The North End all over again: Chinese residents being driven out of Chinatown

WGBH examines the skyscrapers that are driving up rental prices in Chinatown and driving out longtime residents.



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Is it reverse causality day?

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Rising rental prices -- due to rising demand -- lead to new development, not the other way around.

WGBH examines the skyscrapers that are driving up rental prices in Chinatown and driving out longtime residents.

The article doesn't actually say that the skyscrapers "are driving up rental prices", Adam.


Technically, yes, but the

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Technically, yes, but the report does point out that the cheapest rents at the new One Kensington skyscraper are $3000/mo. Even though the building provides more housing than the old Vinh Khan-Saigon Sandwich buildings, it does with a hefty price increase.


Well of course. New housing

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Well of course. New housing is usually more expensive than old housing.

Again, rents (or purchase prices) drive development. The fact that there is demand for apartments at $3000+/month is what attracted developers to the site. If they could only get $1000/month in rent then the skyscraper would not get built at all. Not without subsidies, anyway.

I'm not saying that this is good or not. It's just how it is. And without getting bogged down in details, I will just say that providing affordable and/or attainable housing is a problem that requires many different approaches, and can depend upon context a lot.

But what does not help at all is when shrill "activists" jump up and down to claim that development is raising rents. No: it is not a good idea to block development. Exhibit A: San Francisco.


Code issues

Non-illegal, up to code housing costs more than "creating" a couple of units in a building that don't have all the necessary things like exits and such.

Chinatown was long known as a place where much of the housing was probably not legal, and I suspect that a lot of the potential or actual displacement is due to the removal of gray market units. I don't know if the illegal use problem was cleaned up after the big 48 Hours fire 24 years ago. Possibly not, since I had Chinese-speaking classmates who were able to find places well into the 1990s if they were willing to overlook certain legalities.

And accept that they could be living with improperly stored, highly combustible materials or illegal fireworks on the next floor ...


Why doesn't the city step up

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Why doesn't the city step up and build some affordable housing; there is no law requiring only private development.


Have you been to Chinatown?

Affordable units - Tai-Tung Village is 200+ units. The place that replaced The Playland Café has a fair amount, albeit for the aged. The Kensington, The Metropolitan, The Avalon development, and 600 Washington all have to have a minimum of 10% affordable units either built within the development or monies set aside to build affordable units.

There is a new building going up a 99 Kneeland / Parcel 24 / One Greenway will have 95 affordable units.

Chinatown gets a big pass when it comes to preservation of its neighborhood, a neighborhood based upon ethnicity.

You can say, yes Beacon Hill and the Back Bay receive their own special treatment when it comes to zoning regs, thus preserving an area. However, Chinatown receives treatment to keep Chinatown as Chinese (and Vietnamese), as it can, not just preserving an area for its historic nature.

There is plenty more housing in Chinatown than there was 20 years ago. Developers have worked to build on non-residential sites. If the two large organizations that run the show in Chinatown are so interested in development why isn't the parking lot on Essex Street between Ping On and Edinboro Streets built on yet? It has been only 24 years since that illegal fireworks storage facility burned down. Why is the big ugly white building across from the Eldo just sitting there? Why is there a big parking lot on Harrison just before Kneeland? These are all good sites for residential development as well.

If we want to codify this little place of Boston with its special treatment, then we are verging onto sanctioned ethnic enclaves in the city where one ethnic based interest group, and not the individual, gets treatment over others.


Maybe if the city allowed

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Maybe if the city allowed residential buildings to be built with significant height and density as of right without massively expensive minimum parking ratios, years of "review", linkage payments (shake down money), and affordable housing (make a lot of housing more expensive to make it cheaper for a select few), than maybe just maybe rent would go down. Until then it costs too much and takes to long to build any housing in the city profitably it becomes a luxury with a high rate of return or an "affordable" housing development which is heavily subsidized by the state from taxes which made other housing less affordable. =(


Join the club.

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Add these neighborhoods to the growing list of casualties to gentrification: South End, Charlestown, JP, South Boston...


True, but a big part of

True, but a big part of Chinatown is the people. North End Italian residents look just like any other white person. The food is what makes the neighborhood in the North End. Part of the novelty for tourists walking around Chinatown is all the Chinese people walking around. It feels like you're in a different country.

While I do feel for the residents being pushed out, it's not like this is surprising or illegal by any means. Plus they can just move to Quincy.

We don’t know how to take the subway

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Yu and his family moved to Chinatown 10 years ago. Through a translator, he tells us that they’re fond of the neighborhood.

"I want to stay here," he said. "We don’t — me and my wife — we don’t speak any English. It’s hard for us to get around. We don’t know how to take the subway."

I'm amazed that someone can live in Boston for 10 years and not speak any English -- and not have figured out how to use the subway.


They live in a super insular

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They live in a super insular micro-society. I doubt some of the people have traveled more than a few blocks since moving here. Everything they need is within a few blocks.



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and the ones that have figured out the subway can go to Malden, which also has a large Asian population now.

Thats the other thing this article is forgetting... Malden has a large Asian population now, especially withing walking distance of the Orange Line station. People can live (cheaply) in Malden, but still have easy access to Chinatown.

Honestly I wouldn't be surprised if in a few years Malden becomes the next Chinatown as people are priced out of the city.


Not all Asians are Chinese

Malden (and adjacent areas of Medford) have substantial populations of ethnic Vietnamese residents now - I'd say that it is known locally for Vietnamese businesses and people more than for the Chinese (who do live there, too).

Quincy, on the other hand, has absorbed a big chunk of Chinatown's outmigration to the suburbs over the last 20 years, with small and large businesses to accommodate that population.


Malden is still Chinatown North

In terms of numbers, there are way more Chinese than Vietnamese. I speak of this as one who both grew up in Malden and Vietnamese.

