Urban Renewal Extension Hearing: Boston Redevelopment Authority Unaccountable
by: Patrick Wilson
photo credit: rik-shaw
On February 9th, a hearing was held at City Hall in Boston for The Boston Redevelopment Authority to present it’s case for a 10 year Urban Renewal Extension.
Urban renewal involves the relocation of businesses, the demolition of structures, the relocation of people, and the use of eminent domain (government purchase of property for public purpose) as a legal instrument to take private property for city-initiated development projects. This process is also carried out in rural areas, referred to as village renewal, though it may not be exactly the same in practice, according to Wikipedia. In Boston what it has meant is a gigantic hole in the middle of downtown and new glass towers with luxury units that sell for record prices everywhere you look. To less than affluent Bostonians, it means losing their home.
In this last election much was said about The Boston Redevelopment Authority, culminating with Mayor Walsh making promises with regard to the BRA. The questions posed by Boston City Council members shed light on the lack of understanding as to who the BRA answers to and the fact that they have no accountability for what they deem smaller parcels.
A slide presentation was given by the BRA which showed some projects under way. illustrating the length of the process and need for the extension. The BRA’s Director acknowledged that there had been significant public outcry, also that Mayor Walsh wanted more process and outreach to the public. The consistent message on this was the BRA had held many events and taken their “licks” but would continue explaining themselves. What isn’t said is that there is seemingly no public input taken, also the case at this hearing.
There was considerable frustration shown by the city councilors in attendance over major/ minor changes in projects, and how and whether they notify the city of Boston. It was also discovered that the BRA has no accounting for LDA’s, smaller parcels that have stipulations on their use. Councilwoman Ayanna Pressley expressed concern for members of her constituency if the extension was given. Councilman Tito Jackson questioned whether the process was even legal, as there had been a memo that the council had previously voted away their rights in regard to the BRA.
During the questioning, the BRA representatives were defensive and dodged issues of accountability, dancing around it with canned answers and pointing toward the state government or to the municipal legal department, claiming no precedent had been set.
The BRA may have been established with the best of intentions in 1949, with aspirations of creating more affordable housing for the residents of Boston. Somewhere along the way greed became a factor, and now Boston has an uncontrollable monster. With each tract of land taken and another luxury high-rise put up the people of Boston are pushed out of the city. To this end the BRA says it explains itself to redundancy, but does not allow the impacted public any oversight of decision making.
The BRA is seeking a 10-year extension on Urban Renewal and needs the approval by April 1st, 2016. The BRA states that if the extension isn’t given, that there are affordable housing units that may not be protected as a result and previous agreements could not be upheld. In this case, their plan is to ask for a 2-year extension to take care of outstanding issues with affordable units.
Link to video of Hearing: http://www.cityofboston.gov/citycouncil/cc_video_library.asp?id=9947