Jury says that tenants in Uphams Corner case can stay in their homes

From left, Dennis Ojogho, Jason Colin, Jean Paul Doh, Tunde Kunnu, and Renee Perez are shown outside of Boston Housing Court. Image courtesy City Life/Vida Urbana

Two tenants facing eviction from an Uphams Corner apartment building won an 18-month legal battle last week that will allow them to stay in their homes.

According to renters and supporters from City Life/Vida Urbana, Greg McCarthy, the developer and owner of a six-unit apartment building at 6 Humphreys Place, tried last year to “clear out” the building by issuing no-fault eviction notices to everyone living there, a process that had been initiated last year by the building’s previous owner. 

“The Boston Housing Court jury awarded Jean Paul Doh and Tunde Kunnu possession of their property, meaning that they are allowed to stay in their apartment,” said Jason Colin, student attorney at HLAB and lead advocate in the case. “They were also awarded damages, which have not yet been calculated,” he added.

Lawyers from the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB) and community organizers from the non-profit City Life/Vida Urbana supported Doh and Kunnu’s cause. By using a combination of legal defense and community activism, the two organizations have worked in partnership for over a decade to support Boston-area residents facing evictions.

“This case demonstrates the value and impact of collaboration between community organizers, lawyers, and community members,” said Colin. “It is an honor to share our resources and support the brave people fighting to stay in their homes.”

At a community meeting hosted by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) in late September, McCarthy’s proposal to build a mixed-use condominium project on a vacant lot on Dudley Street faced strong local opposition – in large part because of the dispute over 6 Humphreys Place. The meeting was dominated by neighborhood residents, including organizers from City Life/Vida Urbana, many of them upset by what they claimed was an effort by McCarthy to clear out tenants.

“How can you build luxury condos we can’t afford right around the corner while you’re trying to evict poor people?” Kunnu asked McCarthy at the hearing.

The owner countered that none of the residents at 6 Humphrey’s Place had paid him rent for a year and a half. “Over 18 months I’ve collected zero dollars in rent from a single tenant. How am I supposed to carry a six-unit building that cost me $850,000 to buy when no one is paying rent.” 

A back and forth between Kunnu and McCarthy ensued. Kunnu, referring to McCarthy as a “slum-lord,” alleged that the tenants have been trying to negotiate with McCarthy to end the evictions and address unsafe conditions for some time. 

McCarthy then said he would talk with the tenants regarding their grievances. According to Kunnu, who spoke with the Reporter at a City Life event last week, McCarthy did not honor that agreement. An attorney representing McCarthy did not respond to the Reporter’s request for comment.

The residents who remain at 6 Humphreys Place say they hope that an affordable housing developer will acquire the building and convert it into deed-restricted affordable housing units. Such acquisitions are now a goal of Mayor Martin Walsh whose updated housing plan calls for 1,000 apartments to be stabilized in this way.

Steve Meacham, a longtime housing justice organizer with City Life/Vida Urbana, has supported the Humphreys Place residents since they initially received notices to quit. “This building is not unusual. This is happening all over Boston: Thousands and thousands of people are faced with displacement through no-fault evictions. The collective struggle is what made it possible for the residents to remain in their homes this time,” he said.

Said Kunnu: “We are powerful. We needed to know our rights, and we needed to exercise our rights. With support from City Life/Vida Urbana and the amazing lawyers at Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, we realized we are a lion.”