Is It Okay to be Happy About Gentrification?

By Phineas J. Stone

It’s hard to know how to feel when you watch the day of reckoning come for a next door neighbor you don’t particularly like.

All over the city we hear about the ills of gentrification.

We hear about the poor souls squeezed out by big money, pushed by economics and the capitalist way to other places that they aren’t connected to physically and spiritually. A neighborhood is an important place, and once we get used to it, whether rich or poor, it’s hard to have to leave – especially when you don’t want to.

I understand the feeling very much. I have relatives who were long ago pushed out of where they lived, finding refuge in other parts of the city in small basement apartments that are likely not exactly up to code.

But last week was an altogether different situation.

It was the story of gentrification that isn’t told because it’s more complex. It doesn’t make for good political fodder and doesn’t embolden the case of the destitute. That story centers around how to feel when gentrification pushes out a neighborhood pest.

The day has been coming for about six months for our neighborhood pest.

A new owner had purchased the building nearby that had been a vestige from the past when the neighborhood was more challenged. It wasn’t run down, but it certainly wasn’t the showpiece that other places had turned into. Mostly, it had housed subsidized renters – those on Section 8 – and for the most part without incident and to the delight of many.

But the new owner wasn’t keen on that arrangement. Only a few years ago, one could cash in on subsidized housing as it was a guaranteed payment and was above the market rate for most apartments. That’s no longer the case anymore, and most new owners are quick to want to make the switch to market rate because the investment is more sound and the return is greater.

That’s the conundrum that the City finds itself in. And there are a lot of sad stories unfolding from that economic reality, that being Boston’s boom.

Yet, last week, when the messy move took place on my street, it was hard to know whether to be happy or sad.

The family had migrated to the street from Lynn three or four years ago, finding a good deal on two subsidized apartments. They were immediately a problem for everyone.

The first weekend they threw a huge party with hundreds of teen-agers from all over Boston pouring into the building. The night ended with gunfire, a speeding car hitting someone and police making an arrest of three fleeing gents in the middle of the street for all to see.

That was followed by a messy screaming match with police from the new lady of the house, whom they had to drag out to the cruiser quite literally after she punched a cop and was charged with keeping a disorderly house.

Everyone canceled the welcome wagon after that night.

In the coming years, they stole my BBQ grill off the back deck…twice.

When we would eat out on the deck in the summer, and they would spot us, they would always send their kids over to beg for some food, which they didn’t need.

They and their guests crashed into at least three or four cars in the early morning hours and then pretended not to know anything about it.

A teen-ager that took up residence there about a year into the deal constantly changed the wheels on his little sports car, blocking traffic and making all kinds of noise as he used a hydraulic drill and a hand jack. He also had some kind of stolen bicycle ring going on, always pushing kids’ bikes down the street early in the morning, and then loading them up in the sports car and taking off.

When their public benefits had run out for the month, most times they would go door to door looking for cash.

Fighting, screaming and spitting with the windows open was a family activity in the same vein that some families might play Monopoly. Once their youngest child was found playing with someone’s dog about three streets away, unattended.

All in all, they were a mess, and when the new owner came along, I was more than happy to hear they were out.

But at the same time, with all their warts, they always did their best to be nice to everyone face to face.

And when the day came for them to leave, it was ugly, and as much as everyone on the street was happy, I found myself conflicted.

The children were crying, and the landlord had grown hard hearted because they had damaged the recently-repaired apartment, and had let the water run for about 48 hours straight to stick it to him.

The scene all played out in front of everyone.

The little girl cried for her teddy bear.

The landlord wouldn’t open the door for them, having secured it with an eviction padlock.

The older adults asked where they were going to go.

“Away,” said the landlord. “It didn’t have to be this way if you had been civil.”

He had brought some muscle, big guys with foul mouths standing behind him, and they had brought their own form of intimidation – some dudes brandishing tire irons and pretending to change the wheels again on the sports car. There was no physical conflict, but a lot of yelling took place, much of it vulgar, but some of it heartbreaking.

Most of all, it was quite apparent these folks had nowhere else to go.

They were a problem, but they had become our problem, and I found myself a bit sad for their plight.

When it was all done, my mind told me to be happy. Things in my neighborhood were going to improve.

But at the same time, my heart wasn’t settled.

Life in the city isn’t easy, and sometimes a win-win feels like a loss.


Mr. Boston can be reached at [email protected]


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