New $600 Million Development Breaks Ground in Fenway, Raises Gentrification Concerns

On Jan. 30, Fenway Center hosted a groundbreaking for a $600 million development project, which will include five new buildings, 550 residential units, and office and retail space, has been long-anticipated. The event was attended by Governor Charlie Baker, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, Boston Planning and Development Agency Director Brian Golden, and developer John Rosenthal.

A high-profile project located near the Massachusetts Turnpike that will be constructed in two phases, the development of Fenway Center promises to bring major changes to the Fenway neighborhood. The $240 million Phase One of the project has an expected completion date in 2020.

Marie Fukuda, board member at volunteer-run neighborhood group Fenway Civic Association, said that the association has been involved with the project and supports it for its expected benefits for pedestrian activity.

“The Fenway Center project has changed over the past 15 years as has the original project review body and our own board. We’ve been supporters of the project, especially creation of housing and the project goals to connect the Fenway over the turnpike and to enhance pedestrian activity,” Fukuda said.

Fukuda also added that the project will benefit the Fenway Community Center. “We’re particularly grateful for the commitment of the developer to transmit community benefits to the Fenway Community Center,” she said. “Fenway Center’s original project was to include a community center, but since the FCC was built during its protracted negotiation, the project team agreed to provide support to the existing center so as not to duplicate services.”

However, she voiced concerns about traffic, saying that Fenway is already a high-traffic area and the project could exacerbate that.

“Our concerns have included the large number of parking spaces attached to the development. The Fenway sees a large volume of vehicular traffic between medical, institutional, and cultural [or] entertainment uses, and with the enhancement of the commuter rail, our hope is to continue moving visitors towards those modes of transportation as the neighborhood grows.”

Though the Fenway Civic Association’s reception to the project has been largely positive, other organizations are more wary. Robert Terrell, executive director of anti-housing discrimination nonprofit The Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston, said that this major development in Fenway is part of a trend taking over all neighborhoods in Boston. Developments like Fenway Center, he said, contribute to the gentrification crisis.

“I think Boston obviously has a tremendous amount of development going on. We’re very concerned that some of that development unfortunately is causing displacement of residents because of rising property taxes, rents, etcetera. It’s a lot harder for low and moderate income people to find a decent place to live and a lot of people are finding themselves leaving the city,” Terrell said. “It’s a general concern throughout the city that a lot of this upzoning, putting a lot of units in a small area that most units are market rate…  This is a concern all over the city. You hear this in East Boston, you hear this in Mission Hill, you hear this in Dorchester and Roxbury.”

Displacement disproportionately affects people of color, Terrell added. “Displacement is having a disproportionate impact especially on people of color, families with children, people with disabilities,” he said. “We try to make sure in every discussion in the city and elsewhere about housing policy we always make sure fair housing is a part of that discussion so people will take into account how their housing policies may be unconsciously injuring certain groups of people.”

For Fenway Center specifically, Terrell said that though 15 percent of market rate units will be designated affordable, affordability is an ambiguous term. “If you’re building primarily market rate units we know who can afford those and who can’t. It’s not so much the development itself as the impact it has on the rest of the housing market in that community. The impact will lead to higher rents, if you’re a small property owner, your property taxes will go up. So one of the things we’re concerned about is what anti-displacement policies will the city put in place so that these folks are not negatively affected and pushed out,” Terrell said.

Richard Giordano, policy and community planning director at Fenway Community Development Corporation, voiced similar opinions about the development being market rate. “There isn’t a robust enough system in place to build the kind of affordable units that we really need in this city,” Giordano said. “We’ll see whether they’ve actually started to oversaturate to market with luxury housing.”

At Fenway CDC, the goal is to help elevate community voices, Giordano said, especially when the community is faced with major changes like developments. “We try and help residents become advocates for themselves.”

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