Gentrification in Chinatown Raises Demand for Affordable Housing

Photo By Douglas Yu

CHINATOWN, Mass.—“It has long been gentrified,” A Chinatown resident exclaimed with a heavy sigh as he walked toward his apartment in Tai Tung Village, one of the early housing projects for low-income Chinatown residents.

Tai Tung Village is a gray, medium-sized high-rise surrounded by other rundown-looking apartments. A family of four only needs to pay around $600 per month for rent and utilities. Most of the residents work at local Chinese restaurants.

However, luxury buildings like the Kensington building and the 660 Washington St. apartments, now overshadow older, low-income apartments.. These new apartments start at $30,000 for one bedroom and one bathroom. According to a new study by the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA), the new apartment buildings have also doubled Chinatown’s white population in recent years.suX8Gch-nKMNl2Sc9u401PytqeuJKWVQgnPgqV05YIo

“Chinatown exists in name only,” Henry Yee, Co-Chair of the Chinatown Residents Association (CRA), told SPARE CHANGE NEWS through a translator.

“The white people who live in Chinatown are from everywhere,” Yee said. “Their incomes are a lot higher [than the Chinese residents], and they can afford to live in those luxury buildings.”

According to the CPA, the average income for a Boston resident is $50,000 per year, as compared to $20,000 per year in Chinatown. That leaves expensive new apartments well out of range for older immigrants who are not fluent in English and maintain restaurant-industry jobs.

According to Yee, gentrification has forced more and more Chinese immigrants out to neighborhoods like Quincy and Malden, where they can actually afford to live.

“Quincy is the new Chinatown,” he explained.

Indeed, the Asian population in Malden has tripled since 1990 according to

Yee moved to Boston’s Chinatown in the early ’60s. As a residents of Tai Tung Village, he has witnessed his prominent cultural community in the hub of Boston give way to a booming source of profit for wealthy investors.

“In the past, the building next to the main gate of Chinatown that says ‘Welcome to Chinatown’ used to be twice as big,” Yee said. “Then the expressway cut Chinatown into two parts.”

CPA’s organizing director, Karen Chen, said that the Rose Kennedy Greenway’s construction displaced 300 Chinese families.

Not far from the Rose Kennedy Greenway, there is a piece of lawn that is a little bit smaller than a football field, called Parcel 24. In 2000, the Asian Community Development Corporation made an effort to return the site to the Chinatown community.

“Chinatown is the city’s golden area,” Yee said. “Many developers are eyeing the profit of every inch of this neighborhood. But we need Chinese people to stay in their own community.”

stlIzKUf2vF5vk7SYfIl6veUlZkwmPJTzF8-CNgXRmoLast month, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh joined the Chinese Economic Development Council, construction companies and some Chinatown residents to celebrate the groundbreaking of the One Greenway Housing Project, which is now being built on Parcel 24.

According to New Boston Real Estate Investment Funds, the housing project will “revitalize the area and supply affordable housing in Chinatown.”

A recent CPA rally [see  demand more affordable housing, Boston’s director of neighborhood development, Sheila Dillon, mentioned that a family of four needed to make around $67,000 a year to qualify for affordable housing.

The rent of One Greenway ranges from $2,500 for a studio to $5,500 for a three-bedroom apartment. Due to their severely low income, Chinese people in Chinatown still find it hard to afford this so-called “affordable housing.”

“So many Asian restaurants are closed and people are moving away,” Yee said. “It’s hard to tell, but in the next 10 years, my Chinatown may no longer exist.”