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New project for affordable housing in Boston Chinatown may still not be enough, housing advocates say

Boston Chinatown
Photo by Dennis Via Flickr Creative Commons

A new partnership will bring 168 affordable apartments and condos to Boston’s Chinatown, but with gentrification in the area on the rise, some say that’s only a small step in the right direction.  

As part of Millennium Partners Boston’s project to turn a downtown garage into an office and condo tower, the real estate agency agreed to pay for 115,000 square feet of affordable housing, according to Bldup. Instead of simply writing a check, WGBH News reports that Millenium chose to partner with the Asian Community Development Corporation to build the 168 units in Chinatown. 

 “This is very much needed in Chinatown,” Asian Community Development Corporation executive director Angie Liou said at a community meeting. “To bring this amount of affordable rentals and ownership opportunities to this part of Chinatown, on this site, is a rare opportunity.”

However, Liou told Boston Globe business columnist Shirley Leung that there are typically 4,000 applications for every hundred affordable units in the area. Moreover, according to the Boston Herald, the wait for subsidized housing can reach up to 10 years.

Rents in the area increased as luxury developers began to see potential profit in Chinatown’s proximity to downtown Boston. The Boston Herald reports that despite the fact that almost half the households in Chinatown earn less than $25,000 a year, the area is home to some of Boston’s highest rents and, since 2014, has had 70 percent of new units built income-restricted. 

Former Chinatown resident Siman Wang told the Boston Herald that she moved to find cheaper rent and now spends four hours a day driving her children to and from the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center to learn Chinese. 

“There are a lot of older people in our family,” Wang said. “I really want [my children] to be able to speak to them when I take them back to China.”

According to the Boston Herald, although the area is still 59 percent Asian, the Census shows that Asians have been leaving since the 1990s, “amid climbing housing prices as its White population has quadrupled.”

Paul Chan told the Boston Herald that as president of the Chinese Benevolent Association of New England, he is currently working on a project to bring 85 more subsidized units to the neighborhood. 

“We want to avoid it becoming a Chinatown in name only,” he said.  

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