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Poughkeepsie,NY: A Huge Victory for Utility Justice & Against Displacement!

#Homes For All Partner Group Nobody Leaves-Mid Hudson announced a major victory in the campaign against utility giant Central Hudson on Wednesday January 13, 2016!

From Jonathan, the Executive Director at Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson:

The New York Public Service Commission has announced it will be conducting an investigation into Central Hudson based on Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson's legal petition!

We applaud the Public Service Commission's decision to launch an investigation into Central Hudson's collection practices. We believe it's time to shine a light on Central Hudson's misconduct.

The Public Service Commission wrote a letter to Central Hudson on December 29th, announcing it will be investigating the issues brought to light by Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson. These include unlawful debt transferring, failure to negotiate payment agreements in good faith, failure to follow shutoff procedures, and racial discrimination in collection practices.

The letter emphasized that “the investigation is expected to include, without limitation, a review of pertinent Central Hudson documentation.” To ensure that this “investigation can proceed unimpeded,” the letter ordered Central Hudson to make available all relevant records. The full text of the letter is below.

This decision comes after many months of research into consumer violations and racial inequality, our members speaking up for their rights, a courageous letter sent to us by a whistleblower at Central Hudson, and a productive meeting with the Public Service Commission's staff. Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson submitted a legal petition for an investigation on December 21st.

This type of investigation is rare. That it is taking place is a reflection of the courage and efforts of our members, and the seriousness of the issues raised.

Full text of the Public Service Commission's letter to Central Hudson:

Paul A. Colbert

Associate General Counsel – Regulatory Affairs

Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation

Re: Case 15-M-0756, Complaint of Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson Against Central Hudson Gas & Electric

Corporation Concerning Collection Practices

Dear Mr. Colbert,

As you are undoubtedly aware, on December 21, 2015, the organization Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson filed a petition seeking an investigation of Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation's (Central Hudson) collection practices. The petition alleges the following: (a) Central Hudson's transferring of unlawful debts to parties that are not legally responsible for them, (b) Central Hudson's lack of consistency in negotiating in good faith on Deferred Payment Agreements (DPAs), (c) Central Hudson's failure to follow required shut-off procedures, especially in cases of medical conditions substantiated by a doctor's note, and (d) Racial discrimination in Central Hudson's collection practices.

The Department and the Commission will be conducting an investigation into the issues raised in the petition. That investigation is expected to include, without limitation, a review of pertinent Central Hudson documentation. In order to assure that this investigation can proceed unimpeded, it is imperative that pertinent documentation pertaining to HEFPA, transfer of debts, DPAs, shut-off procedures and/or collection practices; including but not limited to: all training materials; records of any communications, including emails, paper documents, recordings or electronic records, between employees; records of any communications between employees and members of the public, including emails, paper documents, recordings or electronic records, regarding complaints, inquiries or other contacts with customers or other members of the public, including organizations; and other relevant records remain available for the Department's review.

By this letter, Central Hudson is on notice that it must take all steps necessary to ensure that it preserves all such documents and/or electronically stored information that Central Hudson, its corporate parents, subsidiaries and/or affiliates have in their possession, custody or control during the pendency of this investigation. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any questions.

Sincerely,

Kimberly A. Harriman

General Counsel

Public Service Commission

Boston, MA: Evictions In East Boston: The Push For A ‘Just Cause’ Ordinance

Originally published in Radio Boston.

Part one of our special four-part series, “Evictions in East Boston.”

We've had a number of conversations on Radio Boston about the city's housing crisis, but one aspect of the situation that doesn't get much attention is the evictions. Many long-term tenants in Boston's neighborhoods are being issued “no fault evictions,” forcing them out because of skyrocketing rents and home values.

“It's displacement on a massive scale,” says Matt Nickell, an attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services. Housing advocates like him call this an “eviction crisis,” and its epicenter is East Boston. “Tenants are, more and more, seeing this as a threat to their very livelihood, their housing, their life. Because rents are rising so rapidly that no mortals can pay them.”

The eviction crisis is so bad, say Nickell and his fellow advocates, that they're calling for a major change in Boston city housing laws. They want the city to pass a so-called “just cause” eviction ordinance that would make it much harder to remove tenants from apartments simply because rents are rising.

Olga Pasco faced that situation on Paris Street in East Boston, where she has been a tenant for 30 years, living in the same apartment for 25 of them. But in August, she was forced to move.

She showed us her current home — her bed is neatly made, it's two cots pushed together, covered with blankets and a printed bed sheet. The other bed, where her friends sleep, looks as if children have just finished taking a nap. A doll blocks the stairs. The only privacy is a temporary screen near the beds.

“It's nice, but it's not home,” says Pasco in Spanish, because Olga Pasco is living in a church, Our Saviour's Lutheran Church in East Boston.

