Helping the Most Vulnerable Stay in Their Home

When people facing eviction come to City Life/Vida Urbana, they find empathy and empowerment. 

 

City Life/Vida Urbana is a grassroots organization committed to fighting for racial, social and economic justice and gender equality. The 46-year-old bilingual, community organization has a long history of promoting tenant rights and preventing housing displacement. 


Community organizers at City Life/Vida Urbana, such as Ronel Remy, meet people often during the most vulnerable time in their lives.  


“I let them know that we can help them,” says Remy. “I am a counselor who can give them advice, but most of all, I am someone who listens and really understands what they are going through because I went through this, too.”


City Life/Vida Urbana launched the Post-Foreclosure Eviction Defense campaign in 2007 to help people facing foreclosure in their homes. Hundreds of families organized through City Life/Vida Urbana have been able to remain in their homes and the successes have inspired similar campaigns in other cities. But there is still significant need in a city with high real estate values where tenants are often displaced.


City Life/Vida Urbana recently received funding from Boston Children’s Collaboration for Community Health to reach more families at risk of losing their homes.


Making a difference for neighborhoods in need

City Life/Vida Urbana is using the funding from the Collaboration for Community Health to hire two additional community organizers, said executive director Lisa Owens. The organizers will focus on two areas in Boston where many tenants are at high risk of being displaced—the Fairmount Corridor and Jamaica Plain/Roxbury Washington Street Corridor.  


“The funds will allow us to deepen and expand our reach to help hundreds more families facing displacement and educate thousands more on their rights as tenants,” says Owens. 


The funds also will allow City Life/Vida Urbana to conduct targeted outreach to Section 8 tenants who are often displaced because a Section 8 voucher doesn’t cover the full cost of rent. Landlords often try to charge tenants the difference between the Section 8 voucher and the full cost of rent, explained Owens. 


“Many tenants simply don’t realize they have the ability to negotiate with landlords,” says Owens.


Most Section 8 tenants are low-income mothers and children who have all of their social support networks — jobs, childcare, schools and healthcare — in the city, so being displaced to a distant suburb is devastating.


“Eviction is both a cause and a further driver of negative health impacts on these families,” says Owens. “Boston Children’s investment is really intervening to stabilize families, prevent poor outcomes and save money in the long run.”


Helping tenants understand their rights

Education is key to helping people avoid eviction. Community organizers teach tenants about their rights and explain how laws work.  Most people don’t understand the legal language of an eviction notice, Remy says. 


“If they want to learn how to fight it, we can help them,” says Remy.


Remy explains the documents to them, and teaches them how to fight the eviction and/or rent increase in court. He instructs them to use written communication with their landlord, while saving copies for themselves and keeping track of dates. 


Remy also explains how to fight back against unsanitary living conditions, such as mold, mice, rats, and roaches. He tells tenants to take photographs, submit written complaints to their landlord, and keep records of everything in case they need it in court.


It’s common for low-income tenants to tolerate unsanitary conditions, Remy said. He recalls a mother who was terrified of the rats that lived throughout her apartment, but she never complained to her landlord.


“Now she understands she has the right to ask her landlord to do something about it,” says Remy. 


Empowering vulnerable people 

 

City Life/Vida Urbana is in the trenches promoting individual empowerment, developing community leaders, and building collective power to affect systemic change. The team often canvases neighborhoods and holds meetings to educate tenants about their rights. 


City Life/Vida Urbana also helps people find a new sense of strength.


“I have found there is power in someone being able to tell their story,” says Remy. “When you tell it and own it and take charge of it, that empowers you.”