Housing Corp. of Arlington 2023 walk. / Renee Abbott photosHCA walkers support rent control. /Renee Abbott photos

UPDATED May 30: The Housing Corporation of Arlington was the host for a walk on Sunday, May 21, to raise money for affordable housing. Attendees embarked on a three-mile walk and later were joined by members of the Torrington Tenants Association of Arlington protesting their rent increase. 

The event kicked off at noon in the green space between Robbins Library and Town Hall. Attendees got free green T-shirts with a depiction of 117 Broadway, which is part of HCA’s newest property, on the front and a list of event sponsors of the event on the back. People enjoyed the free pizza, coffee, fruits and snacks courtesy of local supermarkets and pizzarias. 

In total, the event raised $48,165 through raffles and a donation box on top of the $47,000 raised through sponsors. Raffle winners could win gift cards to local businesses including QuebradaThe Roasted Granola Café and Arlington Bakery. There was also a kids raffle with prizes for Play Time Crafts and Cookie Time Bakery.

Erica SchwarzHCA Executive Director Erica Swarz.

Sponsors, raffles, entertainment

The top sponsors for the event were Brookline Bank and Cambridge Saving Bank. Other sponsors included LeaderBank, East Cambridge Saving Bank and others; a comprehensive list is at the end of this article.

Next to the raffles area was a table with literature encouraging attendees to petition for the passing of bills related to affordable housing and combating climate change. 

Many parents brought children, who could enjoy a large lawn jenga game and a table with coloring sheets. There was a performer named Sir Danny Drake on stilts adorned in purple cheetah print pants, a diamond-patterned vest and hot magenta suspenders. Numerous kids at the event and later on the walk route stopped to take a picture with him. 

JP Honk, with some 15 musicians playing mostly brass instruments and drums, performed songs ranging from the “Sesame Street” theme to the Grammy Award-winning 2003 “Seven Nation Army”by rock duo the White Stripes. Founded in Jamaica Plain, the organization performs for events related to social justice. As the parade went down the Mass. Ave., the band continued playing, drawing honks of support as well as looks of confusion from drivers and pedestrians. 

Addresses crowd

Erica Schwarz, the executive director of HCA, addressed the crowd estimated at 50 people before kicking off the walk. (Later, she noted that 73 people signed in, though not all joined the walk.) She said that while the office is small, having only five employees, they work hard and appreciate all of the outside help they receive. Next, Makeelia Parker, board member and tenant, spoke about the importance of the HCA and of how accepting the community has been. The president of the nonprofit's board of directors, Thomas Nee, spoke about how he has seen home prices in Arlington go up in the past few years and extended his gratitude to the supporters.

Renea Duran, the social-service coordinator, runs numerous programs for residents, including one aimed at preventing homelessness She was happy with the turnout and is looking forward to the next big event to be hosted by the HCA, which is its annual Block Party, scheduled for July 8. 

This walk was the first since 2019 -- before Covid -- and Duran said it marked a “return to normalcy” that people feel relieved about. 

Note that 117 Broadway, featured on the T-shirt, is one building in a larger development. The Downing Square Broadway Initiative Development has a total of 48 units between 117 Broadway and 112-114 Lowell St., which was the turnaround point for the walk. 117 Broadway has 14 units, as well as a commercial space on the ground floor that houses Arlington EATS.

Busy first week

For the newest HCA employee, Luca Cassano, his first week had been a busy one. He said that the event was a bit overwhelming considering he is so new but that he is appreciating the chance to get to know everyone and dive right into his role as civic-engagement coordinator. So far, he has loved the job and the people he works with; he looks forward to providing services to community members and ensuring they feel empowered as HCA strives to be collaborative with their tenants. 

“I joined this organization because I think, in general, low-income housing is something that's going to become more and more relevant in the greater Boston area with things like housing prices going up in places like Arlington,” Cassano said. “So the fact that we have these nonprofits that are trying to give these spaces to low-income people is so, so amazing.” 

The walk down Mass. Ave. was led by the band and stilt walker, though they did not walk the full three miles. People carried signs with “Walk for Affordable Housing” on them, and many drivers passing by honked or waved in support. 

Protesting rent increase

A little ways into the walk, the organization City Life/Viva Urbana joined to support the cause and a particular group of local residents. The Torrington Tenants Association is protesting the increase of their rent at 840-846 Mass. Ave. in Arlington. For many residents, the increase is impossible for them to pay and is evidence of the continued driving of lower-income people out of the town. Members of the organization brought large signs saying “La vivienda es un derecha humano,” which means “housing is a human right.” Other signs said “Eviction Free Zone” and “Rent Control Now.”

They chanted “What do we want? Rent control! When do we want it? Now!” as the group marched down Mass. Ave. Members of the tenant association held orange signs calling for rent control and City Life/Viva Urbana members wore fluorescent yellow T-shirts. Coupled with the purple-clad Honk band in front, the parade was as colorful and noisy as it was focused.

Members of CIty Life/Viva Urbana also disseminated fliers with information about tenants’ rights and publicizing the organization’s Lobby Day, scheduled for June 1 at the Massachusetts State House in Boston.

Schwarz said that the organization has asked the HCA to buy the 840-846 Mass. Ave., though it is not for sale. The HCA may potentially make an offer anyway, she said -- but it would be a long process that requires a lot of funding. 

Backing the walk

HCA organizers said that they are grateful to the 20-plus sponsors of the event because their investments in HCA help to create housing, develop leaders and deliver social services to local families. Sponsors include:

Hero level: Brookline Bank and Cambridge Savings Bank;

Partner Sponsors: East Cambridge Savings Bank and Leader Bank;

Supporter level: Calvary Church, Carney General Contracting, Davis Square Architects, Eastern Bank, Feinmann Inc., First Parish Church of Arlington, Merchants Capital, The Life Initiative, Watertown Savings Bank, Winchester Savings Bank; and

Friend level: Advisors Living Real Estate, Arlex Oil Corp., Belmont Printing, First Baptist Church of Arlington, Peabody Properties, Rush-Kent Insurance Agency, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Yes! Your Eco Source.

In a May 4 news release, Schwarz said: “The need for affordable housing is serious, but this event is also about having fun. The staff, board, volunteers and I look forward to welcoming the community to connect, laugh, walk and even dance, while we bring attention to this important issue."

HCA is an Arlington-based nonprofit organization founded in 1986. Today the organization owns and manages 150 units of affordable housing throughout Arlington, provides social services to help families remain stable and helps tenants and other community members to become more engaged around issues they care about.

The Walk for Affordable Housing helps to highlight the work of HCA, as well as the need for affordable housing, as the current housing crisis continues to harm families and communities. More information can be found at www.housingcorparlington.org or by contacting Erica Schwarz at: eschwarz [@] housingcorparlington.org or 781-894-5294 ext.1. 

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This news announcement was published Saturday, May 6, 2023, based on information from Erica Schwarz and YourArlington. It was updated May 25, 2023, with a news summary and photographs by YourArlington freelance writer Renee Abbott, who covers housing issues. It was updated May 30, to correct a caption and clarify copy.