Her bed is upstairs in the nave, wedged behind the pews, about a dozen rows back from an alter dominated by a life-sized painting of Jesus.

“This is where we live, thanks to Pastor Don,” says Pasco. “He opened the doors for us to live here because the landlords — who have all the money in the world. They threw us on the streets without compassion. They knew we were human beings, but nothing mattered to them. That's unjust. They put us in this situation. We didn't ask to leave our homes, especially in the way they threw us out.”

For 25 years, Olga Pasco had been living in an apartment at 175 Maverick Street as a month-to-month tenant. The building had been owned by the same family for roughly 30 years.

But, on Dec. 1, 2014, the old owner sold Pasco's building and two others to a group called Maverick Street Realty, LLC.

Pasco says no one in the building was informed about the sale until February 2015.

“We never knew who the new owners were because they never came by and said, ‘We're the people who bought this building.' Never,” says Pasco. “I met the person who collects the rents — the property manager — in June, by coincidence.”

A few days later, Pasco and every other tenant in the building received a letter. It was a “no fault eviction notice,” formally known as a notice to quit. The letter stated that Pasco's rent was being raised to $2,000 per month. Average rents in her building had been around $800. The letter stated that, if tenants couldn't pay the new rent, they had to vacate the units by Aug. 1.

“I felt bad because, where am I going to get $2,000 to pay? We're the victims, because we've lived in the apartment for years,” says Pasco. “We took care of it, but they immediately evict us.”

Pasco took her case to Greater Boston Legal Services, a longtime non-profit that offers legal assistance to low-income residents. Tenants at the Maverick Street building wanted to fight their eviction. Then, on Aug. 1, the same day their notice required them to move out, the back of the building collapsed.

Maverick Street Realty, LLC first paid for motel rooms for Pasco and the other tenants, but then sought a court order to stop paying for the motel, which was granted. That's how Olga Pasco ended up living in the nave of Our Saviour's Lutheran Church.

She and the other tenants are on a high priority list at the city's Department of Community Development and one tenant has already been re-housed, but affordable housing advocates say that Olga Pasco's case is typical of what they're calling an eviction crisis in Boston.

“East Boston, at this point, feels like the epicenter,” says Lisa Owens-Pinto, executive director of City Life/Vida Urbana. “Things are changing so quickly, so rapidly. This is a citywide crisis, but this is the heart of the crisis.”

Rental numbers are notoriously difficult to pin down. Zillow, the real estate website, estimates that rents in East Boston have jumped more than 25 percent in the past three years. Owens-Pinto says it's even higher.

“East Boston used to be one of the most affordable places to live,” she says. “We see folks coming into our weekly meetings on Wednesday, talking 50 percent rent increases, sometimes 100 percent rent increases, sometimes 200 percent rent increases. So, if 30 percent is the average, the folks who are the most vulnerable have it even worse.”

The rising rents are part of a massive change in East Boston's overall housing picture. From 2014 to 2015, year to year median sales prices jumped 120 percent. The average price per square foot in the neighborhood is now almost 38 percent higher than Boston as a whole.

In other words, East Boston real estate is white hot. The question is, how many tenants are then being issued no-fault evictions? This, too, is a tough number to pin down. More than 5,000 eviction cases ended up in Boston housing court last year for a variety of reasons. That number has been relatively stable. However, affordable housing advocates say that a vast number of no-fault evictions never even make it to court. Faced with higher rents, the tenants just move out. That's why they're fighting for a so-called “just cause” eviction statute.

“This is a big business for these guys,” says Nickell. “Their business plan is to bring in people who are not the people who currently live in East Boston.”

Walking around Maverick Square, he points out five recently sold buildings where the new owners are investors or investment groups.

“They're really remaking the community on a grand scale,” says Nickell.

Take Maverick Street Realty, LLC. In the past year, the company made six separate purchases in East Boston for approximately $5.2 million. However, the mortgages associated with those purchases total $18 million, all of which is financed by the same group — Acquisition Funding, LLC, a corporation owned by Shem Creek Capital, a Boston commercial real estate finance company.

Neither Maverick Street Realty, LCC or Shem Creek Capital responded to our requests for comment.

Back at Our Saviour's Lutheran Church on Paris Street, evicted tenant Olga Pasco knows that everything that's happened to her is legal, but she doesn't accept how it's changing East Boston.

“They're dislocating a lot of people,” she says. “They've realized… How do I put this? It's a gold mine. Why? Because East Boston is near the universities. So, they're dislocating those who live here to rent them, fix them and rent to university students. That's what happening.”

As for Olga herself, she says losing her home and the cosmetics sales business she once ran from her apartment has changed her, permanently.

