Letters to the Editor

Cardinal Supports the New Independence Inn Project

To the Editor,

The following is a letter to Arthur Jemison and BPDA Board Members,

In recent times it has become evident that many Boston residents cannot afford a safe and secure residence. The affordability issue for wage earners whose incomes cannot cover escalating rents and the circumstances of people who are burdened with health care needs for which they have inadequate support are driving an increasing number of people into homelessness. These citizens require our shared efforts to meet their needs and to build a community where the most vulnerable are safe and cared for. It is in that spirit that I share my support the Planning Office of Urban Affairs’ plans to develop the new Independence Inn at the site of the former Constitution Inn at the Charlestown Navy Yard.

We hold access to safe, affordable housing is a basic human right. The BPDA has approved a number of properties to support the needed housing, which strengthens the City of Boston. It is my hope that you will approve the Planning Office proposal for Independence Inn, with the assurance that we stand behind this proposal as a long-term partner, committed to contributing to the success of the Charlestown community. The Planning Office, under Bill Grogan’s leadership, has given significant time and effort to incorporate the input received from the review of the project by Charlestown residents, particularly Navy Yard residents. We are appreciative that their observations and recommendations strengthened the proposal.

In responding to the needs of the most vulnerable members of our community, Boston becomes stronger. Thank you for all you do address the housing needs for all our city’s residents.

Sincerely yours,

Seán Patrick O’Malley

Archbishop of Boston

Stop Rushing Re-Zoning: Squares and Streets

To the Editor,

A loud and clear call for the BPDA to pause on Squares and Streets is emanating from neighborhoods across the city. Specifically, nearly 120 Boston residents representing 20 organizations and 17 neighborhoods signed a letter to Chief of Planning James Arthur Jemison of the BPDA. 

Our neighbors assert that the BPDA is rushing Squares and Streets without meaningful community engagement. BPDA strategies fall short of engaging our neighbors who will be impacted.  “Pop-ups” and office hours have yielded little concrete information to inform us.

Charlestown residents opposed BPDA’s PLAN Charlestown, with elected officials support in opposition. Zoning Commissioner Jay Hurley has served for 30 years, and said “We have never voted against the community and elected officials.” Then, the Zoning Commission voted unanimously against Charlestown community engagement, ignoring our voices, letters, petitions, chats, calls, and efforts.

No single, unelected city organization speaks for neighborhoods. We support our Boston neighbors for meaningful community engagement with the BPDA and other City agencies.  Here is the letter to Chief of Planning Jemison

Dear Chief Jemison,

We are writing to request an immediate pause in the Squares and Streets initiative currently being pushed by the BPDA through city neighborhoods across Boston. It is too close to the holidays to afford a thoughtful and representative appraisal from our communities, especially as there is still no transparency from the BPDA as to its actual plans!

Please provide us with a clear picture of what you are planning through Squares and Streets. We need to understand:

1)      Which are the Boston neighborhoods you are planning to target?

2)      What are your specific housing, office, laboratory, retail and service goals for each      neighborhood you’re targeting?

3)      How do these goals address the overarching goals of Imagine Boston 2030 (to encourage affordability, reduce displacement, increase access to opportunity, drive inclusive economic growth, promote a healthy environment, and prepare for climate change and invest in open space, arts and culture, transportation and infrastructure?)

4)      What is your definition of “transit hubs” and “transit stations”?

Beginning in February 2024 – once you have answered these questions – we would like to meet face to face with you and other city agencies to engage in a thoughtful dialogue about how – and whether – Squares and Streets can benefit us.

 Signed by nearly 120 residents representing 20 organizations and 17 neighborhoods

Please email [email protected] and [email protected].

Stop eliminating and ignoring community engagement in Boston.

With appreciation for your consideration,

Diane Valle

What To Do With an Underutilized Lot in Charlestown?

To the Editor,

The six -acre Austin Street parking lots, surrounded by six major roadways and the Boston Sand and Gravel Plant, is the perfect place to build over 700 units housing up to 1500 residents in multiple buildings according to the Boston Planning and Development Agency. 

