Gentrification Threatens the Future of Boston [Opinion]

Steven SenneAP Images

El Embajador has been a staple in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood for twenty-six years. Residents, however, might be forced to say goodbye to this popular fixture as early as this month’s end on account of City Realty Group. The real estate agency, which acquired the restaurant’s lease this year, has presented the owners with a lease termination letter. Ramona Alvarez, one of the restaurant’s co-owners has expressed her shock and upset, but Alvarez and her husband are not the only ones that face an uncertain future in Boston. City Realty has given Rainfinson Cruz, the owner of De Chain Auto Service, situated next to El Embajador, a notice of termination of his lease as well. Several families that live in the vicinity are also in danger of being pushed out of Jamaica Plain: City Realty has proposed a rent increase of 50 percent, which is impossible for them to pay.

City Life/Vida Urbana has tried to lend muscle to the business owners and families. A nonprofit, which helps people facing eviction, it helped organize an eat-in at El Embajador over Thanksgiving week to raise awareness about the situations of these businesses and families and to generate support for them. Josmar Torres was one of the many attendees. A relative of the Alvarez family, he shared his disappointment over and frustration with the situation in Jamaica Plain. He declared, “This restaurant is part of our community. This is our home.” Love for the neighborhood was evident throughout the event and made the gathering more poignant.

City Realty has offered a different version of events though. For example, it has maintained that El Embajador was aware of its plans for development. Additionally, the agency expressed a general willingness to work with tenants in need. Nevertheless, it did not “want to be victimized by people working the system to get a sweet deal.”

Although this version of events might not be to the liking of residents that worry about their future or assuage their fears, City Realty has shown little indication of adopting a different stance. Moreover, those that defend the real estate agency are likely to point to its various efforts to enrich the lives of Bostonians through charitable endeavors, including City Kids.

The historical St. James African Orthodox Church in the Fort Hill section of Boston's Roxbury neighborhood has fallen into the hands of City Realty.Featured image credit: Rachel MiselmanRachel Miselman

Still these efforts do not mask the reality for residents of this neighborhood and others in Boston. Development is happening at a brisk pace; a number of the city’s residents are unable to enjoy the benefits. Further, little thought seems to be given to preserving one of Boston’s hallmarks: the uniqueness of its neighborhoods. For instance, last year, Councilor Tito Jackson blasted City Realty’s plans to convert the St. James African Orthodox Church in the Roxbury neighborhood into condos. He labeled them “out-of-touch, out-of-scale, and outrageous.”

Soaring rents and irreverent projects have caused many Bostonians to decry the city’s decreasing livability. Many argue that improvements in Jamaica Plain and Roxbury (as well as throughout the other neighborhoods in Boston) are solely designed to attract the affluent. It is difficult not to see the validity of this argument as people work increasingly long hours just to live a meager existence. As construction in the city shows no sign of abatement, developers and politicians will eventually have to respond to residents’ cri de coeur over what only some want Boston to become.