East Boston residents protest new luxury developments

A scale model of the Suffolk Downs redevelopment plan presented at the first neighborhood-wide public meeting on Oct. 2 in East Boston. Photo by Emily Carson / BU News Service

By Ari Swift
BU News Service

It was no regular Saturday at the Maverick MBTA station. Outside, sharp winds blew and a bitter cold settled, but the residents of East Boston gathered together. They sang, hugged and welcomed every new person who arrived. Together, they protected each other.

Citizens of the East Boston community gathered together for another march against the 10,000 luxury condos being voted on by the Boston Development and Planning Agency (BPDA) in Suffolk Downs.

Organizers gathered residents together for a march to bring attention to the developers’ alledged negligence to meet the community’s needs. Community leaders argued that Suffolk Downs needs at least 50% affordable housing for residents whose average median income is below $35,000.

Since the East Boston demonstrations began, they’ve grown nationwide recognition. Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted out his support for the residents on Feb. 28. 

A screenshot from Bernie Sanders’ Twitter profile

Grassroots organizations GreenRoots and City Life/Vida Urbana filed a formal complaint in early February that argued the Suffolk Downs developer was not inclusive to the Spanish-speaking residents in the area. 

The community of East Boston has a 58% Hispanic population, and it has increased by 57% since 1970.

The BPDA could not be reached for comment in time for publication.

“[The developers] have not done enough for the Latino/Latina Spanish-speaking population, for the Arabic-speaking populations,” said Stephen Mahood, a resident of 10 years. “They have only translated stuff. They have not done any good meetings with interpreters.”

With no safety nets in place, Mahood said some of the East Boston residents are at risk of being forced out of their homes.

Demands for affordable housing are the most recent step the community is taking to combat the unequal burden lower-income residents face, said GreenRoots organizer Gabriela Cartagena.

“We are facing mass displacement of a lot of lower-income tenants,” Cartagena said, “and we are seeing a lot of homeowners selling their homes, usually for, I personally think, less than what they are worth.”

Once these homes are sold, the Suffolk Downs project developer HYM Investment Group will be free to construct luxury housing on the land, Cartagena said.

This community has organized around the issues affecting them but needed to convince others in Boston. Their first person to sway: Boston Mayor Martin Walsh.

Recent marchers have been aimed at raising awareness for the community’s demands of Suffolk Downs developers, but organizers and residents also hope these marchers would secure a meeting with Walsh.

“The mayor has no care for actually how the community wants this neighborhood to be … and doesn’t really want to engage in that,” Mahood said. “This community needs family housing. It needs affordable housing. It needs public housing, which is not included in any of this.”

Cartagena said she and others have been fighting for the needs of East Boston residents for a long time and hope to make lasting changes.

Cartagena said her worries are not only for her community but also for the Revere community, which has planned units in the large construction of the planned development in Suffolk Downs.

“The difference between Revere and Boston is that [in Revere] there is no policy that forces large developments to create affordable units,” Cartagena said.

The group marched to Central Square Park in East Boston with music blaring from the Second Line Brass Band days after filing their formal complaint.

Together, they chanted: “When we fight, we WIN.”

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