BPDA moves to sell Dudley parcels
Oversight Committee votes over objections
City officials released draft requests for proposals for several large parcels of land in the Dudley Square area, setting in motion the process of selling off the last of the remaining publicly-owned lots in the area.
The plans, hashed out through meetings of the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee (RSMPOC) over the last two years, call for one-third of all new housing units built on the parcels to be affordable, one-third moderately affordable and one-third market-rate. The proposals seek a mix of commercial and residential with a strong preference for cultural uses for ground floor spaces.
The RFPs call on developers to state how their development projects will mitigate the displacement of longtime area residents, give preferences for development teams with significant participation of people of color and call for high participation of minority and women workers in construction and long-term jobs.
The release of the requests for proposals sparked controversy at last week’s Oversight Committee meeting, with activist groups and several elected officials urging the body to postpone its vote on the parcels for six months.
The groups Reclaim Roxbury and The Boston Jobs Coalition said the RFPs the city released contained housing affordability guidelines that don’t match the incomes of most Roxbury residents, did not have strong enough mandates for jobs for local residents and did not have strong guidelines ensuring neighborhood residents have say over the selection of developers for the land.
During the meeting, state Rep. Chynah Tyler and Kim Janey asked the RSMPOC members not to vote on the RFPs and called for a moratorium on all development on public land. Janey said the committee could undermine its legitimacy by ignoring the demands of the community it was formed to represent.
“What I worry about is that this entire process loses credibility when people feel like this has been jammed down their throats,” Janey said. “We want this to move forward. This is about making sure our voices are heard. This is about making sure there’s development that benefits the people who live in this community.”
State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz and city councilors Ayanna Pressley and Annssia Essaibi-George co-signed a letter with Janey and Tyler, requesting a 180-day moratorium on releasing RFPs for the city-owned parcels.
The Boston Planning and Development Agency’s (BPDA) guidelines for affordability in the Plan Dudley parcels mandate that one-third of rental units developed be deeded affordable to people earning between less than 30 percent of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s area median income for Greater Boston (less than $22,650 to $30,200 for a single renter). Another third would be deeded affordable to people earning between less than 50 percent and 80 percent ($37,350 to $60,400), while the remainder would be market rate, which carries no affordability guidelines.
The rents affordable to those income levels, according to the BPDA guidelines, would range from $547 a month for a one-bedroom apartment for an individual earning 30 percent of the AMI, to $1,042 at 50 percent and $1,459 at 80 percent. Market rate apartments of all sizes in Roxbury average $2,695 a month.
For ownership units, the BPDA guidelines call for a minimum of two-thirds of units to be affordable to buyers earning between 60 and 100 percent of the area median income ($45,300 to $75,500), with the average AMI not to exceed 80 percent. The remaining third would be market rate.
Community members complained that the affordability guidelines for rentals and homeownership did not match the incomes of people currently living in Roxbury, where the median income is currently $30,278.
“I think it’s pretty clear that everybody here wants you oversight members to not vote tonight,” said Reclaim Roxbury activist Armani White.
Sheila Dillon, the city’s chief of housing, acknowledged the concerns of community members in a statement released after the vote.
“The disposition of this land comes at a critical time for the Roxbury community, and we recognize that some valid community concerns remain,” she said. “That said, this is only the first step in a continuing conversation.”
The RFPs stipulate that 51 percent of construction jobs and long-term jobs go to Boston residents, 51 percent to people of color and 51 percent to women. Employees must be paid a living wage — defined as $16.89 an hour as of 2017 — and at least 75 percent of employees must be classified as full-time, working at least 30 hours a week.
Members of the Boston Jobs Coalition said the RFPs don’t adhere to the more stringent Good Jobs Standards adopted by the RSMPOC three years ago.
“Why should there be development on Roxbury’s public land that raises our cost of living without bringing good jobs that raise our incomes and create a financial foundation for our future,” members of the coalition wrote in a press statement circulated during last week’s meeting.
The BPDA’s Devin Quirk told meeting attendees that their input informed the drafting of the job standards and other policies for the RFPs.
“We wrote this with your help,” he said.
The parcels the city is seeking to develop are the former site of the Area B2 police substation on Dudley Street, opposite the Dudley bus terminal, the parking lot at the corner of Warren and Zielgler streets, the parking lot at the site of the former Blair’s Foodland supermarket on Warren Street, the parking lot next to Haley House at 2147-2163 Washington Street, Parcel 8 at the corner of Harrison Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, the so-called Crescent Parcel at the corner of Melnea Cass Boulevard and Tremont Street, Roxbury Street Parcels A and B at the corner of Roxbury Street and Malcolm X Boulevard, and 78-81 Dudley Street at the corner of Dudley Street and Harrison Avenue.
The one-third affordable, one-third moderate-income, one-third market-rate model, embraced in the Plan Dudley RFPs mirrors the South End Neighborhood Housing Initiative model hammered out between South End activists and the Boston Redevelopment Authority in the 1980s.
“We built this off the SENHI model,” BPDA Director of Operations Devin Quirk told the audience at the RSMPOC meeting last week.
Projects built under the SENHI guidelines include Langham Court on Worcester Street and Roxbury Corners on Northampton Street.
While the standard guideline for the development of new housing on both public and privately-owned land in Boston calls for 13 percent of housing in buildings with 10 or more units to have some level of below-market-rate affordability, the city has considerable latitude to demand higher affordability on publicly-owned land. The SNHI model has made somewhat of a comeback.
In Roxbury’s Fort Hill neighborhood, members of the Highland Park Neighborhood Association persuaded the Department of Neighborhood Development to agree to a one-third, one-third, one-third stipulation on public land for which the city is requesting development proposals. The RFPs for those parcels did not establish specific guidelines for incomes in the low or moderate range, and the proposals the city has received so far contain a range of incomes.