Santo Anibal Ramirez, owner of Anibal Color Studio, talking about closing his business due to the rise in rent. Credit: "Ain't No One Can Afford This"
People pour their sweat and souls into things they believe are worth their time. Helen "Homefries" Matthews, a Jamaica Plain resident of 13 years, dedicates her time to "Ain't No One Can Afford This," a public video project that will share the stories of JP residents and business owners who have been or are being priced out.
I sat with Homefries for about two hours in Café Bartlett Square. As she spoke about her community and its residents, I saw the fervor in her eyes with which she is diving into this video project full-fledged.
The name of the project, "Ain't No One Can Afford This," quotes an anonymous scrawl over the Orange Line on a public map in Monument Square.
Homefries is working with City Life Vida Urbana and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation to make this public video project come alive. She has interviewed 12-13 people so far and plans on continuing so long as the support and funds keep flowing. The energy, she says, is coming from her own emotions and experiences as a long-time JP resident.
What Jamaica Plain Is Losing
“I’ve lived here long enough to see some dramatic and rapid changes. They’ve affected a lot of my friends, my friends’ friends and my neighbors,” she said.
Homefries comes from Atlanta, one of the most gentrified cities in America besides Boston. Up until recently she had never consciously thought about her experience living in gentrifying cities.
"You can't even talk to someone at the bus stop without hearing them talk about how they can't find an apartment in JP," she said.
She hopes that through her documentary, JP can see what the community is losing, where former residents are headed and what they are sacrificing. The documentary opens up with a black screen that reads, “Ain’t no one can afford this.” From them on you’ll see purely interviews–interviews in which raw emotion bleeds through.
"I think the potential for first person accounts regarding displacement/gentrification goes beyond just the neighborhood where the interviews might take place," said Luis Cotto, the executive director of Egleston Square Main Street.
There is no doubt about JP gentrifying but while gentrification benefits some, it means bad news for others. Cotto, a leader involved in the community, believes "it's important to see or hear [the video series] for communities who are on the cusp of gentrification as well as those in the throes of the phenomena."
As can be seen through the interviews, local businesses face the challenge to survive, compete and keep up with the escalating rents. Through her course of interviews, Homefries recalls the specific moment when the owner of a long-time JP shop paused the interview 15-minutes in to go into his office and breakdown in tears. She says it was a defining moment for her.
“Gentrification is a very umbrella word. It’s a decoy for the real issue, and the real issue we're facing is displacement. Gentrification is displacement plus a lot of other things,” said Homefries.
She interviewed the owner of Anibal Color Studio, Santo Anibal Ramirez, who is getting evicted from his business’s home on Washington Street. Ramirez arrived in the U.S. 25 years ago but has been managing his business, Anibal Studios, since he was 18-years-old.
Ramirez said, originally in Spanish, that this video project will bring light to each resident or business owner’s experience, and that one way or another this series will help the JP community.
“The support from the community is there. The problem is that there aren’t any laws which protect small businesses. We sustain the economy and are the ones with the least protection. Now people are coming in and doubling my rent,” said Ramirez.
Ramirez and other business owners on his block are in eviction proceedings as a new landlord, City Realty, develops 3152-3160 Washington St.
Other individuals who share their stories in "Ain't No One Can Afford This" include the owner of Nelly’s Flowers & Fragrances, a couple evicted from their home on Centre Street and a young resident now living in subsidized housing with her family. We can expect more.
If you're interested in catching part one of the series, Homefries plans to screen part one on a large projector at the 31st Annual Jamaica Pond Lantern Parade this weekend, where approximately 4,000 people are expected to attend. The documentary will be shown both Saturday and Sunday nights, starting at about 6:30 p.m. near the pull-up bars and beach area. The event is free.
[Editor's note: This post has been updated to clarify a quote.]
Ashli Molina covers displacement, or being priced out of Jamaica Plain. If you've had to move out of JP against your will and would like to share your story, please email her.