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The Angry Tenant (issue #1)

THE ANGRY TENANT
"Your Landlord's Worst Nightmare"

issue #1/winter 2003

The Angry Tenant is the bi-lingual (English/Spanish) newspaper of the Boston Angry Tenants Union (BATU), a grassroots, tenant-run organization, whose mission is to organize tenants to act militantly and collectively in order to change the state of housing in Boston.

Boston Angry Tenants Union
PO Box 146
Boston, MA 02133

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BOSTON ANGRY TENANTS UNION THE 8-POINTS

1. We Are Angry Tenants! We're angry because of rats, leaky faucets, increasing rents, no heat, roaches, and to top it all off, scumbag landlords. Our rents are too high, there's not enough housing for everyone, and landlords are getting rich while we're getting evicted. We refuse to take it anymore!

2. What are we going to do about it? Direct Action! We can't count on those dirty politicians and crooked cops to get the job done. We, the angry tenants, make no polite appeals to those who are screwing us over (building supers, landlords, property speculators, and the housing authority). We will take action however we see fit, on our own terms, and without any intermediaries... this is direct action!

3. Direct Democracy! All angry tenants deserve a voice, all angry tenants deserve a vote! Who's been affected more by the housing crisis than us? Let's take control of our own lives and make decisions for ourselves.

4. What do we need to do? Organize! Who should organize angry tenants? Angry tenants should organize angry tenants! We think that those who live in our communities should make the decisions about our communities, and that we should organize ourselves.

5. Everybody deserves a home, everybody deserves a community! Those money hungry capitalists who are in control don't allow our communities to do what's best for us. They're not going to give us housing and community control, we need to take it!

6. Solidarity in our struggles! In our struggles for power in our own communities, we must also support our neighboring communities in their struggles. With solidarity and mutual aid comes victory!

7. No landlords! No evictions! Let's face it, every time we pay rent, we are being robbed! Housing is not a privilege, and it's not something to be owned by a few rich scumbags. We don't need or want landlords to evict us and make decisions that could ruin our lives. Eviction is a crime! Rent is theft!

8. We will not allow our city to be overrun by the wealthy! We don't need more stores that we can't afford, and we don't need expensive condos pushing our families out and destroying our communities.

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KNOW YOUR ENEMY: THE SMALL PROPERTY OWNERS ASSOCIATION [these guys suck!]

They destroyed rent control in 1994 and they're at it again. The Small Property Owners Association (SPOA) reared its ugly head again this year with a massive mailing and media campaign to shoot down the re-introduction of rent control in Boston City Council this year. To residents of Boston, struggling to get by in this housing crisis, they are public enemy #1. SPOA thrives on the illusion of being a grassroots organization of ma & pa homeowners, banding together for their survival.

SPOA's stances on major housing issues are sickening. They want nothing short of the complete annihilation of all tenant rights and safeguards. SPOA's hatred of the working class is made clear on their website (). They warn landlords of tenants who know "the free rent trick" and suggests that lead paint would not be an issue if only "simple cleanliness habits" were used "in a few poor neighborhoods." A look at SPOA's history gives some insight into the forces behind their brutal attacks on the tenants of Boston.

SPOA formed in 1987, and incorporated in 1992 as the Small Property Owners Association of Cambridge, Inc. After several failed campaigns, they stepped into the spotlight with its campaign against rent control starting in 1993. SPOA spearheaded a state-wide initiative to completely overturn rent control and vacancy laws with what would become known as "Question 9."

If passed, Question 9 would essentially create a complete ban on rent control in Massachusetts. At the time, only Boston, Brookline and Cambridge had home-rule rent control laws. SPOA sought to bypass local opposition by defeating rent control at the state level.

