Her younger son, Sian-Pierre Regis, a journalist in New York, decided to fight and make a documentary about his mother’s plight. The mission of YW Boston, as the organization is now called, is to “eliminate racism, empower women,” he emphasizes. It says so on a board on the building. Throwing out his aging mother, who raised two black children there, he said, was “literally repugnant.”
It’s also inhuman, said Regis, who moved out when he went to college in 2002: “You tried to fire a 75-year-old woman regardless of what would happen next.”
Regis’ documentary “Duty Free” will air on PBS Monday night as part of his Independent Lens series (and can be streamed for free online and via the app until December 21). The film, which was shown in theaters in May, primarily focuses on his and his mother’s journey to fill their bucket list while she is unemployed, and addresses age discrimination and the financial needs of the elderly. But behind Danigelis’ impending eviction from the YWCA building, lies the incredible need for affordable housing for seniors, especially in expensive places like Massachusetts.
Almost 64 percent of single women nationwide and nearly 56 percent of single men over 65 are economically insecure, according to a June report by the Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging at the University of Massachusetts Boston – the highest rates in the country. For couples, it’s 30 percent, the fourth highest rate.
The biggest factor is the housing costs, said center director Jan Mutchler. Age discrimination also plays a role. Older job seekers are unemployed longer than the rest of the population.
The 140 Clarendon St. building opened in 1929 as the headquarters of the Boston YWCA, the first official organization of its kind in the country dating back to 1866. Her mission was to “create a suitable and economical home for girls many of whom have been away”. home for the first time to earn a living, ”according to the National Register of Historic Places registration form. The YWCA eventually opened up to men and began shifting its mission towards diversity and inclusion work. In 2000, the organization formed a for-profit business to expand their opportunities to make money from the building and paved the way for the opening of Hotel 140 in 2005. Danigelis was hired to take the 55-room hotel in exchange for a free rent and a small salary.
Duty Free begins with Danigelis being fired from this job 12 years later. Maloney Properties, who managed the building and was their employer, told her it was restructuring and that her position would be cut. Her apartment, which was tied to her job at the time, also went away.
Her older son, who has schizophrenia, has lived in his own apartment in the house since 2005.
“My mother’s whole life was sunk in this building,” Regis says in the film.
Danigelis tried to find a job while Regis worked to secure her housing. Regis suggested converting her apartment into a subsidized apartment, with part of her income being used for rent. (Before she started working for rent, Danigelis was paying $ 1,549 a month.) Maloney Properties told Regis that her social security and unemployment income was too high to be eligible for a subsidy and was not paying a low-income home tax credit have . But following the release of the trailer for Regis’ documentary and subsequent press coverage, Danigelis signed an agreement in 2019 so as not to “denigrate, criticize, condemn or attack” their landlords and was allowed to stay until May 2020.
In an email to the Globe, Maloney Properties President Janet Frazier wrote, “As we were concerned about her welfare after we left our job, she was allowed to live in the building for almost 4 years and paid a total of $ 60 in rent during the entire time. At this point the decision about her further stay was with YW Boston and Mrs. Danigelis. “
YW Boston did not respond to messages asking for comments.
Danigelis was 27 when she first came to the United States from Liverpool to promote British tourism in Detroit. Ten years later it was hired for what is now Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston. Two weeks after becoming a staff member there, she was beaten and raped while leaving her room, an attack featured in the Boston Globe when the suspect was arrested. The advice she sought after was her first encounter with the YWCA.
In the spring of 2017, Danigelis got a position as housekeeping manager at the Hilton Boston Back Bay, working for a man who was once her employee at Boston Park Plaza. But she was fired when the pandemic broke out, and when her extended lease with the YWCA ended, she moved in with Regis and his partner in New York.
In the meantime, the YW Boston building was seeing its own drama. It was put up for sale in 2019 and a buyer should upgrade the hotel and convert some of the apartments into higher quality units. But the deal fell through during the pandemic, and the building was sold last year at the discounted price of $ 51.5 million to developers Beacon Communities and Mount Vernon Co., who plan to convert it into an affordable 210-unit housing estate, almost half for formerly homeless residents.
“Poetic justice,” said Regis.
Danigelis’ son requested again to be housed in the building and is allowed to stay.
Still, the area is a very desirable location for luxury developers. Directly behind 140 Clarendon St. is a gleaming 35-story tower, the Raffles Boston Back Bay Hotel & Residences, which will have a spa and rooftop terrace when it opens next year.
Danigelis, now 80, and Regis have become advocates for older workers. In early October, they virtually performed with the Director General of the World Health Organization, who instituted a WHO screening of “duty free” and noted the need to change the “negative narrative about age and aging”. They traveled to Washington DC later that month to meet with the Congresswoman behind a bill that would prohibit employers from using age to classify or restrict applicants.
“Unlike most of the poor, we had a platform and we were able to put that in the spotlight,” Regis said. With 10,000 people turning 65 every day, he states, “This will happen to more and more.”
Danigelis is glad that her experience, tough as it was, shed some light on the hardships many elderly people face. “I’m a strong person,” she said, “but let me tell you, I was on the edge.”