On January 22, 2020, a community meeting took place in the Malden High School Gallery at 6:30 p.m. The meeting was hosted by Mayor Gary Christenson, as well as the Malden Education Association to deal with the issue of affordable housing.
City Life/Vida Urbana, a housing advocacy group that fights for tenant rights, the Greater Boston Legal Services, and the Chinese Progressive Association, a community organization that works to improve living conditions for Chinese communities, also came to provide resources for displaced tenants. Councilor Stephen Winslow, also made an appearance at the community meeting.
Christenson began the meeting by explaining the new policies that will start being implemented in order to protect tenants. It was decided that a new council will be established in order to deal with the issue.
Following the Mayor’s introduction, City Life/Vida Urbana’s Organizing Coordinator, Steve Meacham, introduced himself as well as the organization itself. Meacham also expressed how activism can help someone defend their home. “When we fight, we win. Not because we win exactly every time, but because we win a lot more then you would have won if you did not” explained Meacham.
Following Meacham was Executive Director of the Chinese Progressive Association, Karen Chen. Chen began by explaining how the Chinese Progressive Association fights for equality amongst the immigrant community to take action against issues that they face. Chen emphasized that “we have the right to a healthy, safe, and affordable home.”
Later, members from the Greater Boston Legal Services came up to explain how they, along with the City Life/Vida Urbana, will protect tenants. As the Organizer, Antonio Ennis, puts it, the sword is the public pressure that they put through protest. The shield is the team that protects City Life /Vida Urbana members in the legal system.
“[He thinks] what happened on Park Street was the last straw” explained Christenson. Three months prior to the meeting, on August 3, 2019, a rally had been held outside of an apartment building on 33 Park Street, Malden, Ma. The protest was mainly held by the Tenants living inside of the apartment who had their rent increased by nearly 50 percent. The building had been recently bought by United Properties, a real estate agency owned by Andreas Tsitos. United Properties currently owns properties in Chelsea, Everett, Malden, and Medford. “It was a timed sale” explained tenant Katherine Bergon. Bergon further explained that United Properties had bought the building when the tenants’ leases were ending.
In response to this rally, three policies have been proposed to the city council as well as a council in order to address affordable housing. The first policy is the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The Affordable Housing Trust Fund has been split into two policies. First, being an Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The goal of an Affordable Housing Trust Fund is to preserve and create affordable housing. This policy works by setting aside a certain amount of money when the city receives a donation or a grant. It was ordained on November 12, 2019.
The second policy that is a part of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund is the Expendable Trust Fund. The Expendable Trust Fund is where all developer mitigation fees go. As of late, the Expendable Trust Fund has its shares evenly split between the Mayor’s Office and the City Council. Christenson has already agreed to spend his share of the Expendable Trust Fund on the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
The second policy proposed was the adoption of an Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance. The Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance will require developers to build affordable housing as a part of any new development. The goal of this ordinance is to get the private sector of the housing market to create affordable units while not changing what can and can not be built. This policy was adopted on September 3rd, 2019.
The final proposed policy was the launch of the Security Deposit Pilot Program. The Security Deposit Pilot Program will help low-income tenants get a unit by paying for the Security Deposit, while the Tenant will pay for the cost of the first and last month’s rent. At the end of the tenants’ residence, the money from the security deposit will be returned to the city to be reused.
On top of the three policies, Christenson explained that the board will be established in order to combat future affordable housing issues. Christenson also emphasized that they will be comprised of representatives from Landlords, the City Council, a Banking official familiar with affordable housing projects, the affordable housing industry, and a tenant who lives in affordable housing; with Christenson as its Chair.
Lawyer Maggie Gribben, from the Greater Boston Legal Services, expressed that only a judge can give a tenant an eviction notice, and the tenant has the right to defend their case. In addition, Ennis explained that the strongest thing a tenant can do is organize because “nine times out of ten if it is a multi-unit building and the landlord is trying to evict one person, it might look like he is trying to evict one person… when in reality, he is trying to evict everybody.”