As a lifelong resident of Roxbury and Jamaica Plain, I stand with hundreds calling for real affordable housing and racial justice. We are your history, present, and future. We are diverse: in age, race, class, gender, and lifestyle. And we are your neighbors. We are united by a fundamental premise: our community and city are strong because of our racial and economic diversity, and everyone deserves a place to live.
Residents in the JP/Rox area are two-thirds people of color. Fifty percent make less than $35,000 annually. Seventy percent make less than $75,000. Traditionally, we are the people least listened to—the first to be displaced in the furor of “improvements.” The City speaks of protection, but this only occurs if our voices are truly heeded. Sixty-four percent of new housing is for households making $100,000-plus annually. Only 5 percent is for households making less than $35,000. Five-hundred square foot studios are $2000 per month, and the few 2-plus bedroom apartments will be $3000-plus. About 35 percent of new residents will be people of color. This does not value the needs of residents from diverse incomes. Furthermore, targeting select moderate-income neighborhoods for density without strong protections increases prices locally.
We are called “uncivilized,” “unrealistic,” and “anti-growth.” These false claims are disconcerting given the racial overtones. To be clear: we want new housing and want to participate in community development. We urge managed growth informed by infrastructure studies. We welcome new neighbors. We just don’t want growth at the expense of the existing vibrant community.
To update Martin Luther King, many “consider themselves sincerely committed to justice. … They believe that American society is essentially hospitable to fair play and to steady growth toward a middle-class Utopia embodying racial harmony. But unfortunately this is a fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity.” Rather than comfortably ignore injustice, we ask that community members recognize the disparate racial and economic impacts the plan has, and insist on a just plan.
We’ve advocated for the City to release data and meet with residents. We’ve spoken with land use experts and developers, and carefully analyzed the City’s own data and models. We know the plan can include more affordability while encouraging development. And we are looking for middle ground. The plan includes 36 percent affordability of total new housing; this is progress but can be better. We now ask for 55 percent affordability in new housing and 35 percent in private developments, less than our original asks. We want lower, truly affordable rents. Visit http://keepit100boston.nationbuilder.com for more analysis, and additional changes many groups support around height, displacement, and jobs.
Those at the bottom, and increasingly those in the middle, are told: “The time will come when this will be taken care of.” But trickle-down housing does not work. The planned housing is not truly affordable and doesn’t help the working class. It simply means displacement. We call on BPDA, DND, and the Mayor to improve the plan to truly preserve diversity while encouraging growth. Work with community members to create a place for all.
Sommer is a lifelong resident of Roxbury and Jamaica Plain and part of the collective Keep It 100 for Real Affordable Housing and Racial Justice, which is part of the broader Neighborhood Alliance.