All photos: Alejandro Ramirez
After a public meeting full of disruption from affordable housing advocates and a nearly 48 hour sit-in at the mayor’s waiting room, the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) passed the contested Plan JP/Rox development plan.
Advocates, mostly from Jamaica Plain’s Keep It 100% for Egleston, packed the hearing on Thursday night and made their voices heard despite the fact there was no official time slated for public comments. Chairman Timothy Burke repeatedly told advocates not to interrupt Housing Chief Sheila Dillon and BPDA staffers’ presentation of the plan but advocates defied him several times, and disruptors were escorted out of the room by police.
Advocates were pressuring the city and BPDA to push for more affordable housing in the plan, which would affect neighborhoods in Jamaica Plain and Roxbury.
They stood up holding large signs, interrupted speakers with their demands, at times consecutively.
“We were ready and willing to put ourselves on the line today,” said Modesto Sanchez after the meeting. Sanchez himself was a resident of Jamaica Plain’s Egleston Square, until rising rents forced his family out of the neighborhood, and says the plan still doesn’t help the people who live in the areas affected by the plan. “Most of the people who live in Egleston make between $20,000 and $35,000 a year,” said Sanchez, saying they couldn’t afford the average market rate unit. “Their plan would still change the face of the neighborhood and erase the culture that’s there now.”
Plan developers, however, claimed Plan JP/Rox was as affordable as possible, and, at a 36 percent affordability rate, was likely more affordable than other neighborhood developments in Boston.
“We’re very committed to those affordability rates,” said Dillon, adding that the plan did a good job of paying attention to the area’s demographics — including the economic and ethnic diversity of the area. She also said that advocates played a big role in developing the current plan, having increased affordability and shaping other aspects.
The plan that passed calls for 36 percent of all future units to be affordable for people making 50 percent of the area median income (or, those earning around $50,000 per year for a family of four). Nineteen percent of so-called density bonus units — extra affordable units created in exchange for building more densely packed housing — will be priced for the 50 percent AMI range.
Advocates, however, pushed for a 55 percent affordability rate, and for 25 percent of bonus units to be affordable to folks making 40 percent of the AMI.
The meeting was full of tense moment. BPDA Chairman Timothy Burke called a recess early at one point when advocates disrupted the presentation, and called for police to escort interrupting activists out of the room. At one point, three officers surrounded a young man,, who maintained he was just trying to listen to the presentation. Eventually, they allowed him to remain. Other activists called the hearing and planning process racist as they were removed.
Before the Plan JP/Rox hearing, Boston city councilor Tito Jackson, testifying against another development in Roxbury, voiced support for the Keep It 100 organizers.
Advocates spent days earlier this week trying to pressure the city to change the plan. On Tuesday afternoon 80 advocates occupied the room outside Mayor Marty Walsh’s office. After a discussion with Economic Development Chief John Barros, who voiced support for some of their demands, eight of them spent the night in the waiting room, kicking off two nights of sit-ins. An advocate told Spare Change News the sit-in concluded shortly before Thursday’s BPDA hearing.