In a first for Chinatown, nonprofit buys privately owned building to avert tenants’ displacement


As Boston faces an affordable housing crisis, a local nonprofit is taking matters into its own hands to ensure property remains accessible and affordable to neighborhood residents.

Last week, the Asian Community Development Corporation purchased 64-68 Beach St., a six-story building in Chinatown with a ground-floor restaurant and 14 residential units. The group received funding from the Mayor’s Office of Housing, BlueHub Capital and Local Initiatives Support Corporation Boston for the purchase.

It’s the first time a nonprofit has bought an occupied building in Chinatown. Their aim is to maintain affordability for the people who currently live there. Angie Liou, the executive director of ACDC, said the group did not want to see the residents displaced. She said it takes a very long time to build affordable housing from scratch, making it difficult to outpace gentrification occurring in the neighborhood.

“It’s very challenging for immigrant workers who might not speak English well, who are not familiar with navigating the local systems, they really need to stay in Chinatown, but they can’t afford to,” Liou said. “And so we’ve seen the wave of people who move out and push out to places like Quincy and Malden where it’s a little bit easier for them to find places to live. But even we have seen places like Quincy and Malden, it’s gotten more expensive as well.”

64-68 Beach Street includes 14 residential units and a ground-floor restaurant

Courtesy / Newmark’s Boston Private Capital Group

Liou said the vast majority of the current residents in the building are Chinese immigrants who work in nearby restaurants and other similar jobs who are doing what they have to make ends meet.

Part of what’s at stake is the cultural fate of the neighborhood itself. And while money from tourists and visitors is important, it doesn’t mean much if the people who make up the community can’t afford rent there.

“I would loathe to see Boston’s Chinatown one day become [Washington] DC’s Chinatown,” she said, explaining how the neighborhood caters to tourists. “You have a lot of Chinese restaurants and establishments with Chinese characters, but there are actually very, very few residents who still live there. And that does not make a neighborhood. We want to make sure that the residents who work and make this neighborhood tick can remain here.”

All current residents’ tenancy will be protected, and future residents will be required to meet the income restriction of 30 to 80 percent of the area median income.

“We are pleased that the City was able to help preserve this housing in Chinatown,” said Sheila Dillon, Boston’s Chief of Housing, in a statement. “These 14 units of income-restricted housing in this vital downtown location will help working families. We are glad to support the ACDC in their work to purchase and preserve housing that is so critically needed in the city and look forward to working with them on future acquisitions.”

The Asian Community Development Corporation plans to purchase other properties as well. Liou said it’s a strategy known as “naturally occurring affordable housing” that’s taking off in other high-cost cities, such as San Franciso.

Liou would not disclose the financial details of the purchase, but she said the cost of any building in Boston — especially one in the heart of Chinatown — is very expensive.

“And here in Boston’s Chinatown, we do see that the housing crisis is so critical that we need all the tools that we can lay our hands on,” she said. “So we will continue to build new affordable housing, because there isn’t enough, but we also want to continue this new strategy, which is trying to buy what’s already out there. And in some ways you can think of it as once we , a nonprofit, buy it, it’s in effect taking it off of the speculative market.”

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