Friday, August 12 2022

A long-awaited outing with her 9-year-old daughter to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts last April was cut short when Kimberly O’Connor received a call from her husband that a sheriff had issued a ‘no-fault’ eviction notice .

It was a ‘no-fault’ eviction because the family – who had lived in the same three-bedroom flat in Weymouth for 14 years – had done nothing wrong.

“Now I don’t know who people think they are, as you know, [who] be kicked out or face homelessness,” O’Connor said. “But I always paid my rent on time.”

The landlord declined repeated requests for comment but, according to O’Connor, six days after receiving the eviction notice she received a text message explaining that the apartment was being renovated and the rent would rise sharply by 60%. She couldn’t afford the rising rent or, she soon discovered, apartment prices in her town. The eviction notice gave his family only 30 days to find a new home.

“The uncertainty,” O’Connor said, “It’s just such a scary feeling – potential homelessness and not knowing what’s going to happen next.”

O’Connor worked as a pre-school teacher in Weymouth for nearly two decades. Just 15 miles south of Boston, with freeway and beach access, Weymouth has attracted increasing numbers of people looking for low-cost housing, and rents have soared. According zumper, over the past year, the average rent for a 3-bedroom apartment has increased by more than 50%. As a result, people like O’Connor struggle to stay in the communities they serve.

A huge need for emergency accommodation

Kimberly O’Connor with a student in her class at South Shore Stars, a preschool in Weymouth, Mass.

Courtesy of Kimberly O’Connor

The volume of applications for emergency housing assistance is “huge”, according to Sue Keenan, director of housing and properties for the nonprofit Quincy Regional Community Action Programs (QCAP).

“We are seeing more and more people who have never used social services before, people who are employed, maybe they are underemployed or there has been a break in employment “, Keenan said. “So now we’re seeing more people like Kimberly.”

Keenan has spent three decades helping people in housing crisis and putting the pieces of the state or local relief puzzle together. She said she’s seen a recent increase in “no-fault” eviction filings, like in the case of O’Connor.

“They [landlords] want to repossess their homes, and either they want it for their family or they want to rehabilitate it so they can rent it for twice as much as what they rent now,” Keenan said. “Or they want to sell them and they want them empty because it’s easier to sell that way.”

According to MassLandlords, “no-fault” evictions statewide have averaged about 19% of total evictions year-to-date. The group does not break this data down by community, but executive director Doug Quattrochi said this is a “common situation” where there is older housing stock like Greater Boston and tenants cannot stay when major renovations are needed.

“You would expect to see those no-fault eviction rates go up,” Quattrochi said. “A lot of people are stuck, the owner is losing patience and now they are filing a lawsuit in court because they don’t want to wait any longer.”

Keenan thinks the spike in rents is partly the consequence of the state’s demand on private landlords to refrain to raise rents during the pandemic.

“Now that it’s over, everyone’s like, ‘Oh, I gotta get my money back, I gotta get my money back,’ and the rents are going crazy,” she said.

Sue Keenan, director of housing and properties at Quincy Community Action Programs, poses for a photo at the organization’s headquarters in Quincy, Mass., July 15, 2022.

Meredith Nierman / GBH News

QCAP prioritized O’Connor’s case because she faced deportation.

“The first thing I was told was don’t leave your apartment until you have somewhere else to go. Don’t make yourself homeless on purpose,” O’Connor said.

But when O’Connor began her hunt, she immediately found “very, very long” waiting lists for affordable housing, pointing to an available unit that already had 10 families on the waiting list. Experts like Keenan said these apartments often only become vacant when the tenants die.

“The first thing I was told was don’t leave your apartment until you have somewhere else to go. Do not voluntarily make yourself homeless.

Kimberly O’Connor, pre-school teacher from Weymouth

Between O’Connor and her husband, who is training for a new job, the couple earned about $70,000 before taxes. They earn too much for social housing but not enough to pay market rent in Weymouth on their own. The family falls into a middle ground covered by “affordable housing”.

