Anti-gentrification group assails Dot Bay City housing plans

The UMass Boston Coalition Against Gentrification – a group composed of campus union and student organization members – hosted a virtual campus community “Teach-In” last Thursday afternoon in protest of the negative economic, racial, and environmental impacts they say the current Dorchester Bay City (DBC) development proposal would have on neighboring communities. 

During the virtual meeting, representatives of Undergraduate Student Government, faculty from the UMB Urban Planning and Community Development Department, and community organizers from the Asian American Resource Workshop and anti-gentrification alliance DotNot4Sale called on UMass, the City of Boston, and the DBC developer to engage with Dorchester’s communities of color and other working-class communities to develop a DBC plan that increases affordable housing, slows displacement, generates good jobs and training opportunities for underrepresented groups, and addresses other community needs. 

Ken Reardon, a UMB professor and director of the master’s program in Urban Planning and Community Development, outlined the coalition’s concerns and demands in a slideshow, underscoring the obligation the university has to its majority Black and Brown student and faculty body, many of whom live in adjacent neighborhoods that could face fallout from the project.

While acknowledging the more than $200 million in revenue that the development would generate for UMass Boston, Reardon decried the “wholly inadequate” number of affordable housing units provided for in the proposal, warning of a “ripple effect” of gentrification that could spread from the site into nearby Dorchester communities.

“We do not oppose the development of the former Bayside Expo site owned by the UMBA (University of Massachusetts Building Authority),” said Reardon. “However, we adamantly oppose the DBC proposal in its current form, which is likely to further exacerbate residential and commercial displacement while creating another racially and socially segregated enclave built, to a large extent, on publicly owned land in our city.”

The current DBC proposal also falls short, contended Reardon, in its lack of physical linkages between the new district and the existing community, its failure to address existing gridlock around Kosciusko Circle with a multi-modal transportation plan, and its absence of community facilities such as a daycare, health center, or library.

Listing provisions that the UMB Coalition Against Gentrification would like to see incorporated into the proposal, Reardon called for a community benefits agreement that “outlines specific policies, programs, and commitments to ensure long-time residents a fair share of project related employment, entrepreneurial and business opportunities,” and an internal cross-subsidy program that would “enable longstanding community businesses and non profits to secure space within the project.”

The developer of the project, Accordia Partners, is currently preparing a Draft Project Impact Report (DPIR) in response to a scoping determination issued by the BPDA. A similar process is under way at the state level, where the developer is preparing a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) in accordance with the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA). These reports often take months to complete.

Pushback against the DBC proposal comes at a time when the affordable housing crisis is a top priority for many Bostonians: a recent poll conducted by MassINC Polling Group in partnership with the Dorchester Reporter and WBUR showed that “housing costs” was the single biggest issue for 18 percent of respondents, second only to Covid-19, which polled at 27 percent overall.

At Thursday’s meeting, representatives from local grassroots groups aired grievances about the slow creep of displacement they say is threatening the neighborhood, offering Dot Block as another example of a development with inadequate provisions for truly affordable housing.

A Community Advisory Committee (CAC) convened for the DBC project that is comprised mainly of experts, business owners, and civic association members gives unfair representation to voices of homeowners and excludes those of renters, they argued.

Markeisha Moore, a member of DotNot4Sale, pointed out that the Area Median Income (AMI) in Dorchester is $48,500, a figure well below the 60 percent AMI benchmark suggested for the proposal. Moore challenged the metrics of that benchmark, which the city calculates with the inclusion of wealthier towns in the Greater Boston area like Sudbury and Wellesley. 

“I’m at the whim of people who have money and resources to make decisions about my life,” said Moore. “A thing on public land should benefit the community that already exists here.”

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