Originally published in Health Justice Boston
On the morning of March 8th, dozens of Massachusetts residents gathered in the basement of the State House to testify for a proposal that would prevent landlords from taking advantage of expiring federal restrictions that currently shelter subsidized apartments from current market forces driving up the cost of living.
The Enabling Act, proposed by Rep. Frank Smizik (D-Brookline), would require the renewal of expiring Section 8 housing contracts while still allowing building owners to increase returns through HUD programs that match current market rates. Currently, 16,440 section 8 properties face expiration by 2018.
Rep. Smizik pointed out that the “40-T” law passed in 2009 under Governor Patrick, gives the state a “right-of-first refusal” on properties that may be about to emerge from government controls. He stated, “In practice, it has failed to provide the safety net for affordable-housing residents that we’d hoped for,” Smizik said. “Instead, many building owners are not selling their properties but converting them” into market-rate residences. Smizik noted that his proposal also allows for municipalities to deny building owners’ requests to convert Section 8 apartments into condominiums.
The hearing saw a number of emotional testimonies: from disabled and elderly residents and those struggling to eke out a living on Social Security payments. Groups of tenants from apartment buildings across the city testified together, united in solidarity against the forces of supply and demand. Mary Owens, resident of the Forbes Building in Jamaica Plain, stated in regards to the potential loss of senior housing, “I’m a senior citizen, I should be enjoying my life at this point. With all the wealth in this country, it’s a sad time to be a senior.”
Residents of the Mercantile Wharf in the North End, expressed their concern over the fate of the 43 low-income properties housed there. Marcus pointed out “many of these tenants use the Mass voucher, which most landlords refuse to accept.” Ms. Padellero echoed her neighbor’s concerns and shared with the room that she uses 40% of her Social Security benefits on rent and the rest on her medications. She stated “I’ve been a resident of Mercantile Wharf for over 20 years. I’ve spent every penny I had in savings on housing.”
Immediately after Padellero’s confession, the room filled with residents raising yellow signs saying “I don’t want to be homeless.” The tenants were organized by the Massachusetts Alliance of HUD Tenants.
– Bianca Ortiz Wythe