Rochelle Hardaway, 62, awoke from her dull sleep with a shiver. She could see her breath as she stretched in the back seat of her Mitsubishi Diamante.
She sat up and looked outside her window, wiping the fog away to see the snow pouring down, just as it had been hours before when she first closed her eyes for the night.
“[I was] praying for the snow to cover the car so I didn’t have to worry about it anymore,” she said, recalling her desperation and inclination towards suicide. “I thought, ‘Okay, I can’t see outside anymore. Is anyone going to know I’m here?’”
Hardaway has been homeless for about two years – living in her car, sleeping in hotel and hospital lobbies and staying at friends’ houses whenever she gets the rare chance.
Her two sons are grown and have been able to take care of themselves, but Hardaway said she has been unable to find a place to live without a housing voucher from Boston Housing Authority, which she will finally receive soon after waiting for about two years, she said.
“I would have thrown in the towel three years ago had I not had children,” she said. “I would have just said, ‘This is it…Life is too hard.’ I felt like I was a victim to the streets.”
But the irony in her circumstances cannot be missed.
Less than five years ago, Hardaway worked for the Community Action Incorporated Amesbury Center in Amesbury, Massachusetts, where she worked with the homeless every day. She provided resources, advice and outreach to the homeless whenever she could, until she moved back to Boston to help with her sick mother.
But after her mother died, her father kicked her out, she said. She had dropped everything to help her parents, and then was left with nothing.
“It was me now,” Hardaway said. “I became homeless and I didn’t know what to do.”
Hardaway remains hopeful, however, that she will finally receive her voucher and a place to live within seven weeks from now.
That Hardaway got to the top of the BHA site-based waiting list within only two years is lucky. As Katie Provencher, director of business operations at Urban Edge explained, the waiting list for housing vouchers has “thousands and thousands” of names, and it can take up to 20 years before someone can receive a housing voucher.
Urban Edge provides affordable housing in Jamaica Plain, Mattapan, Dorchester and Roxbury. They run a dozen buildings and house hundreds of residents in one of the 754 affordable units.
But when it comes to the availability of affordable housing in the city, Provencher said there’s simply “nothing available.”
Of the more than 23 thousand households in Roxbury, 1,763 are affordable housing units, and 13 percent of households receive assistance from the Boston Housing Authority, according to Housing a Changing City: Boston 2030, a housing plan released by the City.
By 2030, the mayor hopes to have created 53,000 new housing units, and the city has created 15,375 housing units thus far, according to the Boston Department of Neighborhood Development Quarterly Report for October.
Provencher said there is “an enormous amount of demand” citywide for affordable housing that simply cannot be met.
BHA’s Director of Communications and Public Affairs Lydia Agro said in an email statement that the housing authority’s “public housing and Project Based Section 8 wait lists have more than 35,000 applicant households on them and wait time can range from 6 months [to] years depending on needs and location choices.”
But Agro said the BHA does not have the funding to provide assistance or emergency shelter to those while they wait, but does partner with other programs that offer assistance.
Other affordable housing providers in Boston include the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership and MassHousing.
The gentrification in Roxbury has affected even those who might not be immediately at risk of homelessness or displacement. Bob Terrell is witness to the housing struggle associated with the gentrification of Roxbury and neighborhoods throughout the city.
Terrell has lived in Roxbury for more than 35 years. While he has seen his neighbors’ lives play out and their children grow to be adults, he has also seen many houses in the neighborhood get knocked down and replaced with nicer, newer buildings. He has seen new faces and shinier cars. And he has also watched as his longtime neighbors struggle more than before to pay their rent. Some of them ultimately have had to leave Roxbury.
“It’s very clear that the wave of gentrification has pushed up all of the market forces in Roxbury. Property values are going up, sales prices, rents, property taxes,” Terrell said. “We’ve seen all of it go up, even on my own street.”
A new condominium on Laurel Street, where he lives, is now being priced at $425,000 – far more than it should be based on the demand in the neighborhood, he said.
“The question is, who is coming along and bidding up those prices?” he asked. “Because it’s not the local population.”
Terrell said he is beginning to see Roxbury residents leaving.
“It is clear that Roxbury is experiencing a tremendous amount of gentrification,” he continued. “It’s going to price people out of the neighborhood.”
Terrell is not the only Roxbury resident who feels this way. Fair Williams, 60, said she feels that the new construction that she sees is catering to a crowd of new people, who can afford high prices.
“Everybody around here is talking about that,” she said with a sigh. “It feels like they’re trying to run us out.”
The Boston Foundation’s 2015 Greater Boston Housing Report Card predicts that the sales of three-unit homes in Roxbury will increase by 35 percent to 42 sales by the end of 2015. This hike is a result of what the reports says are “investors buying up triple-deckers to rent them out to a population desperate for rental housing,” according to the report.
In Dudley Square alone, old buildings are gradually being replaced by newer ones, and new buildings are being created altogether. What was formerly the Ferdinand Furniture building is now the Bruce C. Bolling building. Just down the street, the D2 Boston Police Department precinct was opened in 2011, and was touted for its energy-efficient, sustainable features.
There are currently 22 construction projects in the works in Roxbury, and five others that had been completed recently, according the Boston Redevelopment Authority.
But Kathy Brown, executive director of the Boston Tenant Coalition, said more should be asked of these building developers, instead of less.
The Boston Tenant Coalition works to get more affordable housing and expand and protect tenant rights, Brown explained, and ultimately increase resources and affordable housing in Boston. One way to do so is through “inclusionary development,” an agreement to set aside a certain number of units at below market rate in exchange for the city granting them the necessary permits to develop a new property.
Given the shortage of affordable units, Brown believes developers should provide more affordable units to provide for the affordable housing needs.
“The impact of this development in the neighborhood [is that] we see that the rent is being raised as a result of this new development and people getting pushed out,” she said.
This increased development is attracting new people to the neighborhoods, and is often geared towards a different population of people than those who currently live there, Brown said.
“It’s putting further pressure on the rents…and they [moderate- and low-income residents] can’t possibly afford these units.”
One of the biggest community complaints, according to Brown, has been that the work of longtime residents to clean up the neighborhood is now being used against them. Those who have worked hard to get more parks and green spaces, reduce crime through neighborhood organizing and create affordable housing on vacant lots, are now seeing new people move in who previously had no interest in living there.
“All this organizing has led to improvements in the neighborhood that have made the neighborhood more desirable to other people who may not have considered it before,” Brown said.
This article was published on BU News Service on December 7, 2015.