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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Dorchester Bay City: From the staff and faculty perspective

In a letter sent to the campus community on Jan. 17, Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco and Provost Joseph Berger enthusiastically endorsed Dorchester Bay City, a mega-development project that is to be built on public land owned by the University of Massachusetts. UMass Boston itself stands to gain $235 million by leasing the land to a private developer. The proposed project is mixed-use and comprised of 6.1 million square feet of new building space—roughly the size of two Empire State buildings—all to be built on a postage-stamp sized plot of land located at the doorstep of our campus.

We are concerned that the administration, speaking on behalf of a state university, has become a public and uncritical cheerleader for a private developer that is paying the university hundreds of millions of dollars. This glaring conflict of interest is especially troubling given all the serious concerns about housing, job creation, traffic, et cetera, that have been raised by the Faculty Council, Campus Unions and others. These voices have more of a democratic claim to speak for the university than a handful of university administrators.

The Chancellor and Provost endorse Dorchester Bay City as a no-brainer. It is far from it. The project has improved since the developers rolled it out three years ago—but largely because community pressure has been effective. Now is the time to increase this public pressure on the developer because DBC remains a bad deal.

The most glaring problem is that DBC will drive up rents and further gentrify the area, pushing residents out of Dorchester, which is one of the few remaining parts of Boston with large working-class communities of color and ethnic neighborhoods. Even with a small increase in affordable housing, designed to bring the project in line with upcoming City policy changes, DBC still includes far too few affordable units. These units are priced at levels that are twice or more what most Dorchester residents earn. Simply put, so-called “affordable” housing is not really affordable. This is especially tragic because most of DBC is being built on University of Massachusetts land—public land where the commitment to building truly affordable housing should be far stronger than the weak standards set by the City and begrudgingly adopted by the developer.

In addition, the developer’s job promises are too vague. In order to demonstrate a serious commitment to equity, Dorchester Bay City must not only increase affordable housing, but must also make a firm commitment to creating good jobs, specifying numbers and developing enforcement mechanisms for hiring and training BIPOC residents for both construction and long-term jobs. The developers must also attach specifics and dollar amounts to promises of paid internships and other opportunities for UMass Boston students and graduates.

Finally, DBC is just too big for the 36-acre plot of land. It will add more than 1,700 housing units and four million square feet of offices, labs and retail space to an area that already faces some of the region’s worst transit issues. This will be a pain for UMass Boston students and employees trying to get to class or work, but even worse for Dorchester residents who will literally live with gridlock.

The Chancellor and Provost suggest that DBC will “strengthen engagement with local communities.” The reality is that by supporting and benefitting from this project, the university will be betraying its “urban mission” and contribute to the very gentrification that threatens Dorchester communities. This will not be lost on residents.

The UMass Boston Coalition Against Gentrification has been actively engaging in the public process for this project since the inception. We urge you to join us and take up the administration’s challenge to participate in the three planned public meetings. We must weigh in now. The DBC developer hopes to get project approval by this summer and break ground by the Spring of 2024. This may be our last chance to require them to change the project to address community needs and concerns. Boston Planning and Development Agency, who run the public review process, has scheduled just one public Zoom hearing to address housing, jobs and economic development on Wednesday, Feb. 1. To get more information and updates, please feel free to email us at [email protected].