Lydia Lowe

by Lia

MKI Affiliation:

Resident Leadership Academy Partner


Executive Director


Chinatown Community Land Trust


Lydia Lowe has seen many changes in Boston’s Chinatown over several decades. She recalls the days when the Boston Redevelopment Agency (BRA) would only provide new development review meetings and documents in English and would only publicize in the Boston Herald classifieds. But through sustained and determined community organizing, activists in Chinatown were able to force the city to provide interpretation at meetings and potential developers to provide summaries or projects in Chinese. 

Parallel efforts to increase voter registration, participation, and education put Chinatown on the map politically, and now elected officials pay much more attention to the electorate in this Boston neighborhood. Today, Chinatown has a good relationship with many city officials and the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA, formally BRA).  With a stabilized core of residents who live in Chinatown, Lydia and the Chinatown Community Land Trust (CCLT), as well as other community-based groups like Asian CDC and Chinese Progressive Association, have been growing their residential base and organizing to protect the rights and advocate for the needs of residents.

The importance of affordable housing in Chinatown is evident. In Lydia’s words:

“Chinatown plays a strategic role for the broader Chinese American community. Even though I have never lived in Chinatown, it’s very important to our community and to me personally…because as a Chinese American you will always feel the impact of racism and inequality. It is rooted in our system in our racial and economic caste system. And if you don’t organize to fight that inequality, then we will never be free. Within that movement for change, the geographic base of Chinatown is critical because it is the strategic center for the community to fight for equality. It all comes back to a concentrated base like that. Unless you have residents living in that area, you can’t anchor a Chinatown.”

The clear importance of the work more broadly informs the need for resident leadership development training and organizing.

Chinatown Community Land Trust (CCLT) is a relatively new organization. First started in 2015 by longtime activists and residents, in 2017 Lydia became the first staff person as Executive Director. The organization focuses on community control of development, collective governance, and involving people in decision-making. These ideals manifest in their work acquiring small properties, engaging in community planning, stewarding a public park, preserving historical and culturally significant sites, and even starting an energy microgrid. Lydia had known about the Mel King Institute (MKI) for a while and even participated in one of our real estate development trainings. When the Resident Leadership Academy (RLA) launched in fall 2021, she coordinated with Asian CDC to identify several different pockets of active residents that have potential to join and speak with a collective voice about community-wide needs. RLA would be able to provide some support and structure through our popular education curriculum.

Chinatown CLT, Asian CDC, and MKI decided to run a series of two trainings. First, Chinatown CLT would support a series of resident trainings in Mass Pike Towers to help reactivate and build out their tenant association. These residents are all Chinese speaking, so the two co-facilitators were an English speaking MKI trainer and a bilingual facilitator with experience working with public housing residents at the Boston Housing Authority. They were able to simplify and translate the whole curriculum into Chinese. According to Lydia, one learning from this series was how important it is to adapt curriculum to the intended audience. Because Chinatown does not have public housing (instead they have privately owned Affordable housing), many of the references to public housing conditions did not resonate with this group of residents. In Lydia’s opinion, these learnings will provide valuable feedback for the second round of trainings in the works for a group of Asian CDC residents who want to start a tenant association. 

In the future, Lydia hopes to build out this resident leadership development to transition facilitation and partnerships to newly activated residents for organizing. Lydia continues to be passionate about organizing because in her words, “the only way we can create real change is to work for equality through organizing and fighting for community power.”