Operating under the banner of the Massachusetts Homeowners Coalition (MHC), they began collecting signatures to introduce "Question 9" onto the 1994 election ballot. Even after paying canvassers to collect signatures, and submitting 19,000 invalid signatures, MHC barely squeezed Question 9 onto the ballot. Question 9 would appear on the ballot in over 300 cities and towns, most of whom did not have rent control laws.

Despite failing miserably in Boston, Brookline and Cambridge, Question 9 passed on a state-wide level, 51% to 49%. Most of the support for Question 9 came from wealthy suburbs not affected by the outcome. The MHC campaign consisted of misinformation about the effects of rent control and most important the false portrayal of their own image.

A quick look at who funded the MHC campaign gives us a better understanding of who was really behind it. Approximately 70% of the campaign's funds came from donations of $2000.00 or more, an amount well out of reach for real "small" property owners. It is no surprise that the majority of the funding actually came from Boston's biggest landlords. Included among the biggest spenders are the Greater Boston Real Estate Board ($68,500.00), Nancy Broderick ($48,000.00), Chestnut Hill Realty ($42,000.00), S. Rotham of Stu-Lin Management ($31,000.00), W. White of the Niles Company ($29,265.47), Southview Coop. Housing Co. 28,000.00), and Samia Cos. Agency Acct - Leonard Samia ($10,000.00). Another 11 landlords contributed $10,000-20,000.00 in funds each. With approximately 11% of the campaign's funding coming from contributions of $500.00 & under, we start to see through the false image that SPOA/MHC has created. [For a complete listing of campaign contributors please visit /massachusetts/ election.txt]

There are misconceptions about what it means to be a small property owner. A common misconception is that of a resident owner, whose tenants are also his neighbors. However, SPOA regards any property owner without a paid staff, regardless of the size of their holdings, as a small property owner. SPOA claims that they are "average Americans" and "not millionaires." This author suggests that you stop by Lenore & Skip Shloming's (President & V.P. of SPOA, respectively) estate at 102 Inman St. and judge for yourself. If you haven't made up your mind, try asking them about the value of their real estate holdings.

I must admit that SPOA has done one useful thing for tenants. They have been kind enough to compile a list of ways to lower your rent (see their website!). SPOA's little handy guide may be helpful in the short run, but it is not enough. Isolated acts of rebellion can create small gains; the tenants of Boston need a unified, long term strategy. SPOA promises to remain vigilant, we must do the same and in greater numbers. It's time to organize!

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RENT CONTROL: WHAT'S THE STORY?

We all dread it: the renewal of the lease. Lease renewal these days is usually synonymous with an inevitable increase in ridiculously high rent. Whether it is those of us who live by the numerous colleges or in areas of "Urban Renewal", (a code word for sweeping out the working class), we are all affected. Although we pay rent once a month, the thought of paying it haunts us. We are in the middle of a housing crisis. Working class families are constantly paying higher rents and landlords are receiving higher profits. Rents have been escalating in neighborhoods all over Greater Boston. We all know it, we've all experienced it.

The Boston Angry Tenants Union knows that increasing rents and the expansion of rich neighborhoods and colleges are pushing out families from traditionally working class neighborhoods. We also see this with the state's recent cuts in funding for affordable housing, the national government's attacks on section 8, and the increased political and economic power of landlords throughout the U.S.

With these rising rents, fewer vacancies and increased evictions, tenants throughout greater Boston are frantically looking for a solution to the housing crisis. Listening to family after family tell their stories of rent increases, one wonders how many will be displaced from Greater Boston before we stop this crisis. But one must wonder, where this housing crisis came from and why we are living in it?

On January 1st 1995, wealthy special interest groups successfully ended rent control in Boston. The Small Property Owners Association (SPOA), a misleading name since they receive most of their funding from large real estate organizations and multi-million dollar landlords, spearheaded the anti-rent control campaign. Motivated by profit and using misleading propaganda, the rich successfully opened up the housing market to gain greater profits; rich real estate tycoons, development companies, large landlords and realtors, benefited from the subsequent skyrocketing rents and property values.

