Mobilize to continue affordable housing contract
It's 7 p.m. on a Friday, and half-a-dozen residents are settling down for a meeting in a dimly lit room tucked away in the basement of 68 West Concord Street. According to the groups' members, they have all gathered to save a shared cause: their homes.
Come June 1, the affordable housing contract for Rutland Housing at 26-30 Rutland Street and 105-117 West Concord Street will be over. The buildings' 44 apartments will officially be available for market rates, threatening the current tenants' guarantee for affordable housing there.
"We all live there in that community together," said resident Dorothy Guice, who has lived at Rutland Housing for over 33 years.
"This change doesn't benefit the tenant. It's to benefit the landlord."
Rutland Housing is privately owned, but offers low-income housing to residents through the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) under a 40-year contract with the buildings' owners, David and Karen Parker of Rutland Housing Associates.
According to David Parker, he has no intention of driving out the current tenants and has done his best to be transparent about the process.
"After 40 years, if we wanted to opt out, we could," said Parker, "Our biggest concern was that our current tenants would be able to stay."
Rutland Housing tenants would be able to stay after June 1 through "enhanced vouchers" from the housing authority, which would cover the difference for the apartments' higher market value.
As far as Parker knows, all the current tenants will be eligible for enhanced vouchers, and BHA is in the midst of the re-screening process.
However, many residents feel that enhanced vouchers will ultimately leave them vulnerable. If the federal government cuts funding for the program, residents could lose their homes and have to re-enter the housing system.
To encourage the Parkers to renew the Section 8 housing contract, residents have formed the Rutland Housing Tenants Organization (RHTO). Over the past four months, they have been working closely with the Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants, a tenants' rights organization based in Jamaica Plain.
"Over the years, we've saved 11,400 [affordable housing] developments throughout the state," said Michael Cain of the Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants, who has been working with RHTO.
The tenants have also reached out to their local politicians, City Councilor Tito Jackson and State Representative Byron Rushing.
"They've all weighed-in with the Parkers to renew the affordable housing," said Cain. However, it is unlikely that political or legal pressure will change the outcome. Cain noted that the tenants currently have no basis for a lawsuit.
According to Cain, the Parkers could renew the affordable housing contract under the Mark Up to Market Program through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which would provide the same rent as the enhanced vouchers.
According to David Parker, he is not planning on renewing the contract.
"We're moving forward," he said.
For residents, this change threatens their security in a place where they have called home for many years.
"It's the South End. Not everyone can afford market-rate rent," said Guice, "Whether you're rich or poor, we all make up the community."