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‘As Boston rises, so should we all’: Residents wonder what development will do to a slice of Dorchester

Angelina Hua wonders if she will be able to afford the Glover’s Corner neighborhood in the future.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Angelina Hua leaned against the counter at Chau’s bakery in Fields Corner on a recent weekday, chatting with the owners in Vietnamese.

Hua’s mother fled Vietnam after the war and settled three decades ago in the area, which is the heart of Boston’s Vietnamese community and home to sizable African-American, Carribean, Cape Verdean, Hispanic, and Irish-American populations.

Now a 23-year-old community organizer, Hua describes the neighborhood as a place where she has put down roots — and a place “where I can imagine myself living for a very long time, where my kids can live a very long time.”

That might not be so easy.


Developers are descending on the area, roughly bordered by the MBTA’s Savin Hill Station to the north, Fields Corner Station to the south, Dorchester Avenue to the west, and the Red Line tracks to the east. Some residents welcome the changes. Others fear that one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Boston will become too expensive.

The city is stepping in to guide development in the area, called Glover’s Corner. A plan is expected to be unveiled this month. Residents would have three months to submit feedback before the Boston Planning & Development Agency board votes on it.

Across from the Savin Hill T stop recently, Ken Osherow — he’s a real estate broker, building owner, and restaurateur — assembled tables in a colorful taqueria and tequila bar set to open soon in an apartment complex he built two years ago.

Osherow said he didn’t understand why people wouldn’t embrace development in “an area that’s been blighted for so long.”

“It brings youth and vitality into the neighborhood,” he said. “It brings people. People bring lights and safety and resources to a neighborhood. These are the foundations that would change this whole neighborhood and make it beautiful.”


“It’s taken a long time, but this area’s really coming around right now,” added Osherow, who opened his real estate business in the area two decades ago.

Joel Barciauskas, a software engineer who has lived in Glover’s Corner since 2012, said rundown industrial buildings and vacant lots could be developed into housing without directly displacing people, which would be “a real win for everyone.”

It makes sense, he said, to build in an area that has two MBTA stops nearby.

He also said he hoped the city’s plan would make Dorchester Avenue — a busy strip of mom-and-pop stores, restaurants, and service providers — more pedestrian- and bike-friendly and improve public transportation.

Desmond Rohan, president of the Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association, said, “It’s great to finally see development in Dorchester.”

Rohan welcomed, in particular, a project already planned for the neighborhood: Dot Block, a mixed-use development with 488 housing units and retail stores on four acres off Dorchester Avenue.

Billionaire Gerald Chan’s real estate fund bought Dot Block in 2016. It is one of at least three Dorchester parcels that Chan has bought in recent years.

Rohan believes Dorchester needs Dot Block and other projects. “We’ve been talking about Glover’s Corner for years now, and Dot Block for years. We just want to get this thing moving.”

At the same time, he hopes the neighborhood will stay diverse. “We don’t want to lose that, because that’s why so many people chose Dorchester in the first place,” he said.


While the city ponders a plan for Glover’s Corner, the Dot Block project is already on the drawing boards.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

On a weekday evening this summer at the Vietnamese American Community Center — one of the first to be built in the nation — Hua, her mother, and other Dorchester residents gathered to discuss the neighborhood changes. Hand-painted banners that read “Systemic racism is the problem!” and “We won’t be displaced!” adorned the walls.

Such dinners are held every month by Dorchester Not For Sale, a neighborhood group determined to ensure that the residents who are most at risk of displacement, especially low-income renters of color, are heard by the city.

To address barriers to civic engagement, they have offered food, child care, translation help, and transportation to residents who want to join the conversation. Their efforts are manifested in dinner table groups that cross generational, class, and racial lines.

Lori Hurlebaus, a Fields Corner resident and one of the group’s organizers, said change has to work for those who already live in the neighborhood.

One of the group’s main demands is for 65 percent of total new housing built in the area to be truly affordable to current residents, both with higher percentages of affordable units in private developments and affordable housing built on public land.

More than half the households in Glover’s Corner make less than $50,000 a year, and the vast majority of residents in the area and surrounding neighborhoods, 73 percent, are renters, according to city data.

“It’s not about being against development. We all want to see our communities thrive and grow and change,” Hurlebaus said. “But how will our community change?”


Markeisha Moore, a Dorchester resident and a regular at the monthly meetings, said the neighborhood could develop in a way that is “adding” rather than “replacing.” The plan, she said, will pave the way for the latter if there is not enough housing built for working-class families.

“If you’re building luxury apartments in a neighborhood without luxury apartment incomes, they’re not for the neighborhood,” said the single mother of three daughters. “We’ve always been subject to the whims of the people who have resources. The people that do have the resources and can afford these things don’t look like me.”

Looking at at her 14-year-old daughter, Moore said she wanted to fight for her children to have the choice to live in the neighborhood that generations of her family have cherished. But as her rent eats up more of her disability check, she worries it may be too late.

“By the time you feel the wave of the tsunami, you can’t stop it,” Moore said.

When planning began in January 2017, Mayor Martin J. Walsh said that as Boston experiences unprecedented growth, which holds “tremendous promise,” it was crucial to plan well and get input from residents. The process has now lasted more than 2½ years.

City officials say Boston’s housing shortage is driving up rents and home prices, and Glover’s Corner is a good place to build housing.

“We have determined that, just to meet Boston’s growth, we need to create 69,000 new units by the year 2030,” said Sheila Dillon, the city’s housing chief. “We know that we need to build housing if we’re going to stabilize our rent and sales prices.


“This area, Glover’s Corner, is underutilized,” Dillon said.

“When you’re sitting on the Red Line and you can see piles of gravel and sand and dirt that are within walking distance of a T station, that’s really not optimal land use,” said Ted Schwartzberg, a senior planner with the city. “It makes a lot more sense to have housing there.”

The city requires developers to set aside 13 percent of new units at city-mandated affordable rents. The latest proposals for Glover’s Corner call for a small increase in the required percentage of affordable units — and slightly more affordable rents.

Planning officials also said they have dedicated a five-acre parcel, the current site of a Boston Public Schools resource center, to affordable housing and open space.

Similar impassioned debates have played out in recent years in other neighborhoods, including Jamaica Plain and Roxbury, and are likely to arise again in other areas.

T. Michael Thomas, a longtime Dorchester resident who founded the People’s Academy, a nonprofit skilled-trades training program, said he hoped future development would bolster the local economy, create jobs, and improve the quality of life for “residents who have contributed to building the community and neighborhood.”

“We paid our dues; we stuck it through,” Thomas said.

In high school, Thomas worked in a sheet metal shop in the Seaport District after school and saw gleaming new developments rise around him.

“I watched how the buildings were beautifully developed,” Thomas said. “I would like to see the same thing in my community.”

Yet the Seaport has drawn criticism for its lack of diversity, in stark contrast to Dorchester today.

Thomas has a more inclusive vision for Glover’s Corner.

“As Boston rises, so should we all,” he said.

Entrepreneur Ken Osherow says he welcomes change in the neighborhood.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Sarah Wu can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @sarah_wu_.