A tenant’s thanks to Chang-Díaz

May 27, 2011
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Let me tell you the story of Parkton Road, a short, bendy street about two blocks from Hyde Square, in the shadow of the Jamaicaway Tower, where I’ve lived as a renter since 2005. In the year 2000, about 16 percent of the houses on Parkton were condos; by the time I arrived in 2005, 34 percent of the street had been condo-ized; last year, the number was 45 percent. The average value of a three-family house skyrocketed from $216,000 in 2000 to a high of $822,000 in 2007.

It should be clear from this example that Whole Foods did not create gentrification in Hyde Square, but we all know it will rapidly accelerate this process. To suggest, as some have, that Whole Foods is merely a symptom of gentrification and not worth getting all riled up about is a bit like dismissing concern for another deep wound inflicted on an already bleeding patient. The moral response is to stop all the bleeding! This means addressing Whole Foods and the many other factors making JP unaffordable for low- and middle-income residents.

The Whole Foods deal was followed by a series of statements from elected officials at the city and state level. All of them recognized the real danger of rising rents and displacement, but they lacked any vision or proposal for protecting tenants in the neighborhood. Only a recent statement from Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz has asked Whole Foods to invest in affordable housing in Hyde Square or to reconsider opening their doors (“Senator: No Whole Foods without a housing fund,” May 13). This took a lot of courage given the divisiveness of the issue, and I hope that residents from both sides realize that we are really discussing something more than Whole Foods.

I have a little book on my shelf called “Streets of Hope,” which is about the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Roxbury. DSNI became the first community organization in the country given the power of eminent domain to develop their own neighborhood, to deal with vacant lots and shuttered windows, to clean up the streets, and to bring jobs and cultural vitality to the neighborhood: in the words of the authors, to create “development without displacement.” It’s a nearby example that makes our squabble over a single store feel totally inadequate as a discussion about the future of Hyde Square. Being supportive of economic development that will gentrify the neighborhood is not, I believe, a moral position – it’s a vision of the neighborhood that excludes many of us. Simply being opposed to those developments is also totally unacceptable: my years on Parkton Road will be limited even if stacks of plantains still graced the entrance to the Hi-Lo.

We need to learn from the lessons of Dudley Street and start talking about how we can create community-led “development without displacement,” with participation from renters and homeowners, oriented towards the improvements and growth that gentrification does bring with it, but that we can all be a part of.

Benjamin Day
Jamaica Plain

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