Homeless Rights Advocates Mistrustful of BRA Rebranding

On Wednesday, housing and homeless rights advocates wrote an open letter to the City Council and people of Boston reprimanding Mayor Walsh’s handling of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA). The letter coincided with Walsh’s announcement of the rebranding of the BRA, renaming it the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA).

Boston activist Mel King was one of the signatures who said that the actions of the BRA have consistently been out of line with the interests of Boston neighborhoods.

The BPDA has final say on developments in neighborhoods. The letter suggested that final say should instead be given to independent resident boards formed from members elected from within the community.

“It’s time for the people to take the power back,” King said.

King mentioned the creation of Tent City, a mixed income housing apartment complex in Back Bay. Without community activists, King said, “we would have had a giant parking lot at that location.”

Paul Johnson, the media contact for the authors of the petition, said he doesn’t necessarily think community boards should take over from the BPDA entirely, but he wishes the BPDA would consider the opinions of communities.

“We could have 365 community meetings a year with the BRA or none, it’s the same thing.” Johnson said. “The BRA will make whatever decision they want.”

He said they don’t have a solution yet; the letter’s intent is to get the conversation started.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that a city has to have a body in it that looks at planning needs and development needs,” King said.

But the BPDA doesn’t take into consideration human needs, King said.

“Roads and buildings are not development,” King said. “They can only be the tools if they facilitate the human development.”

According to Boston Magazine, the city hired design firm Continuum for the rebranding effort and paid it $670,000.

Jack Adams is a local writer and photographer who covers social justice issues around the Boston area.

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