“Over 50 Chinatown community members walked out of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s fifth and final public meeting on the sale and redevelopment of Parcels 25 and 26”

July, 1, 2016 – Sampan

By the Chinese Progressive Association and the Asian Community Development Corporation

Yesterday evening starting at 6pm, MassDOT, along with the Boston Redevelopment Authority, held its fifth and final public meeting at the State Transportation building, where it unveiled the final guidelines and Invitation to Bid on Parcels 25 and 26. The Chinatown community has dedicated countless hours attending all five meetings and submitting oral and written comments during and after each meeting. The Chinatown community has patiently followed along with MassDOT’s public process, repeating the community’s needs time and time again. MassDOT has failed to respond in good faith and as a result the Chinatown community felt it had exhausted its options and was compelled to walk out en masse.

Parcels 25 and 26 are a 5.5 acre site located in the Chinatown Gateway and New Economy Development areas, nestled between the Chinatown and Leather District neighborhoods. It is one of the last remaining pieces of large, publicly-owned land located, in part, in the Chinatown neighborhood. The Interstate-93 is located on it, as well as the beloved Reggie Wong Park, an anchor of the Chinatown community used by generations of volleyball players and one of only two park spaces in all of Chinatown.

In the latest of four letters to MassDOT, crafted and signed by over twenty Chinatown organizations and individuals and submitted on June 17, the community called for affordable housing units that are truly affordable for Chinatown residents.  The average household earns less than $20,000, less than 30% of area median income (AMI) in the greater Boston area. The community also called for expansion of the Reggie Wong Park to accommodate more basketball/volleyball courts, greater protections for community access on the to-be-privately-owned site, and a temporary replacement during construction.

The final ITB indicates that 20% of all units should be affordable. But to the Chinatown community’s disappointment, 13% will be affordable to households earnings 70% AMI, in accordance with the city’s Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP) and out of reach for Chinatown incomes. The remaining 7% will have affordabilities ranging from 50% to 120% AMI. The average AMI of all affordable units will be 90%, meaning nearly all non-inclusionary units will also be out of reach for Chinatown incomes. As for Reggie Wong Park, although the final ITB allows for retention on-site at the same size, it did not meaningfully attempt to address our concerns regarding expansion and access.

Following the presentation of the final ITB at last night’s meeting and some comments from both Chinatown and the Leather District, MassDOT failed to respond to our concerns with anything besides for silence or the occasional platitude. Without recourse, nearly all Chinatown residents and approximately three quarters of the room walked out. Representatives from the Asian Community Development Corporation, Knights Chinese Athletic Club, Chinese Progressive Association, Chinatown Community Land Trust, and Caroline Chang, the sister of the late Reggie Wong, reading a letter by Reggie Wong’s wife Deanna Wong, all expressed frustration that their constant refrains seemed to fall on deaf ears. Suzanne Lee condemned the historical mistreatment the Chinatown community has endured, noting that in 70 years Chinatown “…has lost more than half of our community to the building of the expressway and the Mass Turnpike”, and every time [the City or State] turn[s] around, they expect the Chinese community to roll over for the common good.”  She then said she would take no more, inviting those who shared her frustration to walk out. This resulted in a mass exodus of over 50 Chinatown community members, including those of the above organizations as well as the Chinatown Residents Association, the Chinese Freemasons and Hurricanes Athletic Clubs, and many other Chinatown residents at-large.

While walking out of the meeting, De Shang Liang shouted, “This is not a democratic process.”  Xin Xing Wu, elderly resident and Steering Committee Member of Chinatown Residents Association said, “I have been coming to all of the community meetings, expressed my view and listened, but what the residents said was not heard.”

When MassDOT and the City made the joint announcement about Parcels 25 and 26 in February, the Chinatown community was heartened to hear Governor Baker’s statement that this ITB process is part of his administration’s effort to leverage state-owned properties not only to increase economic development but also to help solve the affordable housing crisis in Massachusetts. Chinatown is besieged as it attempts to fight back constant encroachment by the accelerating forces of gentrification and displacement. The redevelopment of Parcels 25 and 26 will have an enormous impact on our community for better or worse, with Chinatown’s fate hanging in the balance. As one of the most vulnerable yet beloved communities in Boston and beyond, the Chinatown community was truly disappointed to learn that this process was futile in meaningfully addressing our concerns and only succeeded in wasting their time. As a result, the community was left with no choice but to exit the process by exiting the room.

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