First things first. If you're reading this, can you sign the community petition in support of the Bradlee Road Tenant Association? Thanks!
The situation on Bradlee Road is just one window into the housing crisis facing Medford and the whole greater Boston area. But every story like this represents households displaced, communities disrupted, and lives shot through with the anxiety and expense.
Last year, the apartment building at 22–26 Bradlee Road was bought by Savage Properties, a commercial landlord with properties throughout greater Boston. In April, the Council started hearing from the building’s at-will tenants, soon after they received notices to move out within 30 days. Given the grossly inflated rental market, and historically low housing vacancy rates, finding suitable and affordable new housing on such a short timeline felt like a impossible proposition to many of these long-time Medford residents.
In May, I talked with the Tufts Daily about Bradlee Road, including how state law prohibits cities from many tenant-protection measures in no-fault eviction cases like these.
Since the spring, I’ve been staying in touch with the Bradlee Road Tenant Association and their main collaborator, the housing justice organizers at City Life/Vida Urbana.
While there were some reasons for optimism a few months ago – a 30-day extension on the initial 30-day notice to quit, for example – lately, the situation has soured. The Bradlee Road Tenant Association has consistently reached out to Savage to request the opportunity to discuss their situation and negotiate terms to remain in their homes. Six City Councilors and the Mayor signed onto a public letter in support of negotiations, even offering to try and assist with securing a mediator for this process. But in July, Savage rescinded their prior offers of negotiation. On August 1st, the remaining tenants-at-will received court summons, initiating the evictions process.
(If you haven’t already, can you sign on to show your support for these tenants as they gear up to defend themselves from eviction in court?)
These residents aren’t being evicted because they are bad tenants or violated the terms of their leases. It’s because their landlords want to raise the rent. They’re being scattered by the forces that turn housing from a necessity into a commodity. As I’ve said publicly many times, the housing crisis – including the luxurification of housing – is not the fault of any one person, landlord or corporation. Nevertheless, the people and companies that perpetuate and profit off of it are wrong, and our laws and policies that condone it are wrong. These tenants are fighting to stay in the homes that they have lived in and invested in for years, and they are being punished for it – mentally, materially and legally.
As we extensively discussed in City Council meetings in April and May, there is – unfortunately – very little that the City of Medford can legally do to halt what has befallen the residents of 22–26 Bradlee Road. This property owner is allowed to terminate the leases of its tenants. On the municipal level, we are prevented by state law from many measures that would insulate tenants from a no-fault eviction like this – including tenant right to purchase, just cause eviction protections, or developing policy around how much rents may be raised year over year.
In cases like these, where stronger measures are legally out of our hands, all we can do is advocate – and so until we win back better powers on the municipal level, advocate we must! I’ve attempted to do that by liaising directly with the property owners’ agents, supporting the Bradlee Road Tenant Association at rallies in Medford and Boston, and organizing an electeds sign-on letter in support of negotiations.
In addition, Vice President Bears and I have also put forward for the Council to study Home Rule Petitions for rent stabilization, tenant right to purchase, tenant right to counsel, just cause eviction protections, regulation of up-front lease fees, anti-price gouging protections, and exemptions for owner-occupant landlords (all in Council Paper 22-310). These are all measures that cities are currently prevented from doing by state law. If we were to pass home rule petitions in favor of these measures, that would equal both requests for exceptions, and also serve as a way to advocate for local governments like ours to be empowered to enact these types of protections.
Another clarion call emerging from this saga is how much our community needs an Office of Housing Stability. For some bitter evidence, re-read some of the tenant remarks quoted in the Tufts Daily article I linked to earlier. Our relevant city staff did an incredible job of fielding calls from Bradlee Road tenants when this was going down, and liaising with Savage’s agents as well – they were instrumental in bringing about the 30-day extension that was initially granted. But Medford City Hall simply does not have the resources to adequately support people who need housing help – whether their question is around relocation, not knowing their rights, or just not knowing where to start. A single social worker and a part-time housing planner for a rapidly-gentrifying city of 60,000 is not enough. That’s not the fault of the dedicated and knowledgeable staff that we do have, and it’s not because there aren’t people we could hire. We can’t commit resources to this rapidly-escalating need because we don’t have those resources.
This is why, again, municipal revenue is a matter of social justice. (See my post from last week for more on this topic.) Every day that we fail to chart a path towards implementing an Office of Housing Stability, we are reneging on our commitment and our responsibility to fully support our residents, especially our most vulnerable residents. That type of constituent service isn’t a bonus or a nice amenity – it’s the crucial project of helping community members remain in their homes and neighborhoods, who would otherwise be pushed out.
None of this is new as of Bradlee Road, or specific to that site. Just recently, I’ve heard of at least two other Medford properties in the past two months where tenants are being displaced by rapidly escalating rents or otherwise disenfranchised by landlord misbehavior. We need to get serious about stemming the tide. I’ll be staying on this drumbeat, because in this economic climate, it has to be a priority to find a fast-track for in-house housing stability staff and resources. Cities like ours can’t keep filling that hole with under-resourced regional nonprofits, like City Life/Vida Urbana, who manage to have an outsize positive impact but are nonetheless spread incredibly thin. We need to step up.
Vice President Bears and I have invit
ed a representative from the Bradlee Road Tenant Association to present an update to the City Council at our meeting tonight (August 9th). Please tune in if you’re able. As a final request, the Tenant Association has asked for our help in sharing the community sign-on letter – so again, please sign if you haven’t already and share it with your neighbors.