Chinatown Community Land Trust Urges Community Control of Public Land

By Chinatown Community Land Trust

Parcel 12 by the Double Tree Hotel and Parcel R1 on Tyler Street

The character of Chinatown has shifted since 2000, when the fast-tracked approval of the Millennium/Ritz Carlton launched a rapid succession of luxury towers in and around the neighborhood. Since then, Chinatown’s housing stock has doubled, primarily due to the addition of two thousand luxury high-rise units. Luxury development spurred a sharp increase in real estate values, bringing rising rents, land speculation, and a wave of evictions from the privately owned brick row houses.

Keeping Chinatown Chinatown

Today, Chinatown balances at the tipping point, with the growing number of luxury units threatening to dominate the character of this historic neighborhood, home to so many generations of working class immigrants. In order to stabilize and preserve Chinatown’s working class and small business core, the Chinatown Master Plan Committee proposed several important strategies and goals.

The first goal is to preserve the neighborhood’s existing affordable housing. Second is to seek opportunities to turn privately owned buildings into nonprofit community-owned housing for permanent affordability. But preservation alone cannot keep pace with the influx of luxury housing, so the third goal is to add 1,000 new units of affordable low and moderate income housing from 2015 to 2025. Greater resident control of development is also critical if future development is to support community goals and priorities.

While we celebrate improvements like the Chinatown and Mary Soo Hoo Parks and welcome new neighbors, we need to use every tool at our disposal to keep the feel and character of Chinatown from slipping away—until we no longer feel at home in our historic community.

Public Land for the Public Good

Chinatown’s remaining public parcels are the key to the community’s future. We can reach our community stabilization goals by maximizing affordable housing and providing for important needs like a library and recreational open space. Because public land should belong to the people, public and community needs should be the top priority.

Public land in the neighborhood includes the state-owned Parcels 25, 26 and 27 that lie between Chinatown, the Leather District and the South End. There are also City-owned Parcels R1, 12, A, and the China Trade Center building. Parcel 7A at the corner of Stuart and Tremont has already been designated for a micro-hotel, and a narrow city-owned parcel on Shawmut Avenue across from Castle Square will become green space for the housing development in progress at the Holy Trinity Church site. We must continue to demand that public land should be used for the public good.

Community Ownership of Land

One of the best ways to ensure strong community control is through nonprofit community ownership of land.
This was the purpose of founding the Chinatown Community Land Trust—to have a mechanism through which community residents can exert greater control over development and the forces of gentrification. By owning land and leasing it to the homeowner or developer, the Community Land Trust is able to embed the collectively decided uses for the land into the deed and ground lease agreement. The Community Land Trust is not the developer and does not earn the developer fee; instead it becomes the steward of the land to ensure that it is always used for its intended purpose.

Why would we want a public parcel to be transferred to community ownership? Let’s take Parcel R1 (former site of the YMCA “Bubble”) as an example. This parcel was zoned for residential housing back in the 1960s, but the option to develop the site was later conferred upon Tufts University through a complicated land swap. With no plans to develop, Tufts Shared Services has leased the parcel for use as a parking lot for many years. That lease will expire in 2017.

Time to Reclaim Parcels 12 and R1

It is time for the Chinatown community to reclaim Parcel R1 for community purposes. The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), now renamed the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), is reluctant to turn Parcel R1 over to the community because of its commitment to Tufts Medical Center as an important economic force in the city.
However, at a Town Meeting held at the Quincy School on September 14, the BRA committed to releasing a Request for Proposals to develop Parcel 12 behind the Double Tree Hotel. A public meeting to discuss Parcel 12 will be held on Thursday, January 19th, 6:30 pm at the Quincy School cafeteria.

Both of these public parcels, as well as two other major lots across the Mass Pike, are currently used by Tufts Shared Services for parking. While Tufts Medical Center has legitimate parking needs, these needs can be consolidated into a multi-story parking garage to free up public land for community development.

For example, Parcel R1 could become a site for affordable housing with a ground-floor library, while Parcel 12 could incorporate both affordable housing and hospital parking uses. If these public parcels owned by the community, the significant parking revenues now profiting Tufts Shared Services could be used to create a housing subsidy fund that could keep low income Chinatown tenants in their homes.

This is just one example of the role that community ownership of land can play. It will be important to gather public input and to consider different scenarios for both Parcels 12 and R1. But the principle of collective community ownership is one that can put greater control into community residents’ hands.
If you are interested in the goal of collective community ownership and would like to participate in community meetings to discuss our vision for the public parcels, please contact the Chinatown Community Land Trust at 617-259-1503 or by email at [email protected], or come to our Annual Meeting on January 24.

Boston Planning & Development Agency
Thursday, January 19, 6:30-8:30 pm
Quincy School Cafeteria

Chinatown Community Land Trust
Tuesday, January 24, 6:30-8:30 pm
Quincy School Cafeteria