The loss of rent control and the subsequent rise in rents is a direct attack on working class families. It is a perfect example of how the ruling class gets fat at our expense. So what is 'rent control'? The idea behind rent control is to restrict a free market housing system. A free market housing system benefits rich capitalists who invest in property and either develop luxury condos, own large portions of rental property or buy and sell numerous properties for profit. Rent control successfully lessens the profit landlords can make off of us while we simply try to provide shelter for our families.

Though affordable rent seems to be impossible, there is still hope yet. There are many organizing projects and advocacy groups working to change Boston into a livable city for working class families. The Boston Angry Tenants Union is dedicated to organizing tenants so we may fight together to take control over our basic needs. In addition to our own campaigns, we are a member of The Boston Tenants Coalition (BTC), which is an umbrella group of various organizations working on housing.

The BTC's main approach to the housing crisis is to pass the Home Protection Proposal, which would effectively limit rent increases, increase tenants' rights, allow tenants to buy their apartments if the landlord was selling, and increase protection for tenants who are being evicted.

BATU sees this legislation as a small step in a large campaign. However, we do not want tenants to be dependent on politicians and state officials who are rarely tenants themselves and are sometimes wealthy realtors. Legislation is not the answer to the housing crisis in Boston; the answer is an organized angry mass of tenants working together to protect each other from wealthy landlords. We, as tenants, should solve the situation ourselves.

We do not support dependency on the State; however, the Home Protection Proposal would effectively help many families by slowing down rent increases. BATU is proud to be involved with other tenants in a fight to stabilize rents in Boston. Through direct action and an organized tenant voice, we can change the tenant housing crisis into a crisis for rich speculators who steal up to three quarters of our paycheck a month in rent.

Stabilizing rents will not solve the immediate problem, an emergency rent reduction is essential to bring families out of economic panic. We will not lie down and wait for yuppies and landlords to be the only ones who can afford to live in Boston. Why should we move away from our neighborhoods just to commute longer and work for those who pushed us out in the first place? We will not let capitalists get away that easy. We are angry and we will organize until we gain community control of our neighborhoods and our lives.

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SCUMLORD OF THE MONTH: LEONARD SAMIA

The Scumbag Landlord of the Month award goes to one Leonard Samia, although he's more deserving of the Scumbag Landlord of the Decade award. This is a guy who controls over 2,500 units of housing in the Boston area, in addition to many commercial properties. He likes to spend his time raising your rent and not fixing up his properties, while he relaxes in an enormous sprawling mansion at 57 Meriam Street in Lexington, complete with gates and private security to keep us out. Yeah, that's right, he doesn't even live in the city, but he sees fit to make a killing off of his tenants who do.

You might think that this is a man with tremendous expertise in business, to be able to be doing so well. The Boston Globe seemed to think so, when they printed an article about how terrific Samia was at making money off of other people. Much to their chagrin, the Globe was obliged to print another story about Samia the very next day, only this one wasn't about how rich he is, it was about how a balcony on one of his properties in Allston had collapsed and crushed about a dozen college kids. As a display of his compassion for his tenants, Samia came up with a great solution to this problem by nailing shut all the doors to balconies on his other properties. Such consideration is rarely seen.

The truth of the matter is that Samia didn't get rich through his business skill (or his compassion for the well-being of others). He got it by becoming good friends with the scumbags at the Hamilton Company, who at one time were the largest landowners in the Boston area. Samia got to be such good friends with these guys that they decided to sell him hundreds and hundreds of properties for $1 each! Wouldn't it be nice if we could buy just one house for $1? I suppose that's a luxury you get only when you're filthy rich and get to make deals with your buddies at the yacht club. As a result of this nice little deal, guess who became the owner of the most properties in Boston: Leonard Samia.

