Affordable housing activists protest overnight at City Hall
Six advocates held a sit-in outside the office of Mayor Martin J. Walsh on Tuesday, demanding an increase in affordable housing in the city’s rezoning plan, organizers said.
The advocates — members of the group Keep it 100 Real for Affordable Housing and Racial Justice — are pressing the mayor to make a commitment to increase affordable housing and include lower-income families in the city’s proposal for the PLAN: JP/Rox community.
The Boston Planning and Development Agency’s board is expected to vote on the plan Thursday.
At least 60 advocates arrived at City Hall around 5 p.m. Tuesday to speak to Walsh, said Ruthy Rickenbacker, a Jamaica Plain resident who spent the night inside City Hall. The advocates included renters and people who are “vulnerable to displacement,” she said.
Rickenbacker said she and members of the group first went to the office of Jamaica Plain Councilor Matt O’Malley, but he was not in. They met with an aide instead. They then walked across the fifth-floor hallway to the mayor’s office, asking for a meeting with Walsh, she added.
The mayor was also unavailable, and they were able to meet with his economic development chief, John Barros. They spoke with him about displacement and the housing crisis, and, organizers said, they outlined three demands: lower the income levels in affordable housing to double the amount of housing for households making less than $35,000 a year; increase the total affordable housing goal from 36 percent to 55 percent; and aim to convert 250 market-rate apartments into affordable apartments.
The advocates said Barros backed two of their demands — lowering the income levels and possibly converting the market rate apartments. He promised to speak to the mayor, they added.
But the group wanted firm commitments from Brian Golden, the head of the planning agency, Sheila Dillon, head of the Department of Neighborhood Services — and the mayor.
They decided to stay put until they spoke to Walsh.
“We were hoping to stay here until we see a real commitment from the mayor about our changes to the plan,’’ Rickenbacker said.
She said six member of the group decided to hold a sit in and waited to speak to the mayor. The group spent the night sharing stories and talking. They slept on the floor.
Others went outside to rally. Fourteen of those protesters spent the night on the plaza, she added. When the building opened Wednesday, more protesters joined the sit-in.
Dillon praised the advocates for pushing officials on the plan but said the city has gone “as far as it can go” on the matter.
She said the plan calls for building 3,700 units along a wide patch that stretches from Jackson Square to Forest Hills Station. The units are part of the mayor’s effort to develop underutilized areas near public transit.
She said 1,400 — or 36 percent — of those units are affordable.
“That’s a higher percentage than any other planning area of the city,’’ Dillon said.
Dillon said the city found that most of the current residents in that area along the Jamaica Plain-Roxbury line have affordable housing. But she said the city found that 351 households are in danger of bring priced out. Officials are trying to work with those people to ensure they can find places to live that they afford, Dillon added.
“I think the affordable housing advocates have greatly improved this plan,’’ said Dillon, who added that the planning agency’s board will likely back the plan Thursday. “I’m also pleased that the people in the City of Boston care about affordable housing. It’s good to see democracy in action. And I applaud their efforts.”
Golden, director of the Boston Planning and Development Agency, said the community engagement process has reflected the diversity of the neighborhood and has significantly shaped the draft plan.
“With a plan for 40 percent of future development affordable, the current draft is one of the most progressive affordable housing plans in the country — it will maintain and create affordable housing while protecting residents at risk of displacement and preserving this neighborhood’s important cultural identity,’’ according to his official statement.