“We will also expand programs to prevent displacement of existing residents, especially in communities of color; create affordable and workforce housing; and preserve neighborhood-serving nonprofit organizations and small businesses.”— Democratic National Committee 2020 Platform
The location that Mass Dems is using to screen the Democratic National Convention, Suffolk Downs, is at the center of the fight for housing justice in East Boston. Boston, and East Boston in particular, is facing a housing crisis of affordability, evictions, and displacement. The East Boston community and HYM Investment Group, a real estate company, are in conflict over the future of Suffolk Downs. As East Boston members of the Democratic Socialists of America, we are calling on you to lend your voice and your power to the fight for housing justice in East Boston: Support the demands of the East Boston coalition PUEBLO and urgently demand that HYM modify its redevelopment plan for Suffolk Downs.
HYM Investment Group, with financial backing from Texas oil-money billionaire William Bruce Harrison, is managing the redevelopment of Suffolk Downs. The proposed development adds 10,000 new units of housing to East Boston, but the plan prices current residents out of the neighborhood. The proposed Suffolk Downs redevelopment will exacerbate displacement by intensifying upward pressure on rent, housing prices, and housing speculation; it will worsen our climate crisis by breaking from the net zero carbon standards established by our own Mayor; and it will deepen the sense that the working, immigrant, and marginalized communities of today are not present in the accepted vision of the future.
The income-restricted units in the Suffolk Downs redevelopment plan remain far too expensive. The income-restricted units in the redevelopment plan target families that make on average $79,000, but the median household income in East Boston is less than $53,000. The families that breathe life into our community and constitute the backbone of our city would be unable to afford even the “affordable” units. We call on the Mass Dems to support PUEBLO’s demand to deepen affordability in the Suffolk Downs redevelopment plan such that it reflects the income of rent-burdened residents of East Boston (30% AMI, down from 70% AMI).
In order to see the East Boston community included in the redevelopment plan, we need not only deeper affordability but also more affordable units. In the plan today, 9.3% of on-site units will be set aside as affordable. City Councilor Lydia Edwards has successfully pressured HYM to include an additional 500 off-site units of affordable housing. This is an important step, but the fight to increase on-site affordable units continues. We call on the Mass Dems to support PUEBLO’s demand to increase the amount of affordable housing in the Suffolk Downs redevelopment plan to a minimum of 20% of units.
Our community also needs to be protected today, and the long-term future of our community must be guaranteed. We are fighting to establish a stabilization fund that will take in an annual percent of the revenue generated by the site and redirect those funds to anti-displacement measures in East Boston. HYM has agreed to a one-time contribution of $5 million to such a fund, but at less than one tenth of one percent of their $7 billion budget, this contribution is bounded and insufficient. The fund should grow as revenues from Suffolk Downs grow. Anti-displacement should be part of the definition of prosperity for our neighborhood and for the Suffolk Downs redevelopment. We call on the Mass Dems to support PUEBLO’s demand that an annual percentage of site revenue from Suffolk Downs be contributed to an anti-displacement stabilization fund managed by a board of East Boston residents, community organizations, and elected officials.
We are dismayed that the redevelopment of Suffolk Downs threatens to damage an important coastal ecosystem in the Belle Isle Marsh and that the development breaks from the net zero carbon standards established by Governor Baker and Mayor Walsh. We call on the Mass Dems to support PUEBLO’s demand that Suffolk Downs be a net zero carbon development and that it ensure climate resilience by protecting the Belle Isle Marsh.
All of these things would be possible if there were community oversight of the Suffolk Downs redevelopment. We have proposed establishing a Community Benefits Agreement that would link development to approval from a board of East Boston residents. This board could also oversee how best to use the Suffolk Downs site during these interim times: outdoor classrooms, temporary quarantine housing for COVID-positive individuals, socially distanced art galleries, socially distanced cooling spaces, and more. Community Benefits Agreements have worked in other large scale developments, such as Union Square in Somerville. With community involvement, Suffolk Downs could be a solution rather than another challenge facing East Boston. We call on the Mass Dems to support PUEBLO’s demand that a Community Benefits Agreement be incorporated into the Suffolk Downs redevelopment plan, negotiated by a board of East Boston residents, community organizations, and elected officials.
We are concerned that the Mass Dems have chosen to host this event at Suffolk Downs without reckoning with the history of the site or the effects that site development will have on the East Boston community. Our fight is not new, nor has it been quiet. A coalition of East Boston organizations and residents, of which we are a part, has been involved in the fight for years. Members of the movement hold positions within the Massachusetts Democratic Party. Bernie Sanders has publicly supported this fight. Mass Dems either knowingly ignored this movement, or they failed to consider it. Both are disappointing. We call on the Mass Dems to support PUEBLO’s fight for housing justice at Suffolk Downs and to stand with the East Boston community by issuing a statement that supports the above demands and recognizes their importance and urgency.
East Boston DSA
Boston DSA Housing Working Group