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‘Where are you going to go’: Rally held for 76-year-old Roxbury tenant facing eviction

“When you get old, they forget about you, especially if you don’t know anybody to help you out."

Antonio Ennis, lead Dorchester organizer for City Life Vida Urbana, speaks during the vigil, "Last Tenant Standing," for James Harrison, 76, seen sitting on his stoop with a baseball cap. Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Advocates on Thursday gathered outside the Roxbury apartment of a 76-year-old man — a resident of the Massachusetts Avenue building for three decades — and decried his pending eviction as the landlord seeks to sell the property.

James Harrison told The Boston Globe he has lived with rats, faulty electrical work, flooding, and other safety problems in his tiny apartment on the building’s first floor.

Still, Harrison has pitched in around the building to help other residents before they all moved out. He collected rents for the landlord and helped with having a security camera put in place, according to the newspaper.

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But now Harrison’s future is uncertain; last September, the landlord told him he had to move by January.

“When you get old, they forget about you, especially if you don’t know anybody to help you out,” he told the Globe. “Where are you going to go after you pay $800 a month? Where are you going to find an apartment?”

The Globe could not reach the building owner for comment on Thursday night.

Harrison, however, has been bolstered by the affordable housing advocacy group, City Life/Vida Urbana, which has put him in touch with a lawyer to fight the eviction.

The group was also the organizing force behind Thursday’s “Last Tenant Standing” vigil.

Harrison’s case is representative of the larger housing crisis facing Boston, advocates told the Globe. A City Life/Vida Urbana evictions report during the COVID-19 pandemic found 70 percent of evictions were filed for properties in census tracts where the majority of renters are people of color.

Paula Coar, an organizer with the group who planned Thursday’s demonstration, told the newspaper she learned of Harrison’s case through his daughter.

“I called up Mr. Harrison, and said, ‘Is that your property where people are getting evicted?’ He said yes, and I said, ‘OK, we got to fight. That’s all I know how to do,’” Coar told the Globe.

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Since then, the group has encouraged Harrison to stay put.

“It was insensitive to him, and insensitive to anyone, [especially] during the pandemic,” Coar said. “We want people to know that we’re here; we’ll let you know what your rights are; we’ll come to court with you; we’ll do what we can — and you have to fight with us too.”

According to a news release from City Life/Vida Urbana, Harrison has put his name on affordable housing lists in Boston and Cambridge, which both average 10 to 15 year wait times.

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