r Letter From Eastie: Preserving the Neighborhood?
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Collaged view of Boston, from East Boston

Letter From Eastie

News and other items from East Boston, Massachusetts.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Preserving the Neighborhood?

Gentrification is all the rage in Boston, especially, it seems, in Eastie. Everyone wants the waterfront developed, new parks built, and beautification of the neighborhood. But what about the increased rents that comes with these improvements? In the end, what gentrification has meant in the past is making the neighborhood too expensive for the neighbors, thus killing the neighborhood. Councilor Scapicchio, however, has a plan to try and lessen the downside of the process. According to the Weekly Dig:
“A little while ago, a new building went up at 226 Causeway,” Scapicchio explains. “There were 20 affordable units, and not one family from the area got in—it was all law students and graduates. I don’t think there was one family from anywhere. Something’s wrong with that.”

In response, Scapicchio filed legislation that would give some preference to neighborhood residents in Boston’s affordable housing lottery. Currently, the housing lottery is weighted toward city residents, as opposed to those seeking to move in from other places, and Scapicchio wants to add another tier of preference to the lottery, so that some affordable units—between one-fourth and one-fifth—would be set aside for residents of the neighborhood where the units are being built.

Scapicchio argues that the city has changed so much over the past 30 years—and even over the past 10—that racial integration no longer has to be the primary concern when shaping housing policy; in most neighborhoods, class, not race, should be considered most important. And nowhere is this more evident, Scapicchio argues, than in his own district, Eastie.

“East Boston is one of the most integrated neighborhoods in the city,” he says. “Salvadorans, Columbians, Irish and Italians all live next to each other. But as it’s becoming a desirable place to live, who’s getting forced out? It’s not just the old Italian families—it’s also the Latinos who are just putting their roots down in the neighborhood. We need to take care of these working folks who want to stay.”

Oddly enough, Scapicchio’s plan has received enthusiastic support from his colleagues who have traditionally been most sensitive to racial equality: Chuck Turner and Felix Arroyo.

“There is a lot more diversity in the neighborhoods now,” Arroyo says. “I’m not saying that diversity is not important. But the idea of a neighborhood is also important, and there’s a place for both concepts. If you can’t afford to live in the neighborhood you’ve lived in for 20 or 30 years, that shouldn’t be a penalty, regardless of race. Gentrification doesn’t integrate; gentrification displaces.”

“If you look at where these units are being developed, a vast majority are in JP, Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan,” Turner argues. “Affordable development is happening in communities that are very integrated, so a neighborhood preference would not do anything to offset the concept of integration.”

Of course, there is another side to the story:
Victoria Williams, director of Boston’s Office of Civil Rights, agrees. According to her, Scapicchio’s neighborhood preference plan runs counter to the letter and spirit of the Fair Housing Act —a charge that’s especially volatile, given the city’s past of fostering gross segregation in public housing.

“Preferences are not permitted because they’re an impediment to equal housing access,” Williams told the Dig. She said that a municipal preference for Boston residents is allowed “because of the change in demographics—the city is more diverse as a municipality. It’s important that people who live in the city be able to stay in the city, but anything smaller than [a citywide preference] would be an impediment to equal housing access, and illegal.”

Asked whether race should continue to define housing policy, even in the face of the city’s rapidly dwindling middle class, Williams responded, “Race is the lens through which we look at the Fair Housing Act, because racial groups are protected classes of people, and economic groups are not.” She added that Scapicchio’s plan “may sound racially neutral, but because the city’s neighborhoods are very homogeneous, what sounds neutral will have a disparate impact on protected categories of people.”

I think that this is a fair concern. Eastie is very diverse, perhaps one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Boston, but what works in East Boston will not necessarily work in every neighborhood. It also means that people, may get stuck in a neighborhood they don't want to be in anymore. I love East Boston, but what if I wanted to live in Dorchester or someone in Dorchester wants to move to Eastie. I realize affordable housing is not the only option available, but for some people it may be the only option that will work. I do think, however, that Scapicchio's concerns about families moving into these new places is valid, however, in my opinion, many of these new developments are not really family-friendly designs. For example, the condos at Porter 156 are "loft-style condos." Some of them are reserved for low-income housing. I'm not saying you couldn't raise a family in a loft-style apartment, but I don't think that they really appeal to families either. I don't know what the answer to these questions are, but I'm glad to know that our city councilors are at least thinking about them.


  • At 4:21 AM, Blogger the sak said…

    FAQ Frequently asked question about our Boston City Council.
    What is Section 17F a section of?.

    Please send by email dsaklad@zurich.csail.mit.edu
    Section 17F or the whole of what Section 17F is a section of...

    Or make available at http://letterfromeastie.blogspot.com
    or have made available at
    what Section 17F is a section of.

    It did not appear to be part of http://cityofboston.gov/citycouncil/councilmeeting.asp

  • At 12:18 PM, Anonymous Calla said…

    I was unsure about moving to East Boston at first, because I have grown up in terribly homogenous places. But I moved for the cheap rent, and I wouldn't change a thing (well, I'd maybe ask for a closet in my bedroom...) and I think that the diversity in East Boston is the best thing about it. The other day, a woman got on the train next to me with an adorable dog, and by now I knew enough Spanish to find out the dog's name and how old it was. That's something I couldn't have done if I'd stayed back in suburban Worcester. I love it here more than South Boston, where I lived before. South Boston was not as friendly, it was isolated and cold. My neighbors were irate and unpleasant. All my neighbors are great in East Boston. I'd hate to see the neighborhood gentrified into more homogenity.


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