The Codcast: Pushed out of Roxbury

Some people may have been taken aback by the overflow crowd of 350 people who showed up earlier this month for a Boston City Council hearing in Roxbury to hear concerns about displacement. Kim Janey was not one of them.

“I was not surprised at all,” said Janey, the district city councilor who represents Roxbury along with parts of Dorchester, the South End, and the Fenway.

Janey, who sponsored the November 13 hearing, said concerns about displacement have reached a fever pitch in Roxbury, where housing costs shot up by 70 percent from 2010 to 2015, twice the rate of the overall citywide appreciation of 36 percent during that period. “People are feeling the heat,” she said on this week’s Codcast. “People are being pushed out of our neighborhood. And so we need to come up with creative solutions to keep residents who want to be in Roxbury in Roxbury.”

Exacerbating the problem, said Janey, is the city’s enormous racial wealth gap, which has left blacks disproportionately vulnerable to displacement. She said 81 percent of the households in her district are renters, a much higher figure than the citywide rate.

The displacement and gentrification story is certainly not a new one. What’s playing out now in areas of Roxbury looks similar to the changes that overtook the South End a few decades ago.

“I hope the unbridled gentrification of the South End in the ‘80s proves to be instructive in developing a plan that, rather than gentrify and segregate neighborhoods, something that does not make Boston look good, creates opportunities for housing that benefits all without displacing anyone,” wrote Joyce Ferriabough Bolling, a veteran Roxbury political consultant, in an Boston Herald op-ed the day after the council hearing.

Just how to head off the negative consequences of growth and development, however, has long eluded planners and activists in Boston and cities across the country. “All things really need to be on the table,” said Janey, including recent talk of a return to rent control, which was banned through a 1994 statewide ballot question. “There isn’t one magic pill we can take that’s going to solve it.”

Other approaches that should be considered, she said, include a vacancy tax and a “graduated transfer tax” to discourage people from buying and quickly flipping property.

Jarred Johnson, founder of Dorchester Growing Together, an affiliate of the national YIMBY movement that thinks robust growth is part of the answer to the urban housing affordability crisis, joined Janey on the Codcast and said boosting the housing supply has to be part of the solution.

Janey said the development boom that has been underway in the city hasn’t addressed the problem. “We keep building housing that people in the city can’t afford to live in,” she said.

Johnson argued that new development, even at the high end, can take pressure off existing housing stock. Indeed, he argued that opposition to new projects in wealthy neighborhoods like the Back Bay is contributing to the pressure on prices and supply being felt in places like Roxbury. Meanwhile, he said neighborhoods like Roxbury have to be open to “upzoning” and other changes that allow greater density and cost-reducing approaches like the use of prefab housing.

“I don’t see a future in which the housing stock and the visual look of Boston stays the same and we have affordable housing,” he said. “To me, that doesn’t jive. To me, the community and the neighborhood is the people.”

Janey said some projects may be too big for a neighborhood, but there has to be a willingness to accept new development. She recounted a recent showdown in a Roxbury neighborhood over boosting a project size from six units to eight units.

“We can’t say we’re concerned about gentrification and displacement and worry about our own parking needs and fight against a project that would have brought only two additional units,” she said.



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