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Chinatown protesters call for affordable housing, mortgage relief for 'underwater' homeowners

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  March 14, 2013 06:50 PM

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Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com

Henry Yee, co-chairman of the Chinatown Residents Association, addressed the crowd at a rally Wednesday.

More than 100 protesters marched through downtown Boston on Wednesday, arriving in Chinatown to rally for more affordable housing outside the Harrison Avenue rooming house where residents were evacuated early last year because of unsafe conditions.

“Chinatown has been around over 100 years, but we’re being taken over by luxury housing,” Henry Yee, co-chairman of the Chinatown Residents Association, said through a translator outside 19-25 Harrison Ave.

“We’re here to tell the government, the city, the people to build more affordable housing, because we don’t want Chinatown to just have the name of Chinatown, but we want people to be able to afford to live here,” Yee said.

The protest — led by members of the Chinese Progressive Association, the Chelsea Collaborative, City Life/Vida Urbana, Lynn United for Change, UNITE HERE Local 26, and other groups — was one of 11 held across the nation to kick off the Homes for All Campaign and draw attention to the shortage of affordable housing.

The march included stops on Franklin Street, at the local office of Fannie Mae, where protesters demanded the firm lower the principal on mortgages for 3 million homes whose owners owe more than their current value.

The protesters also stopped outside the Bank of America offices on Federal Street to call out the bank for its role in the mortgage crisis that helped create a worldwide recession and to insist it negotiate with homeowners.

On Harrison Avenue, City Life/Vida Urbana tenant organizer Melonie Griffiths said there are 11 million renters across the country who pay more than half their incomes on rent, and those renters are disproportionately people of color.

“This is a situation that’s not just unique to Chinatown,” Griffiths said. “We’re all fighting to stabilize our communities, and it’s best if we fight together.”

Chelsea resident Rafael Abarca told the assembled crowd that he had just that morning renegotiated the rent on his apartment, bought by an investor in a foreclosure sale. The new owner had raised Abarca’s rent drastically, he said, and tried to evict him when he couldn’t pay.

After taking the issue to court, the owner finally was willing to negotiate with Abarca, and they agreed to a more modest increase that he could afford, Abarca said.

Mark Liu, deputy director of the Chinese Progressive Association, described the horrible conditions in which he said 30 individuals and families had lived at the Harrison Avenue rooming house. For rents of $400 - $500 per month, he said, they lived surrounded by mice and cockroaches, in a building that violated the city’s fire code.

People choose to live in places like this, Liu said, only because new immigrants often can find no other housing in the city they can afford.

“Shame on the slumlord,” Liu said. “Today we’re here calling on the city to bring the slumlord to the table so that this building remains affordable.”

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @jeremycfox.
Follow Downtown on Twitter: @YTDowntown.

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Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com

Protesters calling for mortgage relief and more affordable housing marched into Chinatown Wednesday afternoon.

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