Compliant: Lawyers for Civil Rights files complaint against BPDA over Suffolk Downs development

With the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) poised to approve the 161-acre Suffolk Downs mixed-use project later this month the Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) filed a Civil Rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). 
The complaint charges that the BPDA has violated federal civil rights law by failing to make the Suffolk Downs review process accessible to non-English speakers. 
According to the complaint filed on behalf of GreenRoots, Inc. and City Life/Vida Urbana, LCR is asking HUD to halt the project until the BPDA comes into full compliance with federal laws, and urge the City of Boston to voluntarily conduct an independent language access audit of all city agencies.
“We are not anti-development. We are pro-growth—smart and equitable growth,” said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, Executive Director of Lawyers for Civil Rights. “The BPDA was well aware that a significant percentage of East Boston residents speak primarily Spanish or Arabic. By failing to hire interpreters versed in the language of planning or zoning, or to translate key documents, the BPDA is effectively excluding immigrant residents of East Boston from the development process. Under well-settled federal law, this exclusion constitutes national origin discrimination.”
If approved, the project will create an entirely new neighborhood in the heart of Eastie, a historically working-class community with a significant non-English speaking population. 
“We have been shocked by the BPDA’s half-hearted attempts to fulfill their obligations under federal law,” said Lisa Owens, Executive Director of City Life/Vida Urbana. “Spanish-speaking residents and their families have turned out for public meetings expecting to be able to hear the developer’s presentations, but the language access has been anemic at best. How are community members supposed to make their affordable housing needs known and participate in local planning if those processes are set up to exclude them?” 
However, Thomas O’Brien, Founding Partner and Managing Director of HYM Investment Group who is developing Suffolk Downs, shot back against the accusations. 
“Inclusion guides are not only for our vision for Suffolk Downs, but for the entire mission of the HYM Investment Group,” said O’Brien. “To us, access and inclusion are more than words—we have built a company that values diversity of ideas and people. Through private investment, we build sustainable communities that provide jobs, affordable housing and improve the quality of life for current and future residents alike.”
O’Brien said over the course of the last two years, in partnership with the BPDA and Revere city officials, HYM has gone above and beyond the typical public planning process to ensure that planning for the future of Suffolk Downs is open and accessible to all. 
“We have hosted over 450 meetings, including Spanish-language meetings and meetings offering Spanish-language translators, East Boston and Revere community group meetings, meetings with elected officials and their staff, and numerous smaller groups and even one-on-one meetings with neighbors in order to hear and incorporate community feedback,” said O’Brien. “We have posted project documents and presentations in English and in Spanish on our project website, and all pages on our full redevelopment website are translated into Spanish. We have done interviews on Spanish-language radio outlets and advertised in local Spanish-language newspapers. To say that the Suffolk Downs planning process has not been an inclusive and conscious one, guided by the community, is contrary to our company’s vision and values.”

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