Touting affordable housing as their main draw, with no affordable on-site housing at Seaport, Charlestown is now their go to community to make up for poor and irresponsible planning on their part. It’s okay to put families with children at this toxic site and subject the residents to non-stop idling traffic, turning building complexes into heat islands with little green space and tree canopies.

The BPDA pays no attention to planning and due diligence when it comes to climate change, the fact that these structures will be built on filled wetlands, in a severe flood zone and a high pollution zone is the reality. Any high school or college research team tasked to come up with the best use for the Austin Street land, would hands down, do their research and study all the variables. 

A research team employing critical and forward thinking, would consider first and foremost, is this a healthy environment for future residents? What studies have been done to make sure the air quality is adequate and healthy for the people living there? Are their documented studies in the current proposal regarding the air quality? If no, then, why not? 

Current health care narratives speak of pollution related illnesses in an unhealthy living situation. I recently reviewed a report by the NIH correlating increased breast cancer, and brain decline due in part to air pollution caused by fumes from cars.

We all strive to keep ourselves healthy, and out of the hospital. We need to breathe air free of toxins, pollutants and contaminates as much as possible. How can this be achieved living at Austin Street?

The BPDA is overly concerned to add 55 buildings and over 20,000 people to the one square mile of Charlestown. It’s time to be concerned about keeping Charlestown safe and healthy.

The Austin Street lot proposal is not an acceptable plan on that small patch of land where residents will live 24 /7 in a toxic environment. The people need to be put first, not bricks, cement and glass buildings creating a massive heat island as we combat climate change.

What to do with an underutilized lot in Charlestown? How about open and green space, a mini forest, playgrounds, tennis courts and bocci courts, picnic tables, a stage for performers, plants, a dog park, and trees / benches to just sit and read or chat with a friend.

The people of Charlestown deserve and need a place to recharge, relax, regroup, and restore our physical and mental health. Please keep the Austin Street lots as this special destination for Charlestown residents, surrounding communities and visitors.

I am sure the high school and college research team would agree to keeping the underutilized lot for the benefit of the more than 20.000 residents the BPDA wants to add to the already 20,000 residents in our one square mile.

It makes me wonder if there is any commonsense, critical, and forward thinking at the BPDA?

Thank you,

 Ann Kelleher

A Small But Necessary Step

 To the Editor,

Homelessness can result from many causes: lack of affordable housing, extended unemployment, unmanageable health care costs, unexpected family expenses, and domestic violence.  But it has one simple solution: more affordable housing.  And the permanent supportive housing model, which provides case management and support services, has been particularly successful across the country.

Over the last year, homelessness in Boston increased 17% to 1,131 families and 1,803 individuals (as of the June 2023 annual homeless census; about 90% of homeless individuals live in emergency shelters or transitional housing, fewer than 10% live on the streets).  The conversion of the former Constitution Inn into The Independence, an affordable housing property with 52 units for low-income families and individuals, 48 supportive units for formerly homeless veterans and women, represents a small but necessary step to stem this troubling upward trend.  It also provides us in the Navy Yard with an opportunity to extend our strong community to new neighbors.  The Navy Yard is well-positioned to welcome The Independence as it is functionally a gated community with very little existing affordable housing and strong real estate fundamentals like waterfront access and great open space, multiple forms of public transportation, walkable retail, and proximity to the innumerable benefits of Charlestown and nearby downtown Boston.  Most importantly, we have a large, vacant former hotel with residential zoning and floor layouts that allow for an efficient conversion to affordable housing.

We are a high-capacity neighborhood with much to offer.  Navy Yard institutions like Courageous Sailing, MGH IHP, and the Constitution Museum should be willing and able to step up with programming and partnerships for Independence residents.  Our residential population with its large proportion of doctors, lawyers, and other highly-educated professionals, including numerous empty-nesters and retirees, can support Independence residents through outreach and engagement.

My professional experience with similar affordable housing projects throughout the country and the success of existing permanent supportive housing properties here in Charlestown and Boston (including 140 Clarendon, recently profiled in the Globe) provide a high degree of confidence that, once completed and occupied, The Independence will be a seamless addition to our neighborhood.  We can all take guidance from the words of the National Alliance to End Homelessness: “permanent supportive housing is a proven solution to homelessness for the most vulnerable chronically homeless people.”

Matt Engler

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