Chants of “What do we do when the nuns attack? Stand up, fight back!” and “Mother Jennifer, you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side!” rang through Fenway’s Symphony Community Park on July 27 as activists for the women facing eviction at Our Lady’s Guild House (OLGH) prepared to board a bus to New Britain, Conn., for a rally in front of the nuns who own OLGH.
As previously reported by the Sun, the building, owned by the Daughters of Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Connecticut and managed by Marc Roos Realty, is intended to provide housing to low and moderate income single women, but have sent eviction letters to the older women who live there in an effort to make it known that their intention for the building is short-term stays.
Since no agreement between the nuns, property management company, and the tenants of OLGH has been made yet, the Fenway Community Development Corporation (CDC) and Jamaica Plain-based City Life/Vida Urbana sent a bus full of activists down to Connecticut on Saturday to face the nuns and make them aware of what they say is unfair treatment and age discrimination against these women.
According to Colleen Fitzpatrick of the Fenway CDC, about 45 people RSVPed to go on the bus, and about 30 to 40 people showed up to the pre-trip rally on Saturday.
“We’re calling attention to injustice,” Fitzpatrick said. “This has been going on for far too long, it’s been hidden for far too long. Dozens and dozens of older women have just quietly moved out of the place. They’re scared, they’re traumatized, and it’s high time” that something is done about the issue, she said.
Though eviction notices have been given out in more recent years (some women were told in 2014 they could not extend their leases past 2018), some former OLGH residents said that the problems started even further back.
Janice Graves was an OLGH resident from 1990-1998 when she was a student. “I don’t think they’re making false claims at all,” she said of the women who are currently facing eviction. She said that in the ‘90s, a pregnant woman was told she had to leave OLGH because they do not allow children in the building. “She was flat-out told she couldn’t live there,” Graves said.
She also said that women were told that if they cannot take care of themselves any longer, they would also have to leave. “I had no lease,” she said. “I knew I was a tenant at will, but I don’t know if other people understood that.”
Helen “Homefries” Matthews of City Life/Vida Urbana said that by holding this rally down in Connecticut, “we’re putting them on the defense, which is how it should be. It’s so easy to get away with this kind of activity under the cover of silence but now that people have really shined a spotlight on these evictions, they cannot just do business as usual.”
Our Lady’s Guild House has responded to the attention surrounding this issue. “The mission of Our Lady’s Guild House is and always has been to provide short-term residential housing to single women,” according to OLGH spokesperson Don Martelli. “In 2014, the previous management company worked with tenants to implement new lease agreements, which made it clear that the building is designed for transitional, not permanent, housing. Since then, The Daughters have been able to improve services, manage the building efficiently, meet tenant needs and reinvigorate the mission of offer transitional, affordable housing to women of all backgrounds.
OLGH is and always has been a home for women who are seeking transitional housing. It is important that the mission continues and that the building remains one where women can take advantage of the affordable rent and convenience of living in the heart of Downtown Boston as they look for long-term housing plans.
It is extremely unfortunate and disheartening that, despite our ongoing attempts to work collaboratively with the tenants, they have taken an aggressive approach that makes false claims against the Daughters of Mary of the Immaculate Conception, the property management company and personally, to Mother Mary Jennifer—a woman who has given her life to serving and caring for others.”
Fitzpatrick said that the statement that it has “always been short term rental” is “clearly untrue,” as she said there is evidence that it functioned as a more permanent home for women, and some lived there for as long as 40 or 50 years. When Mother Jennifer hired Marc Roos Realty in 2012, there was a “stark change” in the way the building was operated, she added.
Fitzpatrick said that in New Britain, Mother Jennifer refused to meet with them or say anything regarding the situation. However, “I think it went really well and I think we successfully created some additional pressure and got some additional public attention,” she said. “The goal of this organizing is to keep the momentum going. We don’t just want to wait for something to come out from the Attorney General.”
Since Mother Jennifer would not come out and speak with them, Fitzgerald said they went across the street from where the nuns live and rallied there. They were also unable to deliver their petition to Mother Jennifer in person, and were told that it could be sent to her via certified mail instead.
“It’s kind of unfair that she hides down in Connecticut,” she said, and instead sends an attorney to speak on her behalf. However, she said they were able to drum up some attention from the small community of New Britain. “People stopped to listen and people joined in in New Britain,” she said. “News stations came out and that was the goal as well—” to get the story out in Connecticut, said Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald said that moving forward, it’s important to stay active as they are not satisfied with the situation. “We’re going to stay involved until we get a real agreement that protects [the women],” she said.