Stay up to date on all the latest news from Boston.com
While the first phase of the Green Line Extension now provides rapid transit to Somerville’s Union Square, as of early Monday morning, it also brings with it rising rents and displacement, community advocates say.
It’s a story Candice Cole, a Washington Street resident in Union Square, knows all too well.
During a press conference organized by the Community Action Agency of Somerville at the new Lechmere station, just minutes before local and state officials celebrated the grand opening and reopening of the Union Square and Lechmere stations, respectively, speakers, including Cole, highlighted the housing crisis and gentrification.
A Somerville resident in her 40s, Cole said she spent most of her childhood, and all of her adult life, in the Greater Boston area. She described herself as working class, and said she shares an apartment with three roommates.
“Public transportation is one of the backbones of this area, and one of my favorite features,” she said, adding that she has never owned a car.
“Unfortunately, the extension has come with a more recent and unpleasant side effect,” she said. “My building and several near it have been bought out by a property manager, and my new landlord has increased my rent by over $1,200, forcing me and my three roommates to move out. This is part of a growing trend not just in Somerville and the Greater Boston area, but across the country.”
Cole questioned what is supposed to happen to her and other residents like her in the future.
“I’m a regular working-class person, and I have no way of competing with the property managers who come in and buy up large swaths of neighborhoods and raise the rents to exorbitant rates and drive long-term residents out of their homes,” she said. “Where are we supposed to go? What are we supposed to do?”
Nicole Eigbrett, CAAS’s director of community organizing, said that Somerville is being bought out not by large corporations, but by “an army of smaller, predatory developers and greed-driven landlords who are reaping in profits and evicting the people this train extension was supposedly built for.”
It’s something the T, she noted, has already admitted. An equity analysis determined last year that higher-income, white residents are the ones who will disproportionately benefit from the extension. While a study in 2010 said that the project would help with accessibility, congestion, mobility, and environmental conditions, it said the project would also benefit communities in need of environmental justice — defined as lower-income and disproportionately residents of color.
But then the tides began to turn, and instead of the blue-collar reputation Somerville’s known for, young professionals and new building projects started to take hold.
“I think it’s fair to say the demographics of the neighborhoods encompassing GLX have changed,” Lynsey Hefferman, the MBTA’s director of policy and strategic planning, said last year after the analysis.
The now-defunct MBTA Fiscal Management and Control Board voted to approve mitigation via the system’s ongoing redesign of its bus system.
“Their actions may not intend to cause harm, but it’s destroying our neighborhoods and it’s part of a larger capitalist housing system that’s failing our most vulnerable residents,” Eigbrett said. “This has reached a crisis point.”
Multiple public officials mentioned the housing issues during the grand opening that followed Monday.
State Sen. Pat Jehlen said that celebration also has to come with acknowledgement of hardship.
“As we celebrate the enormous, enormous economic growth unlocked by this project, we can’t forget the people left behind and pushed out by the rapid rise of property values and rents. Apparently everybody in the United States wants to live along the Green Line Extension,” she said, garnering a few chuckles. “But the things that make our community attractive won’t exist if immigrants, working-class people, long-term residents, and artists, as well as small businesses and family-owned triple-deckers, are gone.”
Some solutions, she said, could be working to stop displacement, protecting current affordable housing, promoting home ownership, and building new affordable housing.
“It will be tragic if the people who need public transportation the most can’t afford to live near it,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley noted that public transit means access to medical care and work, plus picking up children from school.
“Reliable transit isn’t a nice to have, it’s a must have,” she said.
However, she said that housing justice cannot be sacrificed for transit justice.
“For many years transportation systems in the commonwealth and across our country have perpetuated disparities, forcing many of our low-income neighbors to pay more, to endure long commutes, to lose out on pay and family time,” she said. “Access to safe, reliable, and inclusive modes of transportation are a matter of social justice.”
U.S. Sen. Ed Markey noted that there has to be “development without displacement.”
“This is also something that has to be done in conjunction with housing policy, equity policies that think of everyone who lives in each of these communities,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren spoke of the benefits, one being that when GLX is complete — this includes the Medford branch — 80 percent of Somerville residents will live within walking distance to a train station versus the 20 percent prior to the project.
But she also said there needs to be federal investment in affordable housing and transit.
While Eigbrett said in an email after the ceremony that she’s “grateful” that officials spoke out about gentrification and laws to help “protect vulnerable residents,” she said there needs to be action.
“As an organizer at an antipoverty agency like CAAS, I’m hearing from renters — increasingly of higher incomes — immigrants, and working class families every week who are on the brink of losing their homes in Somerville. It’s clear the status quo hasn’t been enough,” she said. “The city and state have had decades to prepare for this, and that’s why we are calling for a comprehensive plan that mitigates any further displacement.”
Stay up to date on all the latest news from Boston.com
Stay up to date with everything Boston. Receive the latest news and breaking updates, straight from our newsroom to your inbox.
This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com