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Activists seek affordability at Suffolk Downs

Morgan C. Mullings
Staff reporter covering state and local politics. Report for America Corps Member. VIEW BIO
Activists seek affordability at Suffolk Downs
Demonstrators are calling for 20% of units built at the Suffolk Downs site to be affordable. COURTESY PHOTO

Just days before a Boston Planning and Development Agency vote on plans to develop housing at the former Suffolk Downs race track, a coalition called the People United in East Boston for Liberating and Organizing (PUEBLO), of which City Life/Vida Urbana is a member, protested at the site.

About 30 people gathered to share their disappointment with the plans for the former horse racing track.

Plans for the site, of which 109 acres are located in the city of Boston and the rest located in Revere, include the creation of several parks, mixed-use buildings and 7,000 units of housing.

Members of the PUEBLO Coalition demanded that developers up their commitment to affordable housing and environmental safety.

“The affordable units in the Suffolk Downs plan today target households earning an average of 70% [area median income], whereas the median income in East Boston median is 50% AMI, and approximately half of the Latinx households in Boston earn less than 30% AMI,” a PUEBLO spokesperson told the Banner.

Coalition members also want the developers, HYM Investments, to pursue net-zero carbon emissions on the site.

PUEBLO members met directly with Tom O’Brien, HYM’s managing director, to discuss more affordable housing on the property. HYM has since agreed to fund an additional 7% of affordable units, in addition to the minimum of 13% required by Boston’s Inclusive Development Policy.

But this concession failed to satisfy the coalition.

“Given that the Suffolk Downs Redevelopment Project is financed primarily by Texas-based oil billionaire William Bruce Harrison, it is a decision — not a lack of resources — that will prevent working-class people from being able to afford to live in Suffolk Downs,” PUEBLO members said in a statement.

Displacement of East Boston residents is another concern, and they’ve suggested that developers make an annual contribution to a stabilization fund.

“[It would] be used to keep current rent-burdened East Boston residents in their homes,” the group’s statement reads.

O’Brien responded in a statement, saying that he respects the group’s right to demonstrate and that HYM will continue to work with the surrounding community.

“For over three years we have worked closely with residents, neighbors, community leaders and elected officials to share our vision for Suffolk Downs and incorporate community feedback into our plans. We are committed to a resilient, transit-oriented project that contributes much-needed housing to the Boston region, and creates a community that reflects the rich history, culture and diversity of East Boston and Revere,” O’Brien said in his statement.

HYM has committed to investing funding for public roadways and bike lanes, conducting studies to evaluate climate change impacts, making donations to Building Pathways, and designating 10% of residential space as senior housing. In addition, 10% of the on-site retail space will go to local business owners.

The BPDA has a special meeting planned on Thursday, Sept. 24 to vote on the project. The agency said it has collaborated with the surrounding neighborhood to improve the level of affordable housing and that the hearing will provide another chance for residents to express their opinions on that.

“If approved, the affordable housing that will be created through the project represents the largest contribution of affordable housing created through one single private development project in City of Boston history,” said Brian Golden, director of the BPDA.

Members of the coalition did attend earlier multilingual meetings held by the BPDA and Spanish-only meetings held by HYM but said they had problems with inaccurate translation and the lack of room for participation. They planned to protest again at City Hall on Tuesday.

“By and large, the BPDA basically let HYM give their same exact presentation over and over again, making it clear that the meetings were about presenting to the community the development that will be imposed upon them,” coalition members said in a statement.

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