Olympics gentrification, local benefits discussed

May 1, 2015
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At a meeting about Boston’s Olympics bid held Tuesday night at Roxbury Community College, residents voiced worries about gentrification, loss of affordable housing, and lack of participation in the planning process.

“People in this room haven’t been part of the process,” Roxbury resident Joao dePina told members of the Boston 2024 bidding organization. “You didn’t hire people from our neighborhood to plan this. Include us in the conversation before you give us the conversation.”

Most of the near-100 audience members who spoke were against the Olympics, though there were members who were merely skeptical, and some in favor. There were “No Boston Olympics” signs scattered around the room, and the Gazette did not see any signs in support. Among the Boston 2024 members in attendance was Corey Dinopoulos, who helped spark the Olympics bid by creating a fictional marketing plan for it in a Massachusetts College of Art and Design class several years ago.

The meeting was the latest in a series sponsored by the City of Boston, which is an official partner in the bid. As at previous meetings, only Boston 2024 made a presentation, with critics and opponents left to ask questions from the audience if they got a chance.

Audience members were concerned about impacts to lower-income neighborhoods of color—namely, Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan—and whether those communities would see any benefits from hosting the games or get priced out of their homes instead.

There were also requests for more “factual numbers and information,” which City Olympics liaison John FitzGerald said are in development.

Boston 2024 chief counsel Paige Scott Reed said during the presentation that there would be “tangible benefits for the people who live here, now,” since the bid will focus on hiring and promoting businesses owned by women, minorities and veterans.

A National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) brief, distributed at the meeting, explained that the NAACP has been pushing Boston 2024 for that promise for months.

Boston 2024 wants “barriers to be addressed now so all our citizens can participate fully,” Scott Reed said.

She then said that Boston 2024 has been in working with former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson on issues of gentrification and displacement. Wilkerson spoke forcefully about those issues at the meeting.

“Part of the answer to that [issue] is availability,” Scott Reed said, mentioning how the City of Boston is aiming to create thousands of new housing units by 2030.

She did not say what Boston 2024 is planning to do about that potential problem, aside from forming a group to discuss it.

Scott Reed, the MBTA’s general counsel since September 2013, jumped ship for Boston 2024 in February.

“This is not us saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ Your ideas will help shape the bid,” FitzGerald said. “We will continue to shape this bid to make it the best bid for Boston.”

But the exact input process remains unclear, and the plain focus of the meetings is to promote and advance the secretly crafted bid, not to question whether it should happen at all.

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