From: Derek Lumpkins <email@example.com>
Date: Sat, Apr 12, 2014 at 10:01 PM
Subject: Recap: Rounding Up the Square
In my ongoing efforts to share my views on confronting the issue of economic gentrification facing our community, I am sharing my response to a public email discussion regarding the issues of economic empowerment and the role of affordable housing.
I agree with your perspective in your December 23rd article “Building a Sustainable Economy”: that building affordable housing in Roxbury or elsewhere is not a solution to the problem of those with low incomes, living in a city with an economy geared to the income of the affluent.
Your statement “So why don’t we just figure out how to make the poor richer in a sustainable way” focuses our attention on what I believe is our major problem as a county. The reality is that this country is operated in a way that diminishes the opportunity for a majority of black people, people of color, and working class whites in this country to benefit economically.
The problem that plagues us now and has plagued black people during our four hundred year experience in this country is that the objective of those in control has been to keep us in a situation of servitude that served and serves their needs.
History demonstrates that people of color and working class whites have been in a similar situation. For a brief period in the middle of the last century, this was not as clear for working class whites but it certainly in clear now. Obviously, the strategy applied to Native Americans was to wall them off. However, while we need to learn from the past, we must use this knowledge to deal with the present.
^ fortress forbidding : concept = The Pentagon
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On Monday night I attended the monthly “Working Session” of a group named, in exquisite bureaucreat-speak, the “Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee.” We met at the Central Boston Elders Services offices, 2315 Washington Street — scene of many many Roxbury planning meetings over the years, some intense, some sleepy.
The members of this committee — we’ll call it RSMPOC if you please — have been tasked, as they would say, with guiding a reconstruction of the Whittier Street Housing Project. They take their brief seriously. Grave expressions adorn the faces of all. There isn’t a “youth’ among them. The RSMPOC has experience; look upon it as a Board Of Wise Folk.
^ the Board of Wise Folk waits…
Before these Wise Folk came several representatives from the Boston housing Authority (BHA), which operates the current Whittier Street. Among the team was an architect. He offered up a picture show of artist’s renderings, of what the repackaged Whittier Street might look like. To my eyes, it wasn’t pretty. Whittier Street fronts on Tremont Street, a throughway kind of avenue along which, long ago, comfy buildings — some brick, others of wood — leathered up like well-broken in baseball gloves. Though the avenue was broad, the dwellings and shops along it had a day-in-the-park kind of look; They were neighborly, their doorways a handshake, their windows a wink of the eye. But that was then. Today the slice of Tremont Street onto which Whittier Street fronts is hemmed in by obese buildings as overweening as a Green giant — if the Green giant were made of glass and steel. These giants look like FBI offices and smell like interrogation rooms, conferences, offices whose staff always say “oh you want the office next door’ instead of ‘can i help ?” In short, the architecture lined along Tremont Street has no soul, no face, no name. It isn’t people.
This already being the case, a case that needs be stopped before it spreads, imagine my dislike as I watched the BHA architect — a slender man with a slender grin and slim eyes behind eyelid spectacles — display a Whittier Street fronted by yet more steel and glass giants and backed by densely confrontational low-rise row housing. This could just as well have been — more likely should have been — a Pentagon annex than anybody’s housing. But there it was. The look of a project, shiny and new and as function-minimal as a box cutter.
^ are we not people ? are we box cutters ? — a Whittier Street function-minimal
I suppose that to the residents of Whittier Street public housing, any new residence to which they give you a key accords better than a shelter or a doorway; but for not much extra cost, the new Whittier Street could offer those who will be slated to reside there something more than a cargo room of walls painted hospital bathroom green.
And who will be offered a place in the new project — if it actually gets built ? Clearly, current Whittier Streeters should get first call; just as clearly, a mix of income levels and cultures should be invited. That’s what the new Roxbury might just achieve, if it’s lucky.
District Councillor Tito Jackson ^ sat in the audience — maybe 25 people in all — and engaged both the BHA people and the Oversight Committee in discussion of what, when, how, and what for. Sitting next to him, but not asking questions, was Whittier Street’s State Senator, Sonia Chang-Diaz (^). Also in attendance was the grand old lady of Whittier Street push-back, State Representative Gloria Fox. She talked on her cell phone sometimes, berated the Committee at others. Her basic message has always been “get it done, we are people too.” Good luck with that.
The RSMPOC meetings go on. We were handed a schedule of meetings for the full 2014 year, monthly, of “Working sessions” and, on different dates, of Public Meetings. Nothing in this schedule indicates that the new Whittier Street will likely be sent happily on Approval Highway at any time soon.
After all, these plans have long since passed their sell-by date.
