“Millennium Partners, pay your fees!”
“Jobs for our communities!”
During the Affordable Housing Parade on Sunday, March 30, a rainy day in Boston, Karen Chen, the 35-year-old Organizing Director of The Chinese Progressive Association, led the protest group in chants. A large sign, which read “We Can’t Afford Your Way of Life”, covered her upper body.
Over 50 residents from Boston’s Chinatown and Roxbury and Dorchester, Masachusetts, gathered at the Downtown Crossing area to protest against Millennium Partners, a developer corporation now building its fourth luxury tower around Chinatown. They shook bottles as noisemakers, beat on white bucket for drums, and walked in a rally from Macy’s to Boston Common and back.
“Residents in at least ten buildings in Chinatown are facing risks of displacement due to the luxury development,” Chen said.
“Multi-million dollar developers should not be taking tax breaks to build luxury housing without creating higher wage jobs and meeting the city’s construction hiring and affordable housing goals,” Boston Jobs Coalition, co-organizers of the rally, said in a press release. “It’s time to stop using our tax dollars to line developers’ pockets while hard-working families are pushed out of their communities.”
As reported by the Boston Globe in December, 2013, Millennium Partners received a $5.9 million discount on development fees for the construction of luxury housing in Boston, allowed by the Boston Redevelopment Authority. “First, they received $19 million in historical preservation tax credit, then another $7.8 million on the city tax break,” explained Chen.
“I come to Chinatown mostly to go shopping and to eat Chinese food,” Patrick Tai, 68, said in the rally, “but now, quite a few of my favorite Chinese groceries and restaurants are disappearing because the neighborhood’s changing and they can’t afford to continue their business or to pay their rent.”
Since 1990, when the Community Master Plan, which limited the height of buildings around Chinatown, was repealed, the neighborhood has experienced an influx in luxury buildings. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, Boston has become the fastest gentrifying city in the country.
The Caucasian population in Boston and Philadelphia’s Chinatowns doubled between 2000 to 2010, although the entire Caucasian population of each city decreased, revealed the report Chinatown: Then and Now. “For many Asian-Americans, Chinatown is an essential part of our heritage and history. But Chinatowns on the East Coast are on the verge of disappearing.” The report was conducted by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and focused on the three biggest Chinatowns on the East Coast, in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.
Regarding Philadelphia, the report said, “In 2009, residents defeated a proposal to build a 24-hour gambling casino less than two blocks from the first homes in Chinatown.” In New York, though the gentrification – a shift in an urban community to richer residents and increasing property values – is not as obvious as in Boston and Philadelphia, the city’s developers have converted many former factories into loft units selling for millions of dollars. Though the tenement buildings may retain the same exteriors, the landlords, who circumvent the City’s rent regulation laws, have increased the rent up to $3,000 per month. The steep rent has forced the original residents to move from their communities.
“I’m afraid that Chinatown would get smaller and smaller, and disappear one day. I don’t want that to happen,” Tai said.
All photographs courtesy of the author.