Still a Lot of Questions Need to Be Answered
Next week the Bunker Hill Housing Redevelopment IAG will meet for what the developer has described as a wrap up meeting. With so many questions still open, including among others, design recommendations from the Boston Civic Design Commission and a robust discussion about mitigation and community benefits, I’d say it’s wishful thinking on developers’ part.
But it is indicative of how the process has been going so far. I see the troops marching down the field, plowing down the perceived opposition. Once again it’s divide and conquer. If you ask too many questions, you want to kill the project. If you try to save more trees, you don’t care about the BHA residents’ living conditions.
I had hopes at the beginning of this process that the community would work with the developers as partners, raising concerns and finding mutually agreeable solutions. But what I’ve come to realize is that it’s the developers’ way or the highway. Yes, they listen, then toss us a few crumbs to say they’ve responded.
Several times I have heard the developers say that this project practically mitigates itself. What was left unsaid but was implied, is that we, the Charlestown community, should be saying thank you rather than challenging them to make the project better, and risk them walking.
So the mitigation and community benefit package shared at the last IAG meeting was a disappointment but not a surprise. We were presented with a list of ‘community benefits’ that one would expect to be standard for any project this size, such as security, street lights, a community center, retail, etc. Most of these directly benefit the developers and their ability to attract market rate renters and lower operating costs, not the broader community.
I have asked numerous times for a breakdown of the City and State investment in this project. While I assume the developers have calculated it for their own financials, we have yet to receive anything other than a confusing graph showing how much in LIHTC they’re saving the State by not financing all 1010 BHA units that way. I am still waiting and expect a detailed response before this phase is approved.
Nonetheless I roughly calculate the value of the free land, waiver of taxes and fees, LIHTC and infrastructure investment to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. These are our tax dollars, our financial stake in this project, and for the developers to act as if they are doing us a favor by building out this project with its many cut corners is to play us for fools.
While my list is not exhaustive, I have outlined some of my concerns and recommendations regarding the mitigation and community benefits proposed by the developer.
Transportation: The proposed mitigation measures appear woefully inadequate to address the impact on public transportation and the streets surrounding the project. Even the proposed traffic signal at intersection of Bunker Hill, Medford and Main Streets mentioned in the DPIR has disappeared. The developers need to provide a detailed contribution schedule for this $500,000 fund and the assumptions they used to arrive at the budgeted amount. If after studies and pilots this fund is depleted, the developers must be required to commit to mitigate the actual impacts regardless of the cost and it must be so written into the regulatory agreement.
Subsidized retail space: The developers’ commitment of subsidizing 10% of the retail space should be increased to 20% or 10,000 sq. ft.
Community benefit fund: $500,000 contributed in dribs and drabs over 10-15 years is a non-starter. This should be doubled to $1 million for the first phase, with additional payments of $500,000 (adjusted for inflation) for each subsequent phase. Since many residents of this development will likely have to travel beyond the premises for recreational activities, this pot of funding should be wholly dedicated to off-site recreational, sports and wellness facilities.
Workforce housing: At some point in just about every meeting regarding development in Charlestown, someone brings up the need for housing for folks who want to stay in town but can’t afford to. It’s about time that we find ways to create housing for families that make between 80-120% area median income. I propose the developers seed a development fund for workforce housing for Charlestown residents with $10 million for the first phase and a contribution of an additional $1 million (adjusted for inflation), for each subsequent phase.
Mitigation and community benefits at each phase: Since this project has proposed 11 phases over 10-15 years, it’s unrealistic to think we can anticipate its impacts over that length of time. As part of the community process for each phase, whether it’s Article 80 or design review, negotiations regarding mitigation and community benefits must be reopened to allow for adjustments and additions.
Regulatory agreement : The IAG must have the opportunity to review and comment on any and all regulatory or other legal agreements between the developers and the City before they are approved or voted on.
I will submit these points in my comments to the BPDA. I encourage you to also send comments, even if the deadline has passed. Our voices must and should be heard.
Bunker Hill IAG Member
Seeks to Extend Comment Period
As of today, 317 Charlestown residents have signed a petition requesting that the comment period for Bunker Hill Housing Redevelopment (BHHR) project be extended through 1/15/21. This petition has been sent to Mayor Walsh and we are awaiting his response.
Those of us who support this request recognize that there is an urgent need to provide safe housing for Bunker Hill BHA residents and we ask that the development team present a plan that provides for the short term needs of the residents, to be established as a provision prior to Phase 1 approval.
The residents of the Bunker Hill housing development are being poorly served by their landlords. One look at overflowing dumpsters with no covers and it’s no wonder that rats are a constant and harrowing nuisance. Basic building repairs take too long if they get done at all. This is unacceptable and must be resolved immediately regardless of what the City’s long term goals for redevelopment involve.
The development team claims that its top priority is to provide better homes for the BHA residents, and have presented a long term plan as a means of doing so. A long term plan is simply not enough when there are serious problems that need to be dealt with today.
We must demand, in no uncertain terms, that a short term plan, one which provides safe and livable conditions for the residents/families that are trying to survive, like the rest of us, during a pandemic, be developed and implemented immediately. The BHA’s claim that it would be an unsound investment to put money into buildings that may eventually be demolished, misses the point: There are children, parents, and grandparents, living in deplorable conditions within our one square mile neighborhood TODAY and they deserve a short term plan/solution that will allow them to live in safe, clean homes while the larger/long term plan takes shape. Any investment that has the potential to improve the lives of the residents, in this moment, is worthy and wise.
As members of the Charlestown community we must demand better for our neighbors while the various phases of a years-long process unfolds. Many of these residents whose buildings are part of later phases won’t be able to move into new buildings for years to come.
Are we really going to stand by silently while the BHA refuses to spend money on the short term because they plan to spend money in the future? Treating people with dignity means getting rid of the rats now, not later. It means making a plan that takes care of residents in the short term as well as the long term.