Finding a welcoming home: East Boston native talks about housing struggles

When Brian Madrigal was a freshman in high school, he and other community organizers protested a proposed expansion of Boston Logan International Airport. The community asked instead for green space as a buffer between the airport’s pollution and the East Boston neighborhoods near it.

The Massachusetts Port Authority, who operates the airport, conceded and built Bremen Street Park — an 18-acre public park with playgrounds, a dog park, and a community garden.

“They gave it to us and it’s beautiful — (but) now it’s all gentrified,” Madrigal said with a laugh as he looked across the idyllic park with a few joggers and workers riding mowers back and forth on lush lawns. “It’s funny that we fought for this for our community and now we’re being pushed out. ... It’s interesting.”

Gentrification often refers to renovation or renewal of a neighborhood that is typically associated with increases in housing prices and changes in a community’s demographics. Many also fear the phenomenon is linked with displacement of working class and low-income families.

From a young age, Madrigal experienced the negative effects of pressures on the region’s housing market.

At 18, Madrigal and his family of five — his mother, stepfather, and two younger sisters — were living near Maverick Square. Their landlord abruptly raised the rent and, shortly after, sold the building to a developer.

“They sent out notifications to all of us that all the tenants had to leave in two months because of the development,” Madrigal said.

After getting the notice to leave, Madrigal — a freshman at Northeastern University at the time — hurriedly searched for a new home for his family. Affordable options were limited. Further, Madrigal’s family was repeatedly turned away because of credit history, his mother’s immigrant status, or various unspecified reasons.

Madrigal proposed that the family move outside Boston, but options in the suburbs were limited and his family needed to be near transit to access their jobs in the city. The family could not afford a car and felt the suburb’s housing options did not make the expensive, and often unreliable, commute a worthwhile tradeoff.

Housing advocates contend that if more housing options are available in the region, it could help alleviate some of the pressures on urban centers like Boston. The goal of the Great Neighborhoods bill is to give families like Madrigal’s more choices within their reach when looking for places to live.

Eventually, Madrigal’s godfather stepped in and helped the family find a home in Orient Heights, where they still live. After all the turmoil, Madrigal took a break from college and later went into coding. He has since worked at web design firms in Boston and Watertown.

The experience taught his family a lot about their rights as tenants, Madrigal said, but it was painful at the time. It often seemed that realtors or landlords were looking for college students rather than a working family of five, Madrigal said.

“It’s not explicitly said that you’re not welcome here, but it’s kind of obvious that you’re not welcome here. … It’s like being on a playground and you have the popular kids (saying,) ‘Sorry, you can’t play with us because you don’t have Nikes,’” Madrigal said with a laugh.

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