Civil Rights

Trinity Rep board member targeted by Boston-based tenant group for evicting vulnerable people and racist gentrification

“Trinity Repertory Theater has an anti-racist mission,” noted City Life/Vida Urbana Communications Director Gabriela Cartagena, “so if they want to stick to their anti-racist mission, then we ask the theater to ask Solomon to start a negotiation and speak to the Fairlawn Tenants Association because he, with DSF Group, are gentrifying a Black neighborhood. They’re evicting Black and brown and immigrant residents. And that sounds pretty racist…”
Photo for Trinity Rep board member targeted by Boston-based tenant group for evicting vulnerable people and racist gentrification

Published on April 30, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist

The Mattapan Fairlawn Tenant Association made a bus trip to Providence on Saturday [with the help of City Life/Vida Urbana (CLVU)] to demand negotiations with their corporate landlord DSF Group outside the Trinity Repertory Theater.  DSF chair and co-founder Arthur P. Solomon is on the board of Trinity, and the Artistic Director of Trinity is endowed in Solomon’s name as part of a multi-year donation that benefits Brown University.

The protest consisted of signs, banners, and handing out flyers. CLVU organizer Gabrielle René emceed the speaking program, introducing both affected tenants and supporters.

Gabrielle René is an organizer with City Life/Vida Urbana (CLVU)

At issue is Fairlawn Apartments, a 347+ unit apartment complex in Mattapan, Massachusetts that has housed primarily Black, low-income, and immigrant residents for decades. In 2018 the DSF Group bought the complex for $65 million. A non-profit had matched the $65 million offer, but DSF Group prevailed in the purchase and raised the rents by as much as 50% as part of a more extensive “development” plan to gentrify the area. Had the non-profit prevailed in the purchase, residents would be safe from eviction and outrageous rent increases. Had a piece of legislation called the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) been passed by the Massachusetts legislature, the non-profit bid would have prevailed.

Long-time Fairlawn residents who have organized have been without a lease for nearly three years, during which time the Tenant Association has been trying to negotiate with DSF Group for a five-year fair contract with a 2.5% rate of annual increase. Tenants are at risk of no-fault eviction because DSF Group continues to ignore their requests to negotiate fair lease terms, even after they marched to DSF Group’s office on Newbury Street in December 2021 and dropped off 40+ petition signatures to management offices in February 2022. 

Betty J. Lewis had her rent raised by $450 after DSF took over the property. “Because I refuse to pay that rent I’m at risk of being forcibly evicted.,” said Lewis. “They have not come to the table with us. They refuse to. They refuse to meet with us.”

When she calls DSF, Lewis is told that the company is willing to negotiate a lease with her personally. “But I said, ‘No, you’re going to negotiate with the Tenant Association,'” said Lewis, who refuses to negotiate only on her own behalf. “I want them to come to the table with us.”

“They just want us out,” said Lewis. “But right now we’re stagnant, just waiting.”

The Tenant Association and CLVU came to Trinity to question the theater company’s commitment to racial justice, and human rights in the light of a board member targeting low-income Black tenants for outrageous rent increases and eviction.[In a statement signed by Artistic Director Curt Columbus and Interim Executive Director Jen Canole, Trinity didn’t address the particulars of the tenant’s issues, claiming only to “respect the use of public assembly and demonstration.”]

“Trinity Repertory Theater has an anti-racist mission,” noted CLVU Communications Director Gabriela Cartagena, “so if they want to stick to their anti-racist mission, then we ask the theater to ask Solomon to start a negotiation and speak to the Fairlawn Tenants Association because he, with DSF Group, are gentrifying a Black neighborhood. They’re evicting Black and brown and immigrant residents. And that sounds pretty racist… We’re asking the theater to say something to their board member and big donor, Arthur P. Solomon to speak the speak to the Fairlawn Tenants Association and start the negotiation.”

Here’s all the video from all the speakers at the event:


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Mark, from th Tenant Network Rhode Island

City Life/Vida Urbana (CLVU) is a 49-year-old multilingual community-based organization committed to building the power of low-income and working-class people to fight for social, racial, and economic justice and gender equality. Our focus is stopping housing displacement through organizing communities, building our base, leadership development, direct action, and policy campaigns. Our current work supports tenants and small homeowners facing eviction, rent increases, unhealthy conditions, foreclosure, or gentrification. CLVU is focused in Dorchester, Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, Mattapan, Hyde Park, and East Boston.

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