This scumbag has the absolute worst record in the city for complaints by tenants. If you live in a Samia property, you know exactly what I'm talking about. This guy doesn't fix much of anything, he loves raising rents, and if you don't kiss his ass, he just might evict you for no reason. Ever try to get through to him so that his company will fix something? Good luck. He loves to ignore complaints of horrible conditions in his buildings while he plays croquet in the backyard of his multi-million dollar mansion.

If you live in a unit that's owned by Samia, and you're fed up with him, give us a call and let us know. And if you don't, you'd better watch out before he buys your building and kicks you out so that yuppies can move in. Leonard Samia, we salute you. You're an asshole!

SAMIA STATS...

* Two men were injured critically when the porches on Samia's Magnolia Street property in Boston collapsed in 1999. Samia responded by boarding up exits to porches on all his properties.

* Samia continues to rack up the most complaints of any landlord in the city by disgruntled tenants.

* The Hamilton Company sold Samia hundreds and hundreds of properties for $1 each! (Samia's estimated asset value in 1997 was $210 million dollars)

* "Samia Cos. Agency Acct," aka Leonard Samia, gave $10,000.00 to the Massachusetts Homeowners Coalition (MHC) to fund the Question 9 Bill in 1994 to destroy rent control.

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ALLSTON... BEWARE!

In early December, John McDermott took the Allston-Brighton Council office after the death of Councilor Brian Honan. A-B tenants, already squeezed by the housing crisis and university expansion into their neighborhoods, now have another obstacle in their path: their newly elected councilor is a real estate agent.

McDermott made it clear in his campaign that he is opposed to rent control. His solution to the housing crisis is increased production of housing units, and therefore more business for himself and colleagues. He espouses the same theory that has been put forth by the Small Property Owners, the organization that destroyed rent control, and caused the Boston housing crisis. McDermott seems to be content ignoring the legacy that de-regulation has left behind. Long-term A-B residents have long had to compete with the influx of college students in their neighborhoods, driving rents through the roof, and forcing many out of their homes. A-B landlords contend that rent control benefits students and not long-term residents. In reality, students who are supported by their affluent parents can afford the exorbitant rent, while long-term working class tenants are forced to move.

McDermott seeks to perpetuate this problem with his approval of Boston University expansion into A-B. It is the gentrification of our neighborhoods and increased production of upscale apartments that created the housing crisis. Real estate agents like McDermott drool over such a scenario, while tenants pay the price.

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ATTACK OF THE BEDBUGS...

Not only must we face the blood sucking bite of landlords, tenants in Allston/Brighton now must face the menacing bite of the bed bug. These bugs are spreading throughout Allston/Brighton; they are in apartments and stores alike. Many tenants are struggling with controlling and eradicating the bugs and are faced with confronting their landlords about paying for extermination and trying to find information about the bugs themselves.

What Are They?

Bed bugs are about a third of an inch long and range from brown to mahogany colored. The color, size and shape change while the bug matures. The pre-mature bug is brownish and narrower while a mature bug is ovoid shaped. Bed bugs spread by animals, people finding and using infested bedding or furniture, other people's clothes, or laundry.

These bugs are called bed bugs because they tend to infest in bedding where they feed on our blood when we sleep. Cracks, zippers or buttons on mattresses, in the mattress frame and nearby furniture is where the bed bugs first infest. In major infestations the bugs spread to base boards, cracks in floors, inside the walls, picture frames, door and window casing and any other pieces of furniture.

Where bed bugs are most numerous eggs, egg shells, and cast skins can be found as well as black or brown spots of dried blood.

Health Risks

Bed Bugs cause no serious health risks; it has never been proven that they can spread disease. They can however, produce allergic reactions from their bite. The bugs feed on human blood and in this process release a fluid to prevent coagulation. This fluid may cause welts, inflammation and irritation.

Health risks could result from going to the doctor and being prescribed with medicine that is meant to be used for other ailments. Often times, residents do not know the irritation is caused by bed bugs and therefore, neither do doctors.

