Just a week ago, I was able to visit the site of City Life/Vida Urbana in Jamaica Plain. City Life is a grassroots community organization created to fight for gender equality and racial, social, and economic justice by building up the working class’ power. The group has many goals, but the most universal aspiration was guaranteeing that each person has the right to food, housing, health care, education, meaningful employment, and most importantly, the right to exist in freedom without fear of displacement or deportation. After briefly exploring the welcoming space of the organization, I got to sit down with Alex Ponte-Capellan, a community organizer for City Life.
We were able to a lot about the work he does at City Life. As a community organizer, Alex follows cases that arise in the Jamaica Plain/Roxbury area. Alex’s work is centered around helping tenants with whatever they need while negotiating with their landlords, joining tenant associations, and getting in touch with lawyers. Of this work, he finds that the biggest challenge is getting people to get involved. Often all the tenants in a building get a notice to quit accompanied with a lease revealing a higher rent. Under these circumstances, a few tenants get very interested in City Life’s help, but many others will be very uninterested. This may be because these tenants do not feel directly threatened by these actions, and they are waiting for that moment of urgency before they take action. To get around this, Alex said he generally remains persistent, sending emails and calling each of the tenants, trying to give each person their best chance at maintaining their current lives.
Some triumphs City Life has made in their cause include a march which was held last week on Saturday. The tenants in the 26 School Street Tenant Association, have been facing really high rent increases, so in order to instigate landlord negotiations, City Life held a rally down Washington Street and amounted quite a bit of communal support and media coverage. Alex is currently hoping these effort result in a settlement, which seems promising from the event’s popularity. Another success occurred when Alex first joined City Life. An investor was attempting to buy out a property from a landlord with more financial power than City Life could establish and provide. However, City Life’s legal team collected the tenants’ claims against the previous landlord, which totaled in millions of dollars in payments. City Life’s deal would be to buy out the property with their initial price offered and drop all of the claims on the landlord, which was a monetarily better settlement than what had been offered by the investor.
We also got to talk more about how Alex got involved with City Life. A large deal of influence came from his experiences with the Prison-Industrial Complex. His desire to create change lead to a grassroots youth activist group called Young Abolitionists. This lead him to explore gentrification, eventually hearing of City Life and joining the group. Nevertheless, some of the most life-changing events in Alex’s life were the moments just after his cousin passed away. This very emotional moment touches him to this day, still guiding some of his life decisions. To provide the help Alex wasn’t able to provide his cousin before his untimely death, he channels his effort into his work at City Life — he tries to give others their best lives since his cousin was robbed of his.
Alex has many idea in order to progress City Life’s cause, but he also has advice for the community and how we all can be involved in the problem of gentrification and displacement. Alex suggested that people can get in contact with local officials, and join in rallies/marches for social change in their area. Above all, it’s important to stay informed of the issues around us and be active members of our community.
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