Op-Ed: Community Preservation Act: Holding institutions accountable for expansion

Among this year’s series of ballot questions for Boston was Question 5, the Community Preservation Act. This act applies a one percent surcharge on a tax on revised property values, which would contribute entirely to a fund that would finance affordable housing, historic preservation, outdoor recreation and open space. The Community Preservation Act is paramount because of its creation of affordable housing and community control.

As someone who spent much of their childhood in New York City’s Chinatown, which is undergoing gentrification and displacement, I recognize how vital affordable housing is for the survival of low-income communities and residents. By interning through the Tisch Scholars Program at the Chinese Progressive Association to fight this issue in Boston’s Chinatown, I have also realized Tufts’ ongoing role in the gentrification of Chinatown through its Boston campus and medical center. Since I am interning through the university, I am constantly questioning Tufts’ placement of students in organizations that help empower communities that Tufts negatively affects, because it’s as if Tufts is fighting against itself.

Not only do Tufts’ contradictory actions apply to Boston’s Chinatown, but they also apply to the surrounding Somerville and Medford communities, which suffer from rising property values and displacement due to increased demand from upperclassmen for off-campus housing. However, the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life has partnerships with anti-displacement organizations in these communities. This cognizance is not a criticism of the Tisch Scholars Program but more of a way to bring light to our role as students in holding the university accountable for its actions and hypocrisy.

As students of this institution, we need to recognize that the issue of gentrification and the role of Tufts in Chinatown need to be urgently acknowledged and addressed. We can help fix the problem by recognizing the harm we, along with other real estate developers, have inflicted and continue to inflict. The Community Preservation Act is clearly a viable solution to this issue and was fortunately passed in this year’s election. It is also a reminder that we, as Tufts students, must see ourselves as stakeholders who have a voice in what happens to the communities in which Tufts leaves harmful footprints. This will make us better equipped to help solve this urgent issue.

The Community Preservation Act is not only beneficial in that it allocates money to affordable housing, but it is also important because it allows committees of local residents to recommend projects, granting the public control over where funding is spent. Of the six people I interviewed (including Tufts students who grew up in Boston and employees at the Chinese Progressive Association), many voiced the need for public community control over money and where it is directed. They believed that community development corporations and other community non-profits should either take control or have a large stake in where funds are directed.

The Community Preservation Act meets the Boston’s needs because it allows for this community control, so that funds are going towards the places and people that truly need it. Using this mode of thinking, Tufts students should also see themselves as stakeholders in Tufts’ impact on other communities. We need to help amplify the voices of communities we affect in order to alleviate the damage we and other real estate developers inflict on Chinatown and other communities.

Furthermore, housing is not a right that merely exists in a vacuum. It is linked to and affects almost every aspect of our lives, including education, safety and transportation. In addition to preventing displacement, the Community Preservation Act allows for access to education and other resources that are highly dependent on the neighborhood one lives in.

After speaking to Natasha Karunaratne, a Tufts sophomore who attended the Boston Latin School for high school, I was given insight into the necessity of affordable housing, not only for communities to sustain their social and economic fabric but also to gain access to educational resources. Many of the students who attended the Boston Latin School with Natasha came from low-income communities of color such as Chinatown. In order for them to attend the school, they had to live in the City of Boston. However, many of these students’ families were struggling to pay rent — so much so that they had no choice but to move to communities outside of Boston, such as Malden and Quincy. As a result, these students were forced to attend the district public schools in their new communities, many of which do not have the same standard of resources, teaching and curriculum.

With this in mind, displacement is not only the stripping of homes and communities; it is also the stripping of resources that are a means of economic and social mobility. If displacement continues, Boston’s best public schools and communities will be full of the rich — and the city of Boston should not be serving only the rich. As students who are privileged enough to attend such an esteemed institution, we need to recognize the role displacement has not only on other people’s homes but also on educational equity for everyone — not just the white socioeconomic elite. The fight against gentrification in Chinatown is not only a fight for one singular community but also contributes to the larger goal of providing quality education to members of all class and racial backgrounds.

There is no current alternative for the affordable housing crisis other than creating more affordable housing. Due to its low burden on average homeowners, the passing of the Community Preservation Act is a huge benefit to the Boston community. There is a dire need for affordable housing in Boston and throughout this country, and the passing of the act demonstrates its urgency. Even if maintaining affordable housing is costly, it is worth it. To address the issue, we need to make use of every force and resource available. As members of an institution that is contributing to a community’s harm, we also need to see ourselves as part of that remedying force. In order to do so, we must see ourselves as a powerful force that can keep Tufts in check and make sure it is truly abiding by its acclaimed values of fairness and equality for all.

 

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