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Chinatown residents press Walsh on affordable housing

Chinatown residents and activists on Wednesday appealed to Mayor Martin J. Walsh for help in bringing more affordable housing to their neighborhood in the face of what they say is an onslaught of high-end development that is pricing them out.

Speaking to Walsh and other officials during a meeting at the Metropolitan Community Room on Oak Street, advocates said their community of Chinese immigrants, many of whom speak little or no English, lack the language and job skills necessary for the soaring rents now being charged across much of the neighborhood.

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Residents facing eviction said they have languished for years on waiting lists for public housing in the area. The delays have forced some of them to leave Chinatown for communities outside of Boston that are unfamiliar and far from their jobs.

“I’m here to ask the city to require developers to build housing that is suitable for people at this [low] income level,” said Henry Yee, co-chair of the Chinatown Resident Association, through an interpreter. “The more luxury housing development there is, the more pressure residents will feel, and before you know it, we’re going to be squeezed out.”

The crowd of about 50 people had a sympathetic ear in Walsh, who mentioned a number of possible strategies, including steering more money from a fund that some developers pay into toward more affordable units in Chinatown.

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The mayor said his administration may also designate more city-owned land in the area for affordable housing, “so that you can keep Chinatown your home.”

In addition, Walsh said he is awaiting a completed policy report from his housing transition team, which he said will place an emphasis on the neighborhood.

In another effort to help residents, he urged the crowd to support a minimum wage hike that is pending in the state Legislature.

The Globe reported in September that only 20 percent of 2,765 new units approved for construction in or around Chinatown were considered affordable housing. The rest were slated to be rented at market value, which, for a one-bedroom apartment, could be as much as $3,000 a month.

On Wednesday night, attendees urged city officials to invest not only in housing but also in English classes and vocational training for residents, to allow them to boost their earning potential.

Currently, the average Chinatown resident earns less than $20,000, said Karen Chen, organizing director for the Chinese Progressive Association, one of the groups that hosted the meeting.

But the most passionate remarks came from activist Jian Hua Tang, who accused private developers of exploiting the community while cashing in on lucrative tax breaks.

“They stole our land,” she said through a translator. “This is our community. We’re reclaiming a community, and we need you to help us reclaim a community.”

Globe correspondent Nikita Lalwani contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.
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