at less than one percent.
For six years, Martinez paid $1,200 a month for a three-bedroom apartment with two roommates who had been planning to move out at the end of this year’s term. When their landlord told them in May that she wasn’t renewing the lease, Martinez had just under a month to find a new home on his own. State law requires that tenants receive at least 30 days’ notice, but Martinez felt disputing the matter wasn’t an option.
“I know my housing rights more than most, but if I assert them, a landlord isn’t going to rent to me,” Martinez said.
Martinez, who left his job on Beacon Hill to run for office, but who’s continued to work at his side gig as a bartender at Trident Booksellers & Cafe in the Back Bay, said he takes home $4,000 to $5,000 a month. Martinez set out to find a 1-bedroom rental in Roxbury on a budget of $2,000; instead, he said he found prices starting at $2,300.
Finding a place that would welcome his dog Tallulah complicated the apartment search, Martinez said.
Martinez, a Western Massachusetts native, graduated from Northeastern Law in 2018, then worked as a legal counsel and budget director for Senator Pat Jehlen. On Beacon Hill, Martinez cofounded Beacon BLOC, a collective of State House staffers who aim to improve conditions for the institution’s relatively few workers of color. He also helped draft legislation that provided protections for tenants from evictions during the coronavirus pandemic.
His own experiences with housing insecurity, he said, pushed him to run for office.
“I’ve been unhoused before,” Martinez said. “I know what it’s like to not have a place to call home.”
Martinez said that, had he run, he would have advocated for housing reforms such as repealing the statewide rent control ban, as well as environmental and criminal justice issues. He said he also would have pushed to address homelessness, as well as poverty and untreated mental illness, all of which he views as ways to reduce crime.
“You can’t be the state representative for Roxbury and not lead on housing,” Martinez said.
If he’d won the race, Martinez would have become Beacon Hill’s first openly non-binary legislator, as well as its only openly LGBTQ+ legislator of color.
Martinez is staying with his boyfriend in Somerville until he can find his own apartment. Whether or not that will be back in District 7 remains unclear. But Martinez said deciding not to run won’t end his commitment to improving the neighborhood.
“Campaign or not, Roxbury is where I want to be,” he said.
Tiana Woodard is a Report for America corps member covering Black neighborhoods. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @tianarochon.