By Ling-Mei Wong
Beyond the three-storey row houses of Chinatown rise luxury condo towers. New complexes such as Archstone, the Kensington and 120 Kingston Place — the former site of the Dainty Dot Hosiery factory — loom mere steps from public housing. For some Chinatown residents, they fear these developments will drive up property values so steeply that Chinatown will disappear, like the Syrian and Irish immigrants who came before.
“We don’t want Chinatown to be without Chinese people,” said Henry Yee, chairman of the Chinatown Residents Association.
Mayor Thomas Menino has made affordable housing a priority, requiring developers to either set aside 13 percent of residential units for affordable housing or pay into a housing fund. The Kensington’s developers opted to pay, giving $7 million that went toward the 74 units of affordable senior housing at Hong Lok House.
Other developments along Kingston, Essex and Stuart streets added roughly $1.7 billion in funding for affordable developments and community programs in Chinatown, said Bill Moy, chairman of the Chinatown/South Cove Neighborhood Council.
“The luxury developments affect Chinatown, but they also benefit Chinatown for affordable housing,” Moy said. “More resources bring more life and community here.”
Moy recruited retired MIT architecture professor Tunney Lee to work on the 2000 Chinatown Master Plan, the first community-based plan for development approved by the Boston Redevelopment Agency and Menino.
The Master Plan was updated in 2010 to reflect a 40 percent population increase to 9,000 residents from 6,434 in 1990 and the addition of 1,366 residential units — 28 percent subsidized.
“Chinatown has had a native Asian population for a long time because it’s set up that way,” Moy said.
Lee estimates Chinatown has nearly 2,000 units of affordable housing.
“Chinatown is a unique neighborhood because there’s a lot of public housing: Mass Pike Towers, Castle Square, Quincy Tower and Tai Tung Village, or hundreds of units of affordable housing,” said Vivien Wu, director of programs for Asian Community Development Corporation. “We’re very lucky those buildings were established before downtown or the South End became classy or hot.”
However, this does not meet demand, as state and federal funding has dropped. “There’s been a shortage in affordable housing for the last 10 years,” said Angie Liou, director of real estate development for ACDC. “The big developments are luxury ones.”
Space in Chinatown is limited, resulting in less new construction. Nearly 300 businesses operate in the area, along with the Josiah Quincy School and Tufts Medical Center, making real estate a precious commodity.
“There are not many large parcels that would be attractive to developers in the core Chinatown area, except along Essex Street,” Lee said. “Any development would have to negotiate with Chinatown groups and would have to involve affordable housing and other community benefits.”
More families choose to live in Malden, Quincy or neighboring suburbs for extra room at affordable prices. However, Chinatown’s unique offerings — live poultry shops, family associations and social service agencies — and accessible location make it a hub for Chinese and Asian individuals.
“Over time, satellite institutions and services will continue to grow, but Chinatown will remain the center for a long time,” Lee said.
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