Activists call for more BRA accountability
Submitted by Right to the City
BOSTON – On City Hall Plaza today, a group of activists from the Right to the City Alliance called on the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) to have greater accountability to residents and to use public resources for the public good. On the agenda tonight for the BRA board meeting was the approval of a $7.8 million tax break to Millennium Partners, the developer of the former Filene’s site in Downtown Crossing.
Kalila Barnett, Executive Director of Alternatives for Community and Environment, said “For too long, the City of Boston has been handing out our money to large corporations and developers while receiving nothing in return. Enough is enough! No project should receive a tax break or zoning relief without an enforceable community benefits agreement that provides living wage jobs.”
The group cited past tax breaks given out by the BRA such as Liberty Mutual receiving a $46 million tax break for their Back Bay tower. The Boston Globe reported earlier this summer that Liberty Mutual will be cutting the retirement benefits of their employees.
To drive home their message, Right to the City played off the famous Kit Kat commercials with the jingle “Give me a break,” by handing out cards with Kit-Kat candy attached, asking for the City to give Boston communities “a break” and to invest in neighborhoods not large corporations.
The protest also included a model replica of Millennium Towers and the Burnham Building, the new development to be built at the Filene’s site in Downtown Crossing. Activists pasted onto the replica things that people would like to see funded in a community benefits agreement with Millennium Partners. Things posted included job training, a Chinatown library, drug rehabilitation programs, and affordable housing. Hakim Cunningham of the Boston Workers Alliance and the Boston Jobs Coalition stated “We need a jobs agreement with Millennium Partners that ensures good jobs that pay a living wage and benefits are created by the development and that a diverse workforce from all Boston neighborhoods are represented on the jobsite.”
In addition to the tax break proposed to be given to Millennium Partners, representatives from Right to the City, also took issue with the proposed easement and sale of the air and subterranean rights on Yawkey Way to the Boston Red Sox for $7.34 million. “Where is the community process?” asked Lydia Lowe, Executive Director of the Chinese Progressive Association. “There needs to be community input to truly determine if this is a good deal for the City of Boston. If there is money coming from this it should be used for the public good and help fund permanently affordable housing or another community benefit.”
Jian Hua Tang, Co-Chair of the Chinese Progressive Association, pointed to the housing crisis in Chinatown. “People in Chinatown are being forced out, because it is becoming too expensive to live in the neighborhood. Lease fees from development should come back to the community to help stabilize our communities.”
Right to the City also called for the new head of the BRA to be appointed by the incoming mayor similar to what Mayor Menino has said he will do with the new police commissioner.
In the end, the group’s message was clear. “No matter who is the new mayor, we need to reform the BRA and make it accountable to the community. Public resources need to be used for the public good,” said Jian Hua Tang.
Right to the City Boston is a coalition of community based organizations organizing around issues of economic justice, gentrification, and affordable housing. This year Right to the City Boston developed a citywide platform calling for public land to be used for public good, higher minority and women goals for construction and permanent jobs created by development, and no tax breaks without an enforceable community benefits agreement. Organizational members include Alternatives for Community and Environment, Boston Workers Alliance, Chinese Progressive Association, City Life, Neighbors United for a Better East Boston, New England United for Justice, and Project Hip Hop.