Five families in Somerville are facing eviction and potential displacement after their home was acquired by landlords seeking to raise rents on a property close to the Green Line Extension. The 182–184 Tremont Street home currently houses primarily Salvadoran and Haitian families, some of whom have lived there for more than 25 years.
On Sept. 25, the Community Action Agency of Somerville organized a rally to support the tenants who are negotiating with the new owners, the Cambridge-based company BBD Holdings LLC, to avoid losing their homes. Many of the residents are “tenants at will,” meaning owners can end their tenancy at any time with 30 days notice. Because Massachusetts lacks rent-control protections, the new owners would be able to raise rents from $1,200 per month to $2,000 per month over the course of one year.
Camila Gutierrez Plata, a community organizer for CAAS, says the families initially did not know who the owners were and received warnings from strangers that the property would be torn down.
“Their tactic is to buy the building, increase the rent by an unpayable amount for the current tenants, … fix it up a little bit and then charge really high rents, or totally tear down the building and build either condos or luxury housing, and that is what is happening all around the city,” Gutierrez Plata said.
BBD Holdings, which is directed by Matthew Urciuoli and Reginaldo Piccinato, agreed to meet with tenants but stated that they intend to continue with the eviction process. On Oct. 3, every tenant received a letter summoning them to appear in court.
“If the landlord wants them to leave the property, at some point a court will order them out of the property if we’re unable to come to some sort of negotiated settlement which would allow them to stay in their home for a period of time,” Jessica Drew, a senior attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services who is representing the tenants, said.
CAAS says it is aiming to get a nonprofit to acquire the home and make it permanent affordable housing as has been done in the past. Drew said that while GBLS is exploring all possible options to keep the families in their homes, that particular option comes with many barriers.
“We’re looking at all possible options, but there isn’t a guarantee of an option that will actually end up working for these families who are ultimately looking to find stable, affordable housing and hopefully be able to stay in the city of Somerville,” Drew said.
Gutierrez Plata also commented on the uncertainty of making the property permanently affordable, whether by funds from a nonprofit or from the city.
“It’s not something that we can force them to do,” Gutierrez Plata said. “But I would say in the near future, the tenants are able to stay in their homes. However, unless you get either a lease from the landlord, or again, a sale or some type of agreement, their situation’s still pretty unstable.”
Ben Ewen-Campen, the Somerville Ward 3 city councilor who attended the rally, expressed his outrage at the situation in an email to the Daily.
“It is … utterly shameful that ‘BBD Holdings’ is seeking to evict members of community – whether it’s a family of El Salvadoran immigrants that have lived here for close to three decades, or a young Haitian couple just months after the birth of their child, these are beloved members of our community,” he wrote.
He went on to explain that as city officials, “we are here to do whatever we can to support these residents staying in their home, and to let BBD Holdings know that their business model of evicting families for profit isn’t welcome in Somerville.”
Drew described the process of evictions as “stressful” and “disastrous” events that can have long-term consequences on a family’s ability to find a home in the future.
“You have a public record that is now out there, where other landlords know that you’ve been brought to court,” she said. “Regardless of the reason, regardless of whether you’re successful, that tends to be a scarlet letter on people’s records.”
With her experience on eviction cases, Drew expressed that she knows the kind of pressure the Tremont Street families are facing. She noted that many of them are handling this legal process while also managing jobs, school and children.
“They’re thinking in their mind, ‘I’m running on a time clock. I have a time [at] which I have to leave this apartment, I have to transition into affordable housing, which is exceedingly hard to find and qualify for, and I’m doing this all while trying to take care of other responsibilities,” Drew said.
BBD Holdings, LLC did not respond to comment after attempts to reach them.
Drew closed by expressing that evictions are not only a societal problem but a public health issue.
“I can tell you confidently that through the individuals and the families that I’ve represented, it is a … very challenging and difficult process,” she said. “Facing homelessness is painful.”