Tenants, city seek solutions for 57 neglected home units

Long-time tenants of mismanaged properties on Waldeck Street in Dorchester and Orlando Street in Mattapan are calling for responsible ownership after a negligent landlord filed for bankruptcy in July.

After Uwa Lawrence’s multiple properties – 57 units across Dorchester and Mattapan – were awarded to a trustee, the tenants once again took to the street on a warm summer evening earlier this month.

They had lived with limited heat and electricity, rodents and squalor, broken doors, and moldy walls; now with ownership up in the air, they want livable conditions at a price that won’t leave them out of affordable options.

A representative for the Boston branch of the NAACP addressed those gathered outside 25, 31, and 35 Orlando St. on Aug. 12 “We are proud to stand here in solidarity with our family and with our friends,” he said as he referenced the Declaration of Independence: “What we are doing here today is to make sure that those who are in these buildings here get to enjoy that life, those liberties, and get to pursue that happiness for the time that they’re here, whether or not they have the millions of dollars that allow them to buy this property.”

The buildings house many long-time tenants dependent on Section 8 vouchers. Current and former residents said at the rally that the emotional toll of living under a negligent landlord, and being dependent on sub-par housing, still stings.

Chuck Gyukeri, a former tenant on Orlando Street, said Lawrence “didn’t have empathy for us. He just took our money, did nothing for us, he took advantage of us.”

Even as the tenants railed against their former landlord’s mistreatment, they had a word of warning for any potential for-profit buyers: they will not go quietly, and their financial limitations are not an excuse for inhumane living conditions.

On the day of the protest, city officials were notified that the trustee had accepted an offer for the properties pending approval of the court. The city is working with the tenants and City Life-Vida Urbana to examine their options going forward.

A Department of Neighborhood Development spokesperson declined to comment Tuesday on any potential bankruptcy court actions.

“The Walsh administration has been very, very hopeful that we could find a permanent solution to this issue,” housing chief Sheila Dillon said before the protest. “[The Inspectional Services Department] has been out here making sure that the tenants are safe in the interim, but now it’s time to look for a permanent solution.”

Dillon said the ideal solution would be “a non-profit that has good management to buy the buildings, fix them up, bring them up to code, make them desirable places to live, and keep the residents here and provide resident services and a good, safe place to live.”