Future residents of Whittier Street surely are tired of waiting. Present residents too. My own view is, “better to wait for the right dwelling than rush to a mistake. The project-like concept pictured to us by the BHA architect misses every mark. Is there some reason why the land upon which the current Whittier Street sits can’t now host the kind of neighborly, three story homeyness found right next door in Madison Park and all along Washington Street from Guild Street to Egleston square ? The BHA project does envision some row-house townhouses, especially along next-block Ruggles Street. Why not build the same along Tremont Street ? If Green giant buildings are needed — apartments above retail and restaurants, as one finds a-building along Boylston Street in the Fenway — then fine: but add some design to their facings, some curvature and filigree so that Tremont Street doesn’t look like a pathway of lilliputians walled in by Yahoos.
We are building for people, after all. People have souls as well as jaws and torsos.
citizen discussion was lively and pointed. was the RSMPOC listening ?
Of course the designs being hawked at Monday’s meeting arose during the Tom M mayor decades. we now have a new Mayor with a very different persona and an almost informal way about him. Of construction, he first of all cares about his Building Trades “sisters and brothers.” On that, he is solid rock. Flexible, however, may be his toward design. He professes to care deeply about actual people. Perhaps before 2014 ends we will see that sort of “Walsh effect” at work on the shape and feel of a new Whittier Street. And maybe not.
—- Mike Freedberg / Roxbury Here
Recent revelations, in the Boston Globe,of BRA dealings that benefit developers at the expense of a process that serves the community is nothing new!
As if we need reminding, Bartlett Yard/Place (the old MBTA bus garage in Roxbury) recently got BRA zoning commission approval.
The zoning commission process differs from zoning board of appeal (ZBA) approval. There, the principal community notification happens on the BRA web site, where community rebuttal to developer plans seemed dismissed (petition signed by nearly 90 community members to stop development because home ownership was not included in the first phase of development) in an effort to clear the way for developers to move forward.
Having that process move forward, without a clear community input on shaping the outcome of a project, is what we’ve been dealing with since not long after the ink had dried on the Bartlett RFP (request for proposal). Given that community input has been woefully marginalized, our only remaining recourse is to sue.
And now, a quick word to :Undersecretary Gornstein of Housing and Community Development for the State of Massachusetts: Mr. Gornstein, Nuestra does not have the required community support to move forward, but they’ll move forward anyway under this system and continue to destroy our community. Please continue to deny them funding!
The Bartlett RFP has very clear guidelines fora mix of housing affordability. the developer, Nuestra, is violating these in the very first phase of development, putting at risk the entire economic sustainability not only of the project, but also of the entire Roxbury neighborhood. Exactly three years ago, I wrote to the Bay state Banner a “letter to the editor” that I quote below. Home ownership was taken off the table at Atkins apartments too, a development done by Nuestra. Should we be surprised that Nuestra is delaying home ownership at Bartlett? Home ownership has yet to be incorporated at Atkins. What assurance do we have for Bartlett?
Putting economic sustainability at risk in neighborhoods in dire need of it is nothing new either. The community input that helped craft the Bartlett RFP understood this need for sustainability and insisted on income balanced housing — including an element of home ownership. The home ownership requirement spelled out in the RFP has been delayed because the developer cannot find funding — despite having the required community input.
What should trouble members of our community and what this latest Globe BRA article shines a light on: how continued abuse of power — Tom Menino’s legacy to Boston’s neighborhoods struggling for economic equality — impacts our community.
It’s no mystery that developers are eager to meet on January 2 of 2014, to the chagrin of the Walsh administration. With a BRA culture that spurns and mocks the very community input required to make development successful, and as bias and collusion continue, unchecked by oversight, it’s no wonder an envelope need never be passed. Or perhaps the envelop has morphed into a hefty campaign contribution. It’s time to put an end to the BRA and its culture.
The damage in Menino’s legacy has been tragic and devastating. The data cannot be refuted. As the Globe article states, the city, through the BRA, has and is prepared to put down millions on affordable housing projects in Roxbury, while in more affluent neighborhoods in Boston, developers are allowed to opt out of providing affordable housing (i.e. Back Bay/Beacon Hill, Central in the table below).
Menino’s own neighborhood of Hyde Park is next to the bottom for affordable housing options (7.3%). Not setting a very good example for affordable housing Mr. Mayor. Affordable housing should be regionally shared, it shouldn’t be concentrated in one community or neighborhood. Affordable housing units all but dominate all housing units in Roxbury at nearly 45%. If you include section 8 certificates, affordable units comprise well more than half of Roxbury housing — and that’s unsustainable!
Add to Menino’s legacy: a quadrupled wealth gap between whites and people of color in Boston under his tenure; failed schools; a diversity record, at city hall and on local construction sites, that’s far from inclusive.
Leadership for our community that doesn’t support a vision of development in which our struggle for economic mobility and parity will not change for the better, and we will remain poor !
Does the incoming Walsh administration’s vision of our future make similar assumptions ? Will Walsh make good on BRA reform?
Accountability is key! It’s time to dig in!
— Rodney Singleton / Seen From the Hill