Hundreds of tenants and advocates marched through several Boston neighborhoods Thursday afternoon as part of a nationwide rally calling for regulations to protect low- and middle-income residents from being forced out by rising rents.
Across from City Hall, organizers from the Right 2 Remain Coalition delivered a symbolic human rights violation citation and eviction notice to the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, accusing the industry group of thwarting affordable housing efforts.
"There's a crisis going on right now," said Darnell L. Johnson, coordinator for Right to the City Boston, a member of the coalition. "It's time to protect our tenants from corporate speculators, big business, and banks."
The march in Boston coincided with similar actions in 50 cities in 20 states, said Malcolm Torrejon Chu, spokesman for Brooklyn-based Right to the City Alliance, the national group organizing the protests.
A group of about 10 people representing the Small Property Owners Association staged a counter rally across from the hundreds of demonstrators, arguing that raising rents does not equate to evictions, and that attempts to regulate what property owners can do would mean a return to rent control, said Skip Schloming, executive director of the Cambridge-based organization.
While rents in Greater Boston are no longer climbing at the meteoric rates they were two years ago, they are still increasing. The average apartment in Greater Boston rented for nearly $2,050 a month in the second quarter of the year.
Holding signs saying #right2remain and "Your Luxury is Our Displacement," the group also took aim at the Boston Redevelopment Authority, accusing the agency of encouraging luxury and high-end development, but failing to have safeguards in place to help existing residents remain in their neighborhoods.
Demonstrators continued their march to locations including to luxury tower Millennium Place, the Downtown Crossing home of the most expensive condominium in Boston, where they spoke about homelessness. In Chinatown, they stopped at Reggie Wong Park, part of some parcels being sold for development by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and demanded a commitment to have truly affordable housing for neighborhood residents. There they also criticized the decision by state and city officials to give General Electric Co. millions of dollars in incentives to relocate to Fort Point, while residents struggle to afford their own rent.
"Of course everybody wants a vibrant city, but the problem is that in the last 15 years, for instance, the housing stock in and around Chinatown has doubled, and 80 to 90 percent of that has been luxury housing," said Lydia Lowe, co-director at the Chinese Progressive Association. "That's why we're seeing the price increases and huge displacement of tenants in privately owned housing."