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Somerville tenants rally over soaring rents, gentrification of Green Line Extension corridor

Elizabeth Martinez, 3, was held by her mother, Rosa Pineda, near a demonstration with Somerville community members rallying in support of four families from El Salvador and one family from Haiti who are at imminent risk of eviction.Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe

SOMERVILLE — Jose Oge has a newborn son and an eviction notice telling him his family has until Friday to move out of the Tremont Street apartment they’ve rented for the past five years.

The six-unit building at 182-184 Tremont Street, a few blocks from Union Square, has been bought by a limited liability corporation ― BBD Holding LLC — and is slated to be torn down, according to housing justice organizers who staged a rally Sunday afternoon outside the building, calling on lawmakers to do something about soaring rent increases and displacements of families like Oge’s.

The evictions of Oge, who is from Haiti, and his neighbors, four families from El Salvador, are “another brutal example of the tidal wave of gentrification sweeping the new Green Line Extension corridor,” said Fabiano Latham, spokesman for Community Action Agency of Somerville.


Oge, who drives for Uber, and his wife’s 67-year-old grandmother, who works at a food packaging company, are the only two bringing in a paycheck right now.

His wife is still healing from a cesarean section delivery two months ago and hasn’t yet returned to her job at TJ Maxx, Oge said.

“We have nowhere else to go,” Oge said at Sunday’s rally. “We need more time to look for a place. It’s not like we want to stay. The house is really old, but we need more time, so my wife can go back to work. It’s only me and my grandma working.”

Oge, who had been paying $1,261 a month for his two-bedroom apartment, said he was notified in July that his rent would increase to $1,800. But by mid-August, that had changed, and Oge was instead told he had to move out by Sept. 30.

BBD Holdings’ registered agent is listed as Matthew Urciulo in Cambridge. Attempts to reach Urciulo for comment were not successful.


CAAS organizers passed out handmade signs — “LLCs get your hands off our community” and “Housing is a Human Right” — and led a crowd of about 70 in chants and shaming of money-minded landlords.

“This is a no-fault eviction. They just want them out and they’re allowed to ask them to leave for no reason,” said Samantha Wolfe, a community organizer at CAAS. “The five families here are part of our community and we’re here to make sure that they’re not going anywhere.”

Organizers demanded lawmakers develop a comprehensive plan that mitigates unaffordable rent increases and tempers the market forces that drive the displacement of local residents and small businesses.

They called on lawmakers to return for a special fall session to address the housing crisis.

“The situation at 182-184 Tremont Street is emblematic of the broader affordable-housing crisis impacting cities across Massachusetts, including Boston, and ‘gateway cities’ such as Lowell and Springfield,” Latham said in a statement. “In Somerville, the problem is particularly acute, with the arrival of the new Green Line Extension fueling an unprecedented uptick in rents and property speculation that has already pushed countless immigrant and low-income families out of the city.”

J.T. Scott, Somerville ward two city councilor, joined Sunday’s ralliers.

“These are my neighbors and they need our help,” Scott said. ‘The situation they’re in is abhorrent. It should not be a thing that is allowed. And the fact that this is a thing that is allowed, that is legal, is a failure of policymakers at every level.”


Scott added: “When policymakers fail to act, we must, as neighbors come together to help. There’s no reason they should be forced out of their homes. It is utterly insane that we allow greed to run so unchecked.”

Santos Cruz, 69, and Carlos Selzar, 74, who have lived in the Tremont Street building for 25 years, are also facing eviction. Cruz works for a laundry service. Selzar, who has cancer, doesn’t work anymore.

Cruz thanked so many neighbors, especially those who didn’t know them, for coming out to show their support.

“Our new landlord should know that he’s evicting good people,” Cruz said through an interpreter. “We are not the first families going through this. We’re not the only families, and we need to support each other. You need to be here for us, but we’ll be here for you, as well.”

Tonya Alanez can be reached at tonya.alanez@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @talanez.