Gentrification in Eastie and Southie leaves some behind
The developers are circling. They want Gina and Jack Scalcione’s multifamily town house, and with big money to be made in gentrifying East Boston, their pitches are not subtle.
“We can buy your property today for top dollar!” promises one of the letters that have arrived in the couple’s mailbox. “If a cash sale on your property within 24 hours would interest you, please read on,” reads another.
An agent who stopped by offered the couple $950,000, and when that didn’t work, he upped his price to $1.2 million. Never even came inside.
“What’s the money going to do for me?” Gina Scalcione, an energetic woman, asked as she sat in the cozy kitchen she has known for most of her 75 years. “Where am I supposed to go?”
Scalcione is not leaving East Boston. That’s for sure. But East Boston is starting to leave her — a feeling that has taken hold among longtime residents in some of Boston’s hottest neighborhoods.
Transformation has always been part of city living, and part of life. But in neighborhoods like East Boston and South Boston, rents and real estate values are rising so fast they’re dramatically speeding up the natural order of things.
On a purely physical level, new buildings are blocking views. New people are coming with more cars, making it harder to park. In Andrew Square, an old-timer says he has lost his TV reception, a casualty of the condo building rising right behind his house.
In Eastie, Scalcione’s neighbors have taken developers’ money and moved. People with dog walkers have moved in. She’s worried that pricey cafes and grocery stores will replace familiar favorites.
But the change is emotional, too. As Dolly Crane, 75, of South Boston, has learned, you don’t have to move to live in a different place.
“I go to Castle Island, and I’m lucky if I see anybody I know,” she said on a recent morning as she socialized at the South Boston Neighborhood House.
“I used to bump into people I went to high school with,” she added. “You could talk about memories and stuff. Now there’s no one with your same upbringing.”
Crane finds Southie’s new restaurants — with their foodie vibe and $16 cocktails — similarly alienating. “There’s nowhere to take your grandchildren for lunch for a decent price.”
In East Boston, median rents have risen 22.5 percent over the past five years, from $1,986 in 2011 to $2,269 this past January, according to Zillow. In South Boston, median rents have gone up by 54.9 percent over the same time period, from $1,762 in 2011 to $2,729 in 2016.
Median condo values have also risen fast. In East Boston, they’ve soared 51.9 percent over the past fi years, from $211,900 to $321,800, according to Zillow. In South Boston, it’s a similar story. Prices there have risen by 45.9 percent, from $347,300 to $506,700.
On a recent morning in East Boston, seniors at the East Boston Social Centers were getting ready for bingo and lamenting a way of life that is disappearing as developers buy properties, and strangers — students and flight attendants who like the proximity to Logan Airport, among them — move in where grandparents and aunts and cousins once lived.
“We used to go to [neighbors’] wakes,” said Joan Capone, 77, who calls the bingo numbers.
Louise Montanino, 69, a member of East Boston High School’s class of 1964, recalled the days when if you did something wrong at school your mother would hear about it from another mother before you even got home. “You used to know your neighbors,” she said.
As longtime Boston residents are learning, people forced from their homes by rising rents and real estate values aren’t the only ones who find their support networks strained or broken. The people left behind can, too, said Margaret Farmer, cochairwoman of the Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association in Eastie and director of development for the North Suffolk Mental Health Association.
The newcomers don’t know that the old guy on the second floor needs to be reminded to move his car on street-cleaning day, she said. Or that the widow across the street needs help bringing up her groceries. Or even which house on the street is best avoided on Halloween.
“It’s not to say that the new people can’t become part of the community,” she said, “but it takes time.”
In Southie, David Chen, a 41-year-old neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, is one of the new people, the kind who go to work in the morning, return at night, and don’t spend time hanging out on the stoop.
He and his husband love their two-bedroom condo and the easy commute, but as for getting to know the locals, “we don’t wander around much,” he admitted.
Their main interactions have been at the post office and the Stop & Shop on East Broadway. “But we’ve talked about getting a dog,” he said, “so maybe we’d be around more people that way.”
Of course, gentrification is not solely a negative force, said Ernani DeAraujo, a former East Boston liaison in the late Mayor Thomas Menino’s administration and president of the board of an East Boston nonprofit, Neighborhood of Affordable Housing.
“It’s a more complicated picture,” he said. “Pretty much every block [in East Boston] has someone painting and putting on a new roof. [Owners] can make these investments because they’re getting a higher and more stable rent, and it’s making the neighborhood look a lot nicer.’’
He also sees a “huge plus” in having young professionals — with advocacy and other needed skills — become part of the neighborhood.
But despite the benefits, many residents say that after a lifetime of living in the same neighborhood — often in the same house — suddenly they have become the strangers, the outsiders.
In Eastie, Joanne Pomodoro railed against the construction and the rats it has brought, and then got down to the issue that will bother her even once the cranes have left.
“We feel marginalized,” she said.