“It's had a long psychological effect. I'm not the same Olga I was before. I used to sell a lot. I love sales. I love everything about the business. But now, I'm not the same person. It feels like I've lost an arm.”

Guests

Olga Pasco, East Boston resident.

Lisa Owens Pinto, executive director of City Life/Vida Urbana. She tweets @owenslmichelle.

Matt Nickell, attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services.

Boston Globe: Neighborhood Activists Unite to Protest Crisis in Housing

By Astead W. Herndon GLOBE STAFF OCTOBER 04, 2015
As luxury developments engulf Boston and housing costs rise, neighborhood organizations across the city bonded under a common refrain: “Up with the wages!” they cried, “Down with the rent!”Hundreds gathered Saturday at the Vietnamese American Community Center in Dorchester to protest what they called a housing crisis in Boston, as corporate landlords displace the poor and traditional communities of color, they said.

Saturday's event, coined the 2015 Right to Remain Boston Assembly & Action, drew groups from almost every city neighborhood. Participants at the rally then marched a mile from the community center to an apartment complex at 200 Hancock St., chanting about their cause all the way.

“Remain! Reclaim! Rebuild our neighborhoods!” they yelled, holding megaphones and signs.

Along the route, people shared stories of eviction, court battles, and seeing their beloved neighborhoods changed by new, upscale developments.

Olga Pasco of East Boston has lived in assorted hotels since Aug. 1, after the rent for her apartment unexpectedly jumped by $800, she said. She does not know where her family of three will sleep in the coming months, Pasco said.

“Psychologically, we're sick, we've had to go to the doctor.” Pasco said, through a translator. “I only wish to be stabilized with my kids and live my life peacefully.”

‘A healthy city is not only about million-dollar condos. It's a city that supports workers and working people.'

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Before moving, Pasco had lived in the same East Boston apartment unit for 25 years. Her rent was raised after a rear wall collapsed at the complex and the building was sold, she said.

Maria Lora of Roslindale said her rent has been raised 70 percent over three months. She said she marched in the protest to put elected officials and developers on notice.

The Right to Remain coalition, which includes community groups from Dorchester, Mattapan, Chinatown, East Boston, the Fenway, and other areas, is asking elected officials to support a “just-cause” ordinance for evictions. This would eliminate no-fault evictions by landlords and curb their ability to “flip” properties, mirroring statutes in San Francisco, Seattle, and Chicago, the group said.

“We will not be forced out of our homes,” Lora said, as crowds chanted behind her. “I'm going to stay and I'm going to fight.”

Members of the Chinese Progressive Association joined Saturday's march along Charles Street in Fields Corner.

Several Boston city councilors and candidates in the Nov. 3 election attended the morning rally at the Vietnamese community center, marchers said.

Councilor Tito Jackson, who attended the rally, organized two City Council hearings last year on the issue of displacement and predatory landlords.

“As certain parts [of Boston] do better economically, what does that mean for the city?” Jackson said in a telephone interview later in the day. “People who worked neighborhood watches and cleaned up abandoned lots in their communities are now being displaced.”

Jackson said he supports the idea of a just-cause ordinance.

“A healthy city is not only about million-dollar condos,” Jackson said. “It's a city that supports workers and working people.”

In Chinatown, the fight for community sustainability has been raging for more than two decades, after luxury condominiums and skyscrapers began sprouting up in the 1990s.

Henry Yee, cochairman of the Boston Chinatown Resident Association, said he is worried the community will soon cease to exist. Karen Chen, an organizer for the Chinese Progressive Association, said she has a friend in Chinatown whose rent recently jumped more than $2,000.

Miaorong Chen, a 17-year-old resident of Chinatown, said her family went through a long legal battle before agreeing to a multiyear lease settlement. The legal process to stave off eviction was distressing, she said.

“We felt helpless and did not have anywhere to go,” Chen said, through a translator. She expressed joy at the settlement but added, “The community needs stability and long-term solutions.”

In Dorchester, Maria Baptista said she is experiencing a similar fight.

Baptista's rent nearly doubled recently, she said, and a lingering injury from a car accident has forced her out of work. On Saturday, she stood against the wall at the Vietnamese community center while wearing a T-shirt that read “We Shall Not Be Moved.”

“My kids are trying to help me out, but I don't know what I'm going to do,” Baptista said, hands shaking as her eyes welled up with tears.

Attribution:
Boston, MA 100315 Protestors walked down Charles Street in Fields Corner during the People's March and Witness, Saturday, October 3 2015. (Globe Staff/Wendy Maeda) section: Metro slug: 04housing reporter: Astead Herndon
WENDY MAEDA/GLOBE STAFF

Astead W. Herndon can be reached at astead.herndon@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @AsteadWH.

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