Housing advocates march against gentrification, short-term rentals in Chinatown

The Chinatown SOS march took place Oct. 5 from Chinatown to the Statehouse. (Image courtesy of Valerie Li.)

Housing rights advocacy groups marched on Oct. 5 for regulations on the growing short-term rental industry, which is displacing long-term Chinatown residents.

The “Chinatown SOS” march started at the Josiah Quincy Elementary School in downtown Boston. It continued through the streets of Chinatown, including Oak Street, Johnny Court, Hudson Street, Kneeland Street and Washington Street, where units were either sold for an exorbitant amount of money or are used for short-term rentals.

Former Johnny Court resident Mei Qun Huang spoke at the rally. “After I was displaced, the owner immediately rented our former home to short-term rental visitors,” she said. “Due to gentrification, many families are faced with rent increases and are displaced, and many of our homes are turned into Airbnb rentals.”

According to a research report by Massachusetts Community Labor United (CLU), about 45 percent of short-term rental revenues in Boston are generated by 12 percent of commercial operators, who are landlords, management companies and investment firms. “This is happening in Boston and across the country. Airbnb tends to tell you the story of how grandma rents out a spare room for extra income but it’s a lie,” warned Darlene Lombos, CLU executive director.

March organizers called for regulations on the short-term rental industry. Lydia Lowe of the Chinatown Land Trust said residents must support short-term rental regulations to protect and stabilize the community. “We can have a crack-down right now on these illegally operating hotels in our residential community,” she said. “There are other policies we need, such as a tenant’s right of first refusal that when a building is sold, tenants will have the right to first purchase their building and stay in their home.”

Standing in front of Parcel R-1, a public land parcel rented to Tufts Medical Center for parking, Lowe urged the crowd to take control of the neighborhood.

“Public land should be used for public good,” Lowe said. “We want this land to be used for affordable, low-income housing to stabilize Chinatown. Now the city tells us Tufts Medical Center also needs parking and hospitals are important to the city. So if Tufts needs parking, then why can’t this land be owned by the Community Land Trust and we can use the parking revenue to subsidize our residents to stay in their homes?”

The march was joined by Rep. Aaron Michelewitz and Sen. Joe Boncore at the Statehouse. They both thanked the groups for speaking out about their needs.

“Right now we need regulations and we need taxation for short-term rentals,” said Michelewitz. “You’ve got me. You’ve got the senator working hard to make sure that we get regulations put in place on a state level. And we will take it down to City Hall and make sure we get things done there as well.”

Advocates included the Chinatown Community Land Trust, the Chinese Progressive Association, Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance and others.

Marchers held signs at the protest. (Image courtesy of Valerie Li.)

Sen. Joe Boncore spoke in support of regulating short-term rentals. (Image courtesy of Valerie Li.)

Rep. Aaron Michelewitz spoke on statewide regulations for short-term rentals. (Image courtesy of Valerie Li.)

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