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Protesters call for more affordable housing in Suffolk Downs redevelopment

Housing advocates rallied in Central Square in East Boston, then marched a half-mile to the Meridian Street Bridge, where they unfurled a huge banner to call for 50 percent of the housing at Suffolk Downs to be affordable.
Housing advocates rallied in Central Square in East Boston, then marched a half-mile to the Meridian Street Bridge, where they unfurled a huge banner to call for 50 percent of the housing at Suffolk Downs to be affordable. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

More than 100 community members and affordable housing advocates rallied Saturday afternoon in East Boston’s Central Square to call for greater transparency, more community input, and an increase in the number of affordable units for a proposed development at Suffolk Downs.

Neighborhood residents feel their voices are not being heard by the 161-acre site’s proposed developers, HYM Investment Group, or by the Boston Planning & Development Agency, said Andres Del Castillo, an organizer from the affordable housing group City Life/Vida Urbana who planned the protest.

“For our community, largely these processes have been presentations but not dialogues,” Del Castillo said, adding that often no qualified translators for East Boston’s many non-English-speaking residents are available. “The idea that this has somehow been a representative community process is not true.”

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Protesters called for half the residential units in the new development to be affordable, and for the developers to revise their definition of “affordable” to a lower income threshold so more of the neighborhood’s working-class residents would have the option of living there.

They also want developers to contribute a percentage of the project’s cost to a neighborhood stabilization fund that would be used by local community development organizations to keep East Boston affordable, Del Castillo said.

“We do not want to be segregated out of this new neighborhood that they’re trying to create,” he said. “We want this to be built with the community in mind.”

Thomas O’Brien, managing director for the developer and former head of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the predecessor to the BPDA, said the protest was driven by a small group of people who are making an unrealistic request late in the public process, which has gone on for more than two years.

He said it is impossible to create as many affordable units as the protesters are requesting because there aren’t sufficient government subsidies.

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“That request is just not based in any sense of reality,” he said. “That would be the largest single public housing development in the history of Massachusetts.”


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.