Proud Salvadoran and long-time East Boston resident, Gloribel Rivas, volunteered with City Life Vida Urbana for 2 years as a housing organizer and worked against displacement and the right for people to remain in their homes in East Boston. Today she continues to advocate for her community by participating in local meetings to strategize ways to combat multi-million dollar developments before construction begins.
1. How has East Boston changed in the last couple of years? How have these changes impacted your community?
In the last few years, developers and speculative interests (banks, investors, etc.) have swooped into East Boston and purchased multi-family homes and issued eviction notices to the working-class and immigrant families who live there in order to create living spaces for more affluent dwellers. More infamously, a developer drew a lot of attention for purchasing forty multi-unit homes in a span of two years shortly after graduating college. He issued eviction notices to all the families residing there and created a marketing video for his real estate company and the neighborhood that featured no people of color or minority-owned businesses. I personally know someone working for a large bank who confessed that he toured the neighborhood with his coworkers on an assignment to envision the ‘next Seaport’—a neighborhood that is both overwhelmingly rich and white. That same person later purchased a condominium with help from his parents because he decided it was a good ‘investment.’ In short, there are concerted and deliberate efforts to push out working-class people and people of color in this neighborhood for profit.
Fewer members of my community can reside here as a result. The waitlist for affordable housing owned by the neighborhood community development corporation is upwards of five years. Most of my cousins have moved to different cities. People who grew up with me are no longer around. Rents have risen drastically. People have fewer housing options in light of rent hikes and eviction notices issued during flips. It is very rare for eviction notices to lead to eviction proceedings in this neighborhood because people are afraid—hence the low rate of actual evictions. But there is absolutely no doubt that displacement is happening, and that families are suffering emotionally, mentally, and financially as a result.
Housing remedies for displaced families are even more difficult to achieve for immigrants (a.k.a. the majority of the neighborhood.) For many families, moving without becoming involved in civil eviction proceedings means avoiding the possibility of running into ICE at court – even if they were forced to live in buildings and under conditions that violated their rights. Similarly, for many families, accepting housing vouchers impairs the possibility of adjusting their immigration status down the road.
2. What are you doing to combat displacement in East Boston and fighting for the right to remain in your community? What are some lessons you’ve learned along the way?
For two years, I volunteered and worked at the East Boston satellite of City Life/Vida Urbana, a non-profit working against displacement and the right for people to remain in their homes. They address displacement on all levels, and if you haven’t checked out their work yet, you definitely should.
Last year, I worked with my friend Brian Madrigal to create a short film called Displacement: The Struggle to Remain Home to showcase his personal struggles with housing in East Boston. In it, we featured community members like Elba, a powerful Salvadoran woman struggling to remain in the only home she has known since she arrived in the United States 24 years ago.
More recently, I started meeting with a community group to think of ways to affect development before it begins. We are in the early stages of our work, and I am excited about where it will lead.
Through these distinct but connected experiences, I have learned that the real fight is in community meetings where zoning, development, and related issues are discussed and decided by the people who show up and exclude others from joining. Though the internet is a great tool to get informed and find community, we need to take that energy into the physical spaces that exclude us and make ourselves visible and heard. These meetings tend to be predominately white and older. They can be hostile; through this, I have also learned the struggle is long, and that Boston and Massachusetts voters in general are reluctant to push progressive housing policy forward. This doesn’t discourage me because I know the people who can change this are out there. Another world is possible.
3. As a young person, how have you seen no-fault evictions and displacement affect the student population and education system in EB, specifically immigrant students and families?
In our film, we interviewed the family coordinator at East Boston High School who confessed that the student population is dwindling and that students go to her all the time because they are upset that they are forced to leave they neighborhood where they grew up. Conversely, Revere public schools are enrolling more students than they expected, and they are unprepared to serve them all. Students are getting pushed out of the school districts that prepared years to serve them and their specific cultural and linguistic needs and into districts that did not.
Additionally, moving often and unexpectedly does not give students and young people the chance to cope and adjust to changes. As Andres, the City Life organizer in East Boston, put it: today, they can be at a school in East Boston; three months later, they are at a school in Everett; and at the end of the year, they are at a school in Revere. This does not help students develop a sense of belonging in their neighborhood, and it does not help us develop community.
4. What do you love most about your neighborhood?
I love that I can see my childhood in other children—kids interpreting for their parents at the checkout of a grocery store or holding on to the bars of a stroller their mother is pushing. I love that I can find the products I loved and ate after pre-school in El Salvador at my local convenience store here in the United States. I love that I can find restaurants that sell food that tastes like my mother’s meals and that my favorite restaurant makes meals from the town where my mother was born.