The Our Lady’s Guild House (OLGH) in the Fenway/Kenmore neighborhood has been a source of reliable housing for low-and moderate-income women and students since 1947. But many women who have lived at OLGH, like Judy Burnette and Lydia Eccles, believe that it has abandoned its mission to serve these women, as around 70 to 80 women have been evicted from their longtime rooms in order for the building to be rented out to students and people who can afford to pay more.
Displacement is an issue across Boston and across the country, and its effects are being especially felt at OLGH, which rents single rooms and is owned by the Daughters of Mary of the Immaculate Conception of Berlin, Conn., and managed by Marc Roos Realty. OLGH was originally a hotel and was donated to the Catholic Church, who in turn donated it to the Daughters of the Immaculate Conception, who then created a charitable corporation to operate the building as an affordable rooming house for women.
At a community meeting hosted by City Life/Vida Urbana and the Fenway CDC on Jan. 30, Judy Burnette, who has been an OLGH resident since December 2008, told those in attendance that long-term residents were told in 2014 that their leases could not be extended past July 31, 2018.
“I was looking for an apartment and I couldn’t find anything,” Burnette said. “Even [in] the senior citizen buildings the waiting lists are long.”
Lydia Eccles spoke about the age discrimination that she feels is so prevalent
within OLGH’s management. “The age discrimination that’s taking place is a
means to an end,” she said. She said that management has “kicked out all
long-term residents,” and
“they perceived that age discrimination was part of their plan to turn the building to profit.”
She said that some of the women have lived in that building their entire lives, and one woman who is being evicted is 83 years old and has lived at OLGH for 32 years. Eccles said that when she first applied for a room, management told her they do not rent to people over the age of 60, but she “begged for an exception and got it,” she said.
“Who in the City of Boston more needs single room occupancy than single older women?” She said. She added that this is what is affordable for someone who is lower income in the city.
Eccles also said that OLGH has never filed any annual corporate reports and “no one knows where the profits from the building are going.” She added that OLGH has also listed on their website the age discrimination she described “with no consequences.”
Eccles said that the management of OLGH is “transitioning people into homelessness.”
A woman who has been evicted said that there is a “pattern of not caring in our country; it’s not just in our neighborhood.” She said that her perception of the situation is that “so many people are being seen as disposable.” This woman had lived at OLGH for about five years, and described it as a “lovely community” when she first moved in. Then, she said, everyone had to move out of their rooms for renovation and “the rents were jacked up.” She said she had a very difficult time finding a new place to live. She had to move to Franklin for a period of time, and just recently came back to Boston and found a stable place. “It has really been a nightmare for people who are displaced,” she said.
Colleen Fitzpatrick of the Fenway CDC said the CDC got involved in 2012 when there was a rent hike of about $100 at once across the city. “Rent has gone up very quickly in such a short time,” Fitzpatrick said. “There has been a lot of displacement.”
“For years this has been an important source of affordable housing for older women,” she said. “This is not the only building of single-room occupancies that has shifted to students and/or Airbnb,.” Fitzpatrick said. However, the ordinance that recently passed will not allow Airbnb in these buildings.
There has been a lot of support from the surrounding community for the women who are being evicted. “These women are making a point that it’s not okay for these things to happen here in our neighborhood,” Fitzpatrick said.
Margaret Turner of Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) said that GBLS got involved in this case over the summer, and praised the amount of community support for this issue. “These are no-fault evictions, and the landlord is saying they have to go,” Turner said. She said that up until 2012/2013, evictions were “extremely rare, only two in many years and only for something of cause.” She said that no more members of the order live there anymore.
“A charity cannot just decide it’s not going to be a charity anymore,” Turner said. She said that the property manager (Marc Roos Realty) has been “substantially increasing the rents” and charging illegal broker fees when renting to tenants. She also said they have had explicit language in their leases that is “discriminatory on the basis of disability.”
A spokesman for OLGH told the Sun that they would not be speaking to media on the matter, but did provide a statement.
“The Our Lady’s Guild House has been a short-term residence for woman who work in the Boston area and/or attend school or internship programs. Owned by the Daughters of Mary of the Immaculate Conception of Berlin, Conn.,, OLGH is open to women of all backgrounds,” said Don Martelli, property spokesman. “Managing the property and providing temporary housing services has grown increasingly difficult in recent years due to the longevity of stay by some tenants—tenants who have repeatedly neglected to honor lease agreements that have been extended time and time again. Unfortunately, the property owner has had to move forward with legal options despite repeated attempts to come to a reasonable solution for all parties.”
Turner said that there is a concern about the switch from long-term tenants to short-term tenants, and how it would be easier to sell the property and turn it into something entirely different. “This charity needs to stay in this neighborhood,” Turner said.
As far as solutions to this issue, she said that they have considered bringing this whole matter to court, but it would take a lot of resources. She said that it is “way more important” that the community speaks out, as it has the power to influence elected officials.
There have also been organized rallies that have helped to delay the evictions, Fitzpatrick said. There is a petition on the City Life/Vida Urbana website that has been signed by 1,300 people. She said that the petition has been delivered to Marc Roos Realty, but “he declined to meet with us and decline to comment.”
Fitzpatrick said they have been having conversations with the nuns since August, and said that “they have maintained the position that they want everyone to move out.”
She added that Rep. Jon Santiago and State Sen. Will Brownsberger made calls to the attorney general asking for an investigation of the situation, and that City Councilor Josh Zakim “expressed support and took some steps.”
“I think they could take a little more action,” Fitzpatrick said of the elected officials, and urged attendees to keep calling them.
Community members at the meeting were very concerned about the well-being of these women, and readily made suggestions for a course of action that can be taken going forward, including calling news stations, picketing during Red Sox games, boycotting Marc Roos Realty, and getting a bus together to go confront the nuns in Connecticut. Other suggestions included bombarding the nuns with phone calls, social media campaigns, an investigation of Marc Roos Realty, and calling on Cardinal O’Malley to use his leverage to resolve the problem.
Most everyone agreed that this issue needs to be exposed to other neighborhoods in the city, and that what is happening to these older women is unacceptable. Alex Ponte-Capellan, Community Organizer for City Life/Vida Urbana, said that he will gather all of these suggestions into one document and then choose the ones that have the most potential. “We can start forming committees around each initiative,” he said. “All these ideas can actually come into reality. It’s going to be a lot of work, but if you’re as fired up about this as I am then I know I can count on you guys.”