LSC Students & Friends Rally for Affordable Housing and Transportation Access

BY KAREN TENENBAUM

John Hill and Grace Lee hoist a banner.
Tawfiq Ali at the rally.

On Thursday, March 29, 2007, Legal Services Center students along with Harvard Legal Aid Bureau instructors and students, joined community organizers and residents to rally for transportation access and affordable housing in Mattapan, a Boston neighborhood situated between Dorchester and Hyde Park. The Legal Services Center is the community-based, attorney-run clinical in Jamaica Plain, while the Legal Aid Bureau is student-run and on campus.

The rally was the kickoff event for a Mattapan community undertaking to get more stops added to the Fairmount Line, which is a commuter rail line that runs from South Station to the wealthy Boston suburb of Milton. Currently the train stops only twice in the low-income neighborhoods that line its 9.2 mile run; one of the stations has been renovated recently, and a renovation of the second is in the works.

The MBTA also has tentative plans to add a number of additional stops. One purpose of the rally was to show the community’s support for the additional stops to pressure the MBTA to move forward with its plans. Right now the neighborhoods along the Fairmount Line are not served by the T and can access downtown Boston only by bus.

The other, related purpose of the rally was to begin fighting to keep housing in the area affordable, in anticipation that values will jump with better transportation access. The LSC and HLAB students and staff are working together to develop a plan to keep housing in the area affordable. The plan includes developing a Displacement-Free Zone, a physical area around the new stops in which the two legal services providers will fight gentrification-related evictions. It entails organizing tenants in large buildings in the Zone to bargain with their landlords for long-term affordability. And the plan involves encouraging local Community Development Corporations (“CDCs”) to buy up housing in order to use government subsidies to rehab it and keep it affordable.

John Hill (3L, LSC) Julie Park (3L, HLAB) Kimberly Harbin (3L, HLAB) and Emily Cocanower (3L, LSC) have been some of the most active students. Hill drafted the initial plan for the Anti-Displacement Zone. Hill, Park and Harbin presented the plan to the Fairmount Coalition, a group of organizations dedicated to improving the Fairmount Line. Cocanower wrote a letter to be sent to local politicians, inviting them to the rally, and Harbin drafted a press release.

And then there was the rally itself. Dave Grossman, the director of HLAB, drove the team to Mattapan, stopping at the Mattapan CDC on the way there to pick up placards. Once at the site, an abandoned parking lot along a busy road, Hill, Tawfiq Ali (3L, HLAB), and Grace Lee (3L, Environmental Law clinical, and friend of Hill’s) sprang into action. Lee found some abandoned tires to stabilize a sign. Hill wrested down a rusty beam that was obscuring the podium and threatening to give someone tetanus. Ali held a placard along the road. Hill and Lee together held aloft a “Tenant Power” banner for oncoming traffic to see.

In a fit of zeal, Grossman actually wrote a song for the rally to the tune of the old Boston standby “Charlie on the M.T.A,” (originally about Charlie, who can’t pay the T’s exit fare and must ride the T forever). In Grossman’s version of the song, Charlie can’t even get on the T, because he’s driven out of his newly-T-accessible neighborhood by skyrocketing rents. Your correspondent waved to oncoming traffic and encouraged drivers to take flyers. She also persuaded some to honk for affordable housing, including two police officers and the #39 bus.

During the rally, representatives of various tenant organizations, CDCs, and community groups spoke to the crowd, including Grossman. Cheryl Lawrence of the Mattapan CDC led chants like:

We’re here, with a planRapid transit in MattapanWe’re here, we’re sayin’Current residents plan on stayin’

Although most of the crowd was directly affiliated with the initiative, organizers hope that the rally will be the beginning of a substantial effort to make sure that the planned transportation investments benefit those who live in the area. “The actual rally itself was planned and organized well,” said Hill. “I think its primary effects were to rally the troops and get them… excited for the next step, as well as to let others in the area know” about the Anti Displacement Zone. Hill continued, “We’re ready to begin more focused and large-scale organizing efforts to try to get the ADZ in place before the expected gentrification happens.”

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