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Second Battle of Bunker Hill Pits Tenants Against City

March 14, 1989

BOSTON (AP) _ A second battle of Bunker Hill is brewing between residents of a public housing project and city officials who say up to 100 families may have to leave while their apartments are being renovated.

The 45 red-brick buildings of the Bunker Hill housing project are clustered just three blocks downhill from the famous monument to Colonial resistance. Opened in 1940, they are scheduled for a $30 million renovation.

But rebellious tenants, who have lived through a bitter busing battle and the peaceful integration of what had been an all-white enclave, say they won’t budge.

″You’ll need a bulldozer to get me out,″ one tenant said at a community meeting Sunday.

″We’re not moving,″ Mary E. MacInnes, president of the Tenants’ Task Force, declared Monday. ″We’re not leaving Charlestown.″

MacInnes said the complex is a tight-knit community with up to three generations of families. She moved into the Bunker Hill complex with her parents in 1940. She raised eight children there, teaching two of them at home rather than see them bused, and now has a 26-year-old son living there.

MacInnes said tenants want to stay in their apartments during the renovations where possible, and a guarantee that they will be moved to another apartment in the complex if not. Elderly tenants and those with special needs should not be forced to move, she said.

″We have a lot of family members who have family members in the same building who were put there so they could take care of each other,″ MacInnes said. ″How are you going to relocate these people?″

William H. Wright, spokesman for the Boston Housing Authority, insisted that the agency has no choice.

″This is not the kind of work that can be done with people living in the apartment,″ Wright said.

Wiring and plumbing dating to World War II will be ripped out, walls will be demolished and some roofs will have to be replaced, he said.

Tenants will be given another apartment, either in Charlestown or elsewhere in the city, or a subsidized rent voucher and a written guarantee that they can move back to the project - though not necessarily to the same apartment, Wright said.

Attempts will be made to renovate buildings in stages so tenants can move to vacant apartments within the complex while others are being renovated, Wright said. The BHA expects that far fewer than 100 families will have to leave.

City Councilor Robert E. Travaglini on Monday blamed the inflamed emotions on a lack of communication. He said he and Mayor Raymond Flynn would meet with tenants Tuesday to discuss the project. Flynn’s office could not confirm the meeting.

MacInnes said the tenants’ resistance to leaving the Charlestown projects was not racially motivated. The projects, which began integrating in 1984, are now about 10 to 15 percent minority, she said.

Minority families have been as outspoken as whites in opposing the move, she said.

″One woman who has been here less than a year said, ‘I love it here,’ so we’re all sticking together on this,″ MacInnes said.

Louis Elisa, president of the Boston chapter of the National Association for Advancement of Colored People, which has sued the housing authority for racial discrimination, noted that Bunker Hill is less integrated than other projects in which relocating families would be offered apartments.

Elisa said the NAACP would review the relocation plan.

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