For restaurants, I still don't understand, and long wondered, why there's 3 Vietnamese restaurants in Malden Sq and no traditional Chinese restaurants when there's so many more Chinese (though one have open up recently). Others aspects makes more sense to me, it seems we like to opt to open a small business. (My parents included - at risk of narrowing my identity down to say that). Doesn't answer why the Chinese been opening less while outnumbering us.

I would bet in a few years there will be a much larger number of Chinese-American businesses in Malden. If Malden become a full-on Asian enclave, I would bet Malden will be seen as Chinatown North than Little Saigon. We'll be around, but I suspect it's only a matter of time till the numbers start to show.

Edit: while I made the post basing in personal experience (which is equivalent as it seem you are doing basing on your experience too - though I think I should be in a better position to estimate), I decided to to do some search. This is what I found

It also fits to my personal experience in hs, these seem to be a roughly 3:1 ratio of Chinese to Vietnamese.


This poster is largely

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This poster is largely correct about Malden's Asian population. There is still a large and growing Vietnamese population, and it seems to be moving into adjacent parts of Everett and Medford as well.

The Chinese population in Malden is surely growing too. There is a new Taiwanese restaurant, and a hot pot restaurant is slated to open this summer, with additional Chinese eateries in the planning phases. Malden is particularly attractive to Chinese residents because of its direct subway connection to Chinatown - without transfer - via the orange line.

Look, I knew people who were

Look, I knew people who were native English speakers (albeit with a Boston accent) who lived in Quincy all their lives, and who were also flummoxed when you asked them to take the T anywhere.

I'm guessing that this couple rarely, if ever, stopped working long enough to leave the neighborhood, much less attend an ESOL class.


Chinese immigrants generally

Chinese immigrants generally work long hours at restaurants. Both parents will work 12 hour shifts, 7 days per week while the grandparents raise the children.

Next stop Dudley!

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The Italians were driven out of the North End
The Irish were driven out of South Boston
The Chinese were driven out of Chinatown
Dudley the heart and soul of the black community will be the next neighborhood annexed by gentrification

Can you just let us know

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who these "gentrifiers" are exactly, since they're apparently not black, Irish, Italian, or Chinese?

I understand the pain that comes along with losing "the heart and soul" of an ethnic community but let's be real--before it was a black neighborhood, it was WASP, Irish (Hibernian Hall, anyone?) Jewish. Someone is always getting "pushed out" or more often just moving along. The Italians of the North End moved north; the Southie Irish have been moving south for years; black people from Roxbury have been moving to Milton, Randolph, etc. You can't nail down the population of a neighborhood and expect things not to change. And as much as we'd like to rail against anonymous gentrifiers who don't identify themselves based on ethnic background, they ARE coming from somewhere--maybe from bland suburbs which will eventually be filled with people fleeing the cities.


WGBH story not complete picture

There's a great story to be written about housing affordability. Unfortunately, the WGBH story isn't it. It leaves out a lot of information and pertinent data.

It seems WGBH didn't do any independent research on what was going on in Chinatown, but simply repeated the information they were given from the CPA.

The rising median rents and costs of living in Chinatown are the result of all the new housing being built there - housing built on what previously had been empty buildings and parking lots. No one was displaced by that.

And, there are more Chinese as well as Asians living in Chinatown than ever before, so it's not a matter of one race replacing another. The CPA plays tricks with the statistics - yes, the percentage of people living in Chinatown of Asian and Chinese descent is lower, but the actual number of Chinese and Asian people living there is higher. The percentage only went down because thousands of Caucasians moved into the new developments.


Not all empty lots

The specific site I mentioned above-- where the Kensington Tower now is-- had thriving businesses and upper floor apartments before they were ripped down by developers. Then, that unnecessarily empty lot sat vacant for about, oh, five years before Kensington construction began. I think much of what your wrote is correct, and this is an issue worthy of a serious, well researched article. But unlike the Vornado pit where Filene's used to be, actual occupied buildings were destroyed for Kensington. Not great apartments, not high-end shopping, and probably, as pointed out above, violating a lot of codes, but thriving buildings nevertheless.

I think one of the issues we're all skipping here is that Boston is displacing new immigrants. As people assimilate, be it over one or a few generations, they have often moved out of the urban enclaves where someone without a good grasp of the prevailing language and/or a need for a familiar support network lives. What is different is that recent immigrants are not able to find dense neighborhoods where they do not need to drive, where shopping is familiar, and the culture shock that any of us feel when we have to work and function in a new country is ameliorated by having neighbors familiar with your language and culture help you.

I'm sure that some of the people buying high-end condos in Chinatown are new or first generation English speaking college graduates from Asian countries or families. I doubt that many people waiting tables and washing dishes in Chinatown, even with the 10% set-aside, can afford the new construction.

I just tried to get some prices off the BRA website-- they've changed it since last I checked and I couldn't find rental prices in Chinatown/DTX, but here are some of the outer income limits for Boston:

Income limits for one person household, based on Average Median Income (AMI):
50% of AMI=$32000
110% of AMI= $72450

Housing limits, 4 person household
50% of AMI= $47050
110% of AMI= $103500

The new buildings have a blend of income-limit set asides. A minority of it will be for the 50% AMI renters.

I know from experience that rents for these units are based on the upper end of the income limit, and preferences for local residents displaced by what the BRA still calls "urban renewal," for the elderly, and for the disabled, will take up a lot of that 10%. I am in favor of the preferences, but think that the number of set-asides should increase, and developers should be encouraged (or forced) to put aside larger, family friendly units as well. By designating studios & one beds as the mixed income apartments, the developers pretty much guarantee they will get childless, elderly, and/or disabled tenants.