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Boston City Council concerned with new developments displacing low-income residents

Councilor Tito Jackson called for a hearing on how the council can better protect community members who are being pushed out by expensive new housing.

City Councilor Tito Jackson

NICOLAUS CZARNECKI/METRO FILE

With neighborhoods across the city seeing a rapid rise in new housing developments, City Councilor Tito Jackson called for a hearing to address the issue of resident displacement throughout Boston.

“In Roxbury, we've actually seen a fifth of all sales in city of Boston actually occur [here] between 2009 and 2015, and the [Boston Planning and Development Agency] is taking part in several special planning areas throughout the city as a whole,” Jackson said at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

“This is actually very problematic, disjointed and not comprehensive in terms of what is actually needed for these neighborhoods and communities,” he said.

The city is seeing a “building boom,” Jackson noted in his order calling for the hearing. Most of new homes are considered luxury rentals and condos, which tend to push out lower-income tenants from those neighborhoods, he added.

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Aaron Tanaka, a community organizer for the Boston Impact Initiative, which works to help low-income residents and people of color build capital, said this is a very serious concern.

"We see Boston in a real crisis of displacement right now. In a lot of national measures, we're seen as one of the top five fastest gentrifying cities in the country," he said. "I think we're at a turning point for the future of our city."

These residents, some who have lived in these neighborhoods their entire lives, are unable to afford the what Jackson called “quote unquote affordable units” that are being built over their spaces. Jackson mentioned that prior to a recent meeting he attended for a planning initiative in Dudley Square —a project that has been in the works since January — there was no assessment done of the housing impact on that planned area.

“What we were actually able to find out is in the planned Dudley area, 31 percent of those who are in housing in that area make $10,000 or less… In all of Roxbury, 75.5 percent make $50,000 or less,” Jackson said. “We literally are planning with public land to displace the people who currently live there.”

Jackson also gave a nod to Mayor Marty Walsh’s recent filing of a petition for a law that would revamp efforts to protect tenants against “arbitrary, unreasonable, discriminatory or retaliatory evictions.”

Called the Jim Brooks Stabilization Act — Brooks was an advocate who “on occasion chained himself to the railings of houses to prevent landlords from evicting tenants, according to The Boston Globe— the petition seeks the support of the council to forbid “no-fault” evictions.

The law would require landlords to notify the city when they start evicting someone, which would allow city officials to learn more about evictions and also to reach out to tenants so they can be informed of their rights, WBUR reports.

At the council meeting, Jackson thanked Walsh for this initiative but said that the council needs to take on the issue and develop a comprehensive plan. The docket was assigned to the Committee on Housing and Community Development and a hearing date will be scheduled soon.

“I guess the question I have is this,” Jackson said. “Is the city we're building right now for the people who are currently in it? Or for the new people coming here?”

Armani White, a 25-year-old life-long Roxbury resident and community organizer, noted that it's not that Roxbury isn't welcoming to any new construction.

"We want development, but we want development without displacement," he said. "We want to continue to build up our community, but we want it to benefit the folks working hard here to make it the place it is, not for people outside of the community."

 
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