The Fight for Affordable Housing in Dorchester

with DOT Not For Sale
By Claire Foley

Source: DOT Not For Sale

On Thursday, the 17th of October, the local Dorchester organization DOT Not For Sale (DN4S) met in the cafeteria of the Vietnamese American Community Center for their monthly community dinner. At the beginning of the gathering, folks were asked to raise their hands in response to a series of questions. “How many people here are renters? Homeowners? How many are landlords?” Most people attending were renters, but there were several homeowners, and a lone landlord. “Who spends more than 30% of their monthly income on rent? More than 50%? Who is fighting for their home?” Hands were in the air for all three questions.

DN4S is one of several grassroots organizations around the city that is fighting against community displacement in Boston. I had the pleasure of attending this month’s meeting where I was able to learn more about this collective and their emphasis on empowering those most at risk.

DOT Not For Sale came together in 2017 when Dorchester residents involved with other neighboring activist organizations became concerned with the threat of gentrification and displacement in their community. Members began to organize with the goal of placing those most likely to be affected by new housing plans in power in the organization. The group has been active in their advocacy, including hosting rallies, educating fellow residents, and protesting development planning.

At the center of DN4S are their monthly community dinners. When I attended October’s community dinner, I observed DN4S’s commitment to being an inclusive and accessible space for members. DN4S provided childcare, interpretation, and occasional ridesharing. Powerpoint slides guided along the meeting, but the atmosphere of the room was much more of a conversation than a presentation. The meeting began with DN4S’s mission statement being read aloud in Creole, Vietnamise, and English.

“We are committed to building a multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi- generational, REAL community process that centers Dorchester residents most at risk of displacement in decision making. We will build together and fight for a vision of what we want and need in our community and seek unity as tenants, homeowners, and small landlords.”

Next, each speaker briefly discussed a part of the statement that stood out to them. Though the dinner consisted of reports, recaps, and planning, there was also audience participation, feedback, local art, and activities; community members were always the center of the meeting, rather than a sole speaker. Throughout the evening, the conversation of the dinner was working towards a common goal— fighting back against Boston Planning and Development’s “PLAN: Glover’s Corner”.

Source: Dorchester Reporter

PLAN: Glover’s Corner is an initiative to develop new housing between the Savin Hill and Fields Corner red line T stops. Although investment in housing initially sounds like a plan that would benefit Dorchester, the new housing is aimed to attract higher-income residents than those who live in the area. One such project, DOT Block, is a major topic of focus for DN4S. DOT Block is a mixed-use residential and retail development along Dorchester Ave, Hancock St, and Pleasant St that is aimed to attract what the city considers to be middle income residents, while also including 66 (13.5%) affordable housing units. Although DOT Block claims to be a project that will be beneficial for Dorchester, DN4S is fighting back and bringing awareness to the harm of these new housing developments in their community. At the center of the issue are the ways the City of Boston determines how incomes are categorized and what they consider to be “affordable housing.”

In 2000, the City of Boston rolled out the Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP) , which requires that 13% of “market-rate housing developments with ten or more units” must be affordable housing units. To determine income levels in Boston, IDP uses statistics based on Area Median Income (AMI), which is meant to provide data on the median income levels based on individual incomes and income per household in Boston. AMI however, inexplicably includes incomes from areas such as Newton, Brookline, and parts of New Hampshire to calculate Boston’s AMI, rendering it extremely inaccurate. AMI currently lists the median income for an individual in Boston at $75,350 a year, and the median income for a household of four at $113,300 a year. This is what the Coalition for a Truly Affordable Boston calls a “broken statistic”.

These inflated income statistics present many problems, as is the case with DOT Block. DOT Block is aimed to attract renters that IDP considers “middle-income,” which would be residents with much higher incomes compared to Dorchester’s median household income of $47,200 as of 2015. With higher income levels comes jumps in rent prices that are out of reach for the average Dorchester resident, and as history shows, this process of gentrification drives out the lower income members of communities, most of whom are people of color. DOT Block claims to be providing 66 affordable housing units in their 488 unit development, but this is yet another slap in the face for Dorchester residents. Due to IDP’s use of AMI to determine affordable housing, these supposed affordable units are not actually accessible to many Dorchester residents, especially those most in need of affordable living. IDP currently makes rental units “affordable” for an individual making $55,500, and households making $79,300, or in other words, 70% of the median income in Boston. These numbers are not reflective of those most in need of affordable housing in Boston, and much less Dorchester, which has the highest population of people living under the poverty line in Boston, accounting for 21.2% of Boston’s impoverished population. Specifically in Glover’s Corner, half of residents make below $50,000 a year. It is due to this systemic negligence from the city that residents of Dorchester have been taking the fight into their own hands to mobilize, and spread the word that they will not let their homes be taken from them.

Source: Coalition for a Truly Affordable Boston

DN4S and their allies, such as the Coalition for a Truly Affordable Boston, have made specific demands addressing the housing inequality and community displacement in the city. They call for one third of new housing units to be developed as affordable housing, but not by the Inclusionary Development Policy’s broken definition of affordable. Rather, affordability for renters would be accessible for those who make $23,800 to $55,500 a year, while affordable homeownership would be accessible for those who make $39,700 to $79,350 a year. DN4S has written letters, attended meetings, held protests and spread the word about their cause, but work still needs to be done.

If you are interested in joining the fight against the displacement crises and want to help raise affordability in Boston, reach out to DN4S at dotnot4sale@gmail.com, attend a community dinner (every third Thursday of the month), learn more about PLAN: Glover’s Corner, sign DN4S’s petition for the future of their neighborhood, and support those who are fighting to keep their homes.