Extermination

Because bed bugs can last up to one year without feeding and they live in the walls they are very difficult to exterminate. If you know you have bed bugs you should exterminate them. Make sure you wash all your bedding (steam, hot water, and detergent will kill the bugs). Vacuuming your floor and even furniture will suck out bugs and their eggs, but make sure you dispose of the vacuum bag or they will reproduce there.

Tenants who have infestations often end up throwing away furniture after extermination only to find out weeks or months later that the bugs are still living. Often exterminators have not dealt with bed bugs and are not familiar with how to exterminate them. Also, exterminators may kill those that are present in the room but not the ones living in the walls.

What to Do!?

If you have bed bugs do not let your landlord bully you by blaming you for the infestation. Some landlords will blame the tenants for being "filthy." Other idiots think immigrants bring the bugs with them. This is unacceptable and ridiculous; a bed bug manifestation has nothing to do with one's race or ethnicity. Bed bugs are not discriminatory and they are found in white and non-white households alike.

Paying for extermination is the landlord's responsibility and it is quite common for them to pay for it until the bugs are history (we got our landlord to pay for it). If the landlord refuses to pay for it, take it off your rent and send your check in with a receipt and note explaining your situation (you may want to consult with a lawyer).

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WAR IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD: AN ANGRY TENANTS' GUIDE TO GENTRIFICATION

Gentrification. A mouthful of a word to describe a social epidemic that is sweeping working class neighborhoods across the country.

But what exactly is gentrification?

Gentrification is the process in which greedy land speculators buy up real estate cheap in low-income areas in order to push out the "undesirables" and bring in young professionals who can afford a much higher cost of living. It is not something that happens overnight, but slowly over time.

Run-down apartments are bought at a very low price (or, if you know people in city government, at an extremely low price!), and tenants are told that their leases will not be renewed. Once they are kicked out, the apartments are renovated and rents are hiked up. In a tight housing market like Boston, it is not hard to find people willing to pay a little more for an apartment - usually students or young artists, who act as shock troops in the gentrification process. As the faces in the neighborhood change, so do the businesses in the surrounding area. Before you know it, Dunkin Donuts is replaced by Starbucks and upscale restaurants with pretentious names and a dress code are popping up all over the place. Also, since the people who now own the property in the neighborhood need to protect their investment, they make sure that the cops are always around to make life uncomfortable for all of us who aren't a part of the plan.

From Mission Hill to Southy, Chinatown to Lower Allston… you can see gentrification at work in neighborhoods all over Boston. The rich move in, and we get pushed out. Does this mean that we are powerless in stopping this urban trend? Hell no!

Gentrification means displacement, and in most places around the world DISPLACEMENT MEANS WAR. When the rich use their economic power to push us out of our communities, we need to use community power to fight back. In the short term this could mean anything from refusing to leave your apartment after your lease is up (if you are going to get evicted anyway, why go quietly?) to organizing coordinated rent strikes throughout the neighborhood. Individual direct actions (best done under the cover of darkness) can always be taken against yuppie restaurants or shops, as well as to expensive cars that are left parked and unattended on the street (be creative). The short-term possibilities are endless.

Obviously these sorts of actions can only keep the gentrifiers at bay for so long. As with any war against a stronger enemy, the struggle against gentrification should be seen as a protracted struggle with a long-term goal. In the long-run, the only real solution to keeping control of our communities is to make sure that the properties stay in the community and out of the hands of the greedy property speculators.

If you are serious about building community control in your neighborhoods and beating gentrification once and for all, then you need to organize with other tenants and look into establishing something like a community land trust. This is where residents can own and manage their own buildings (with no landlords to deal with!), and a community land trust (basically a committee with no real economic power) owns the land under the buildings. Permanent price restrictions can ensure that the housing will always be affordable. There are a few non-profit community groups around the city that can help you establish a land trust, just ask around.