The tenants say they aren't simply fighting for their homes — they are upholding the integrity of their community.
"We can live there as long as we want, but after that, the affordable housing is gone," said Echevarria.
Unlike most public housing developments, Rutland Housing had no tenant organization, so a small group of residents began organizing from the ground-up beginning in February.
"It's my home. If I don't get out and see what's happening, it's on me," said Guice.
Within a matter of months, residents were making important allies.
Guice, Echevarria, and others reached out to Michael Kane, the executive director of the Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants, a Jamaica Plain-based non-profit that advocates for affordable housing residents. Since 1983, the Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants has successfully saved 2000 affordable housing units in the South End alone.
With Kane's help, a small group of tenants founded the Rutland Housing Tenants Organization (RHTO) and began meeting regularly, writing letters to the Parkers and city officials. Throughout the spring, they courted and garnered the support of Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Archbishop Sean O'Malley, State Representative Byron Rushing and members of the City Council. Eventually they collected over 600 South Enders' signatures on a petition for a new contract.
But David Parker said he and his partners have fully complied with the terms of the original contract and should not be pressured into a new agreement. "I don't see the point with project-based [contracts]," said Parker.
For the tenants, keeping affordable housing in the South End is their ultimate concern. Simply pushing out low-income residents of gentrifying neighborhoods doesn't create a better city, they said.
"In the past 30 years, this community has changed," said Carmen Massa, a member of the tenants' organization who has lived in Rutland Housing for 26 years and raised seven children there. In 1980, the area around Rutland Housing was 67 percent African-American, but it has since changed to 62 percent white according to the 2010 census. Real estate prices have boomed alongside this demographic shift. A 3.5-bedroom condo at Rutland Place, adjacent to Rutland Housing, sold in June for a whopping $2.6 million.
While the South End's overall makeup becomes less diverse, the area's public housing remains a bastion for low-income residents and people of color.
"That's why it's important to fight to preserve these units," said Massa.
US VS. THEM
Racial tensions came to the surface during a special hearing held by the City Council at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in the South End on May 29.
Defending the Parkers' choice to not renew the project-based contract, Jim Keeney, the Vice President of the Blackstone/Franklin Square Neighborhood Association, informed Rutland Housing tenants that "they can even take [their enhanced vouchers] to Puerto Rico, if that's where they come from."
The comment generated boos and jeers within the church packed with tenants and activists. And although Keeney has since insisted that he intended his remarks to be factual and not derogatory (tenants can transfer their vouchers to Puerto Rico and other parts of the United States), the moment nonetheless crystallized a sense of "us versus them" between tenants and their wealthier neighbors.
Several weeks after that hearing, the City Council unanimously passed a resolution urging the Parkers to work with them and the tenants to hammer out a better plan. Councilor Tito Jackson offered to mediate talks between the tenants and the landlord, but Parker has since declined.