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Affordable Housing Impact of Suffolk Downs Plan Sparks Clash Between Sanders, Revere Mayor

Sen. Bernie Sanders is weighing in on a Suffolk Downs redevelopment plan, calling for affordable housing and drawing a quick retort from Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo, who tweeted back "OK Boomer"

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A Democratic presidential candidate and a Massachusetts mayor are sparring on social media over a new development plan that has been criticized over its potential impact on the affordable housing market in Greater Boston.

For nearly a century, Suffolk Downs in East Boston and Revere served as the state's most prominent racetrack. It hosted its final horse race in 2019, five years after its bid for eastern Massachusetts' sole casino license lost out to Wynn Resorts' plan that ultimately became Encore Boston Harbor.

Now, an investment group's plan to turn the 161-acre plot into a space for retail, restaurants and housing is drawing the ire of affordable housing advocates.

"We need affordable housing for all instead of more gentrifying luxury developments for the few," Sanders tweeted Thursday. "I stand with the longtime residents of East Boston fighting displacement from the communities they have spent generations building."

In Sanders' tweet, he shared a Boston Business Journal story about two local organizations who are pushing for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to halt the plan.

About two hours later, Revere's mayor replied to Sanders with two words: "OK Boomer."

Mayor Brian Arrigo went on to elaborate.

"In all seriousness- I agree that MA residents should have better access to all types of housing. That's why we engaged in a year long community driven process and collaborated with many stakeholders to make one of the largest developments in MA history a reality," Arrigo wrote. "And finally @berniesanders just to be clear - Suffolk Downs is 1/3 in my city @revere311. Being an executive means making decisions that require compromise - nobody got everything they wanted but the end result was a positive for the community."

Boston City Councilor Lydia Edwards, who represents East Boston, said she was skeptical of Sanders' motives.

"My initial thought was, 'OK, where have you been?'" Edwards said. "We're in a struggle, we're in a fight, and if he's coming here to highlight that, it's not enough to just tweet and go."

Edwards, who has endorsed Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the presidential race, notes in her Twitter bio that she is "fighting for housing justice." She said if Sanders is truly concerned about the issue, she wants him involved beyond Massachusetts' primary next week.

"If he's here to help, and to highlight, I hope he's here the next week, and the next week, and the next week after Super Tuesday," she said.

But other affordable housing advocates are standing behind Sanders' comments.

"That will displace residents from East Boston," said advocate Andres Castillo, adding that the proposal would "further the displacement crisis the community is already feeling."

While the developer, HYM Investment Group, has promised more than 1,000 affordable units on-site and off-site, proponents want roughly half of the 10,000 going up to go to low-income families.

"They don't live in the real world," Thomas O'Brien, a founding partner and managing director for HYM, told NBC10 Boston over the phone. "These projects need to make basic financial sense."

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