Guest Op-ed Building a Community at Suffolk Downs

By Councilor Lydia Edwards

The redevelopment of Suffolk Downs will reshape East Boston. With concrete plans now before the city for review, now is the time for our neighborhood to speak up for development that builds on the strengths of our community and meets the basic needs of Boston families. The housing and employment opportunities at Suffolk Downs will be immense and can be a boon for Eastie, but only if residents who today feel the pain of housing costs and income inequality are able to share in the prosperity.

We need unprecedented involvement to build a strong and inclusive Suffolk Downs. Residents can view HYM Investments’ proposal and submit comments until May 2nd at http://www.bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/suffolk-downs. My office is also happy to provide copies of the PDA upon request.

In order to ensure information is accessible and that resident input is reflected, I will be bringing this conversation back into the neighborhoods. I will hold office hours on Feb. 26, 5-7 p.m. at Kelley Square Pub (84 Bennington St) and on March 1, from 10-12 p.m. Angela’s at the Heights (1012 Bennington St).

My office will also work with community residents to facilitate discussions and collect input on the proposal. The project’s proponent has been generous with their time, explaining their vision at countless community meetings. Now, through dedicated conversations and targeted response to the proposed plans, it is the neighborhood’s turn to share our vision for Suffolk Downs’ contribution to affordability, sustainability, transportation infrastructure and economic benefit.

The next few months are critical, because they will result in a document, between HYM and our city and neighborhood, that codifies commitments for the coming decade. As the development advances, individual buildings will continue to come through public review, but the shape of the community and the level of investment in our neighborhoods will be largely determined this year.

As our neighborhood reviews the proposal by HYM Investments, I will be paying special attention to the following issues:

Housing: East Boston is an integrated, ethnically and economically diverse community. The City is obligated to promote fair housing and to provide for the housing needs of all residents. The final vision for Suffolk Downs must help this city in advancing this goal. Currently, the proposal calls for 13 percent inclusionary development, meaning, for example, that about 13 percent of rental units will be affordable to an individual earning $48,000 or a household of four earning around $69,000. Additionally, ten percent of overall housing will be senior housing, and 13 percent of that will be income restricted. The median household income in East Boston is $52,935 and nearly half of households make under $50,000 annually, with about one-fifth below federal poverty guidelines.

Sustainability and Resiliency: To combat climate change and protect communities from impacts today, we need buildings powered by clean energy and surrounded by ample open space that will shield us from sea level rise and extreme weather. HYM is proposing a mix of highly efficient townhomes and larger commercial spaces and is planning on substantial open space development.

Economic Development: Suffolk Downs will  create jobs through construction and new commercial space, 10% is proposed to be reserved for local businesses. Construction will also generate linkage payments to the city, and residents can help shape how Boston deploys these resources to ensure workforce opportunities for Eastie.

Transportation: The proponent intends to work with city and state on a mix of initiatives increase public transit usage, build new local roads, connect bike lanes, operate private shuttles and expend significant capital on intersection improvements. It is critical that overall planning planning emphasizes use of public transit and multi-modal travel, rather than inviting traffic congestion through expanded highways into Boston.

Above all else, we need East Bostonians to speak up about now about what matters to our community. Already, residents are volunteering to be community educators on the proposal. Do not miss the opportunity to shape the future of our neighborhood.

Lydia Edwards is the elected councilor from Ward 1.

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