From the North End to the South End, South Boston to Charlestown, Boston is full of one-time ethnic working-class enclaves that have come under massive pressure for redevelopment as the city’s popularity – and housing prices – have soared.
Tuesday afternoon protesters battling a similar fate for Chinatown flocked to the sidewalk in front of a Quincy, Massachusetts, law firm that represents a realty developer they complain has evicted some tenants and threatened others with a water shutoff next week. They fear the endgame is an attempt to raze and replace two old brick apartment buildings on Hudson Street or turn them into high-priced condos.
Speaking through interpreters, the tenants, mostly elderly Chinese immigrants, say they were abruptly removed from 103 Hudson Street in January by representatives of First Suffolk LLC who said they were making emergency safety repairs. They fear that was just a pretext to clear the building for redevelopment. Then the same company bought adjacent 101 Hudson Street last month and told tenants it would shut off their water next Monday, according to Karen Chen of the Chinese Progressive Association, who translated and spoke for the residents.
"We feel like this is another tactic of these landlords trying to push people out so that they can make money off of this building," Chen said.
We couldn’t get a call returned by First Suffolk’s attorneys in Quincy for their side of the story.
The controversy however clearly reflects and dramatizes the massive development pressure on Boston’s century-old Chinatown as, according to Zillow, Boston median housing prices have jumped 36 percent in five years and demand for and construction of luxury housing in downtown Boston has been booming.
"We’re losing Chinatown, because the very people who built Chinatown are being pushed out," Chen said.
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Some worry that Chinatown will suffer the fate of the North End, once a bustling Italian-American neighborhood, now more an Italian restaurant and shopping district whose actual residents are high-paid younger urban professionals who’ve priced longtime Italian-American immigrant families out of the neighborhood.
Maria Christina Blanco of affordable-housing activists City Life/Vida Urbana said the Chinatown battle is typical of what’s happening to numerous areas of the city. "Not just in Chinatown, as you’re aware, but in many neighborhoods: East Boston is another hotspot, the Washington Street corridor in the Jamaica Plain/Roxbury area," Blanco said.
Five years ago, the city estimated 47 percent of the housing units in Chinatown were affordable to moderate-income working people and families. Now that’s down to 36 percent, and apparently falling. "It would be a shame for Boston to lose Chinatown," Chen said. "I think that Chinatown is one of these neighborhoods that make Boston and are part of its history, and it’s not just the buildings, it’s the people who live there and who have made those neighborhoods what they are. They deserve a chance to be able to stay."
With videographer Michael Bennett. NECN videographer Bob Ricci contributed to this report