In East Boston, a big move to keep renters in their homes

A group has adopted a strategy of acquiring occupied properties from private sellers and renting them as deed-restricted affordable housing.

JLL Capital Markets
This triple-decker is among the 36 East Boston buildings purchased by a coalition of community groups.

It was wishful thinking, Al Caldarelli thought, when members of the nonprofit he runs — the East Boston Community Development Corporation — told him earlier this year about a portfolio of 36 small apartment buildings in the neighborhood that had just gone up for sale.

The group has adopted a strategy in recent years of acquiring occupied properties in East Boston from private sellers and renting the units as deed-restricted affordable housing — a small but meaningful effort to house families who are being displaced by a wave of gentrification transforming the traditionally working class neighborhood and to keep the properties out of the hands of landlords who might hike the rent.


But 36 buildings? That was a long shot.

Then came a barrage of support from other local groups, millions of dollars in nonprofit and city funding, and, eventually, enough backing to put forward an offer to buy the whole bunch: $47 million for 114 apartments. Remarkably, it worked.

“It was a shock,” when the sellers agreed, said Caldarelli, longtime executive director of East Boston CDC who has typically seen such buildings bought by deep-pocketed investors. “It’s difficult to express what this means for our community. We are reclaiming some of the housing that has been snatched up by private investors. We are reclaiming space for our families to live.”

The purchase, announced last week by Mayor Michelle Wu’s office, marks a big win for community groups that have seized on a new tactic for battling the housing crisis and displacement: purchase existing housing stock from private sellers, keep rents modest, and give the community a stake in the property. But it also highlights how hard that model can be to replicate, requiring a wide range of help, and a willing seller, at a time when real estate values are high.

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