GentriWatch: The BRA Apologizes For That Whole West End Thing

Plus, a new study on the benefits of inclusionary housing amidst rapid gentrification.

Welcome to GentriWatch, where we look for signs of gentrification happening around the city.


Photo via City of Boston Archives on Flickr/Creative Commons

Photo via City of Boston Archives on Flickr/Creative Commons

THE OVERLY REPENTANT tone taken by the Boston Redevelopment Authority in regard to its collaboration with the West End Museum on a new exhibition on urban renewal is nice, if a bit odd. How often does a public entity issue a mea culpa, especially when the deed in question was the leveling of an entire neighborhood? And how often is it issued over wine and cheese?

The BRA held its reception Thursday night for the new exhibition, titled Dewey Defeats Truman/The Housing Act of 1949, which will remain on display through January 2016. Director Brian Golden met with original West Enders, and later delivered the BRA’s first-ever apology for using “slum clearance” to raze the once-vibrant enclave. From his prepared remarks:

By the time I was born in the mid ‘60s the old West End had already been demolished in the name of so called “slum clearance” and a misguided redevelopment strategy. However, I feel it’s only appropriate that I set the tone for this event and our relationship going forward by acknowledging and apologizing for the past misdeeds of the BRA.

Although the destruction happened decades ago, the scars still remain. Time has helped to heal these wounds, but the lessons we have all learned from the West End is what brings us together tonight.

The BRA of today in no way condones the destruction of neighborhoods and the displacement of residents that happened in urban renewal’s wake. And I want to offer my heartfelt apology on behalf of the agency to the families of the West End that were affected.

The BRA has embarked on this goodwill tour as it seeks a 10-year extension on its urban renewal authority. This power was last renewed in 2005, when a superior court ruled that the Boston City Council had broken Open Meeting Law in its dealings with the BRA. The Department of Housing and Community Development make a decision on the BRA’s extension request by April 2016.

(The City of Boston Archives have a phenomenal collection of photos from the West End project on its Flickr page that’s more than worth your time.)

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A NEW STUDY published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in Cambridge finds that amidst rapid gentrification, inclusionary housing can help alleviate economic segregation.

“In hot-market cities, skyrocketing housing prices push middle class and low income residents far away from well-paying jobs, reliable transportation, good schools and safe neighborhoods,” Lincoln Institute president George W. McCarthy said in a release. “Inclusionary housing alone will not solve our housing crisis, but it is one of the few bulwarks we have against the effects of gentrification—and, only if we preserve the units that we work so hard to create.”

The study, titled “Inclusionary Housing: Creating and Maintaining Equitable Communities,” argues that rapid construction of market-rate housing predicates the need for more affordable housing. It recommends that policymakers court developers with various incentives to create more affordable housing with minimal negative economic impacts, in addition to keeping a close eye on these units to ensure they aren’t resold.

“More than 500 communities have used inclusionary housing policies to help maintain the vibrancy and diversity of neighborhoods in transition, and we’ve learned much along the way,” Rick Jacobus, the study’s author, said. “Research shows that if programs are thoughtfully designed and implemented, they can be a valuable tool at a time when affordable housing is desperately needed.”

You can learn more about the BRA’s inclusionary housing policy here.

Notice something changing in your neighborhood? Let me know: [email protected], @KyleClauss.