Chinatown Land Trust acquires first townhouse
(left to right) Karen Chen, CPA CEO, Suzanne Lee, Chinatown activist, Lydia Lowe, land trust director, Meidan Lin, home buyer, Kim Janey, home buyer, Edward Hickey, representative of State Aaron Michlewitz, Councilor Ed Flynn. PHOTO: CITY OF BOSTON
Meidan Lin did not expect to find a home for his family of four so soon. Waiting lists for affordable housing in Boston can take years, and winning the lottery for affordable homeownership can be like, well, winning the lottery.
So when she got a unit in a renovated townhouse on Oak Street in Chinatown, that was a big deal.
“It’s very, very exciting,” she said, leading several Chinatown residents on a tour of her three-bedroom unit, which occupies the third and fourth floors of the Oak Street townhouse. “It is very difficult for new immigrants to find housing.
Lin’s new home was made possible by the Chinatown Land Trust, an organization that removes the neighborhood’s real estate from the speculative market and makes it affordable on a permanent basis.
On Monday, Lin joined with activists, the city and elected officials in Chinatown to celebrate the completion of the Land Trust’s first acquisition.
“Housing instability has been exacerbated by the COVID epidemic and the eviction crisis,” said Lydia Lowe, executive director of the land trust. “But we hope to be on the right track in the city of Boston.”
Acting Mayor Kim Janey compared preserving affordability in the gentrifying neighborhood to her own family’s struggle to keep her home in the changing South End.
“My family weren’t able to keep their brownstone back in the 1980s when the South End started to gentrify,” she said. “So this question is particularly important to me. It’s very personal to me that we can come here on this day to make sure families have affordable homeownership opportunities.
Chinatown’s row houses have long been home to immigrants – Irish, Lebanese and, from the late 1800s, Chinese. For decades, community activists have fought the expansion of Tufts New England Medical Center into the residential neighborhood and worked to preserve the housing stock, which has housed immigrant families, many of whom have doubled into small apartments.
In recent years, luxury skyscrapers have surrounded the neighborhood’s Chinese-American community, pushing up real estate values and putting more pressure on low-income residents in the neighborhood. The increased attention of investors has also led to the conversion of more apartments for short-term rentals.
“Our townhouses have been emptied and ravaged by Airbnb and short-term rentals,” Lowe said.
When a real estate developer took over 29 Oak Street last year, land trust members reached out to District 1 City Councilor Lydia Edwards, who met with the developer and persuaded him to negotiate with the Chinatown residents.
The land trust bought the building from the developer and hired a contractor to create three units in the four-story building.
In addition to preserving the townhouses, Chinatown activists worked with partner organizations to build new, affordable developments on plots of city and state owned land in and around the neighborhood.
On Monday, the three new affordable units were a tangible success in a neighborhood that has struggled for decades to survive.
“It’s a very special day in our city,” said Janey. “It shows that when we work together we can find creative solutions to deal with our housing crisis. We can have affordable housing in our neighborhoods to support working families and ensure Boston residents can continue to live in our city. “