According to the law, 10 percent of housing stock in Massachusetts cities and towns must be affordable those with low to middle income. But only around 7% of housing in Weymouth is considered affordable – the rest of their needs are currently being met by land “set aside” for future affordable housing, according to Weymouth planning director Robert Luongo.

Soaring rents, a welcome investment

Lisa Belmarsh, a Weymouth councilor who sits on a committee overseeing the Weymouth Housing Authority, is concerned about the impact of rising rents on current residents of the town.

“I want people to stay in Weymouth,” Belmarsh said. “We are a community that really wants a large and diverse group of people…and I don’t want to see them kicked out because they can’t afford to be here.”

Weymouth has increasingly attracted people from neighboring Quincy in search of more affordable rents.

“We have some of the conveniences of Quincy without that rent being that high,” said Luongo, the planning director. “It’s also boosting the market in Weymouth.”

Like many townships, Weymouth has also seen a boom in new luxury apartment buildings over the past four years, which Keenan says is ‘fueling soaring rents’. But there is a flip side; in Weymouth these developments have also helped the town fill its tax coffers. Luongo said developer revenue has helped build a new library, a state-of-the-art college and renovate several parks.

“The quality of life has improved in Weymouth, the streets are cleaner and the pavements are improved,” Luongo said. “This growth and the revenue from this development has helped the city immensely to stabilize its tax base.”

“It’s going to cost me about $625 more per month for less space. But it’s the best I could find and the best I could do.

Kimberly O’Connor, pre-school teacher from Weymouth

More money for less space

With time running out, O’Connor rushed for the “cheapest option” she could find in Weymouth: a two-bedroom flat at market price. With QCAP funding the first month’s rent and security deposit, O’Connor was approved. Then she cobbled together another $1,970 for a key deposit and last month’s rent.

“It’s going to cost me about $625 more per month for less space. But it’s the best I could find and the best I could do,” O’Connor said. “I don’t know what it’s going to look like for me. I’m just going to try to do the best that I can day by day.

With a teenage son with autism in need of space, and a 9-year-old daughter, O’Connor had to decide who would get the two bedrooms and who would sleep on the couch. Her daughter Tessa had to leave her beloved bunk bed behind and, as the new apartment is in a different neighborhood, she will be changing schools.

“I feel like the stress and tension on my part is affecting her a bit. She expressed some sadness,” O’Connor said.

The family moved into their new apartment in early July. O’Connor tries to have hope but worries about the future. She wonders if she and her husband will have difficulty paying the monthly rent and if she should find a part-time job. She is also worried about what might happen when her lease is renewed, knowing how much rents have skyrocketed this year.

Still, standing in her new kitchen, O’Connor said she felt she had been given a reprieve from the eviction and the domino effect of the disaster that she considered having no home. “I feel lucky that my family has a roof over their heads for the next 12 months.”

Weymouth preschool teacher Kimberly O'Connor as a child with her father Bill Gannon
Kimberly O’Connor at a protest outside the Quincy Courthouse with her father Bill Gannon in 1976.

Courtesy of Kimberly O’Connor / Kimberly O’Connor

O’Connor traced his inspiration to go public with his housing struggles to his late father, an avid motorcyclist and motorcycling community activist. He sometimes took O’Connor with him to the State House to lobby for helmet laws.

“My dad pushed me to stand up for myself and others,” O’Connor said. “For example, tell your story. Don’t be ashamed of it. And just help others if you can.

After GBH News published the first article in the series Price: The struggle for housing in MassachusettsO’Connor emailed to share his experience.

“I just feel like I want people to know they’re not alone. I think it’s important that, you know, whoever is fighting this housing crisis is your child’s teacher,” O’Connor wrote.

You can share your Fixed price story or ask a question you would like answered by filling out this Google form. Find more information about the series on Price: The Fight for Housing in Massachusetts.


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