By Alex Scheinberg
BU News Service
BOSTON – East Boston residents are calling on Mayor Marty Walsh to postpone the vote on the Suffolk Downs redevelopment project, a project they say does not provide adequate, affordable housing measures and will further displace their communities.
About fifty people from various community groups, including PUEBLO Coalition, City Life/Vida Urbana and GreenRoots gathered outside of Boston City Hall Tuesday to demand that the mayor halt the vote until their demands for more affordable housing and provisions for ecological sustainability are reflected in the development agreement.
The vote is expected to take place Thursday following a virtual public hearing where residents of East Boston and the Greater Boston area will have the opportunity to voice their concerns in front of the Boston Planning and Development Agency.
HYM Investment Group has put forward plans that call for redevelopment on the former site of the Suffolk Downs racetrack to turn it into a 161-acre project with boundaries spanning from East Boston to Revere. According to the previous reporting in the Boston Globe, the real estate company included the city’s mandatory 13% floor of affordable housing units in their plans. But activists and community members on the ground said they do not have faith that the existing provisions will meet the needs of the predominantly working-class residents of East Boston.
“A hundred percent AMI, that area median income is equivalent to $100,000 a year,” said Gabriela Cartagena, a resident of East Boston and an organizer with City Life/Vida Urbana, who spoke at Tuesday’s rally. “$100,000 annual income is not the reality for almost all of the working-class immigrant families and community members in East Boston.”
According to PUEBLO Coalition organizers, the current area median income is around $50,000 in East Boston, meaning a significant number of the neighborhood’s residents earn much less. At the project’s estimated 70% area median income, organizers say that the rise in the average affordability would out-price many of the families and community members already struggling under the current circumstances.
Community organizations are demanding a hard floor of 20% affordable housing units and a longer-term goal of 50% affordable housing, with affordability “being defined to reflect working-class East Boston incomes.” They are also demanding units serving a range of 10-50% of area median income, according to the press advisory that PUEBLO Coalition put out ahead of Tuesday’s rally.
“What we need is more affordable housing, not more luxury units,” Cartagena said.
“These last five or six years, East Boston has changed dramatically,” said Maria Carolina, an organizer with PUEBLO Coalition who has lived in East Boston for over seventeen years. “Developers have built huge buildings and residents who have been living there for generations used to be able to see the water from their homes and their windows. And now they can’t because these huge, new developments have taken over.”
Access to affordable housing has been a longstanding issue in Boston, but for the city’s low-income and working-class immigrant communities, the difficulties stemming from the coronavirus wave have made a complicated situation worse.
One resident who spoke at Tuesday’s rally recounted multiple cases of two or three families forced to live in the same home because of the compounded crises of unaffordable housing and unemployment related to COVID-19. Residents are concerned that a significant redevelopment project in their neighborhood at a time of national housing and renting concerns will only accelerate their displacement.
“At least 50,000 families are in danger of eviction once we have the moratorium end on October 17, which is a couple of weeks away,” said Carolina. “Does that mean there’s going to be 50,000 people that become homeless in one month? We need it now. We’ve needed it.”
For more information on how to attend the virtual public hearing at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 24, readers can go to the City of Boston’s public notices page at the public notices page. https://www.boston.gov/public-notices/13666211.