JPNC wants affordable housing in Forest Hills

March 30, 2007
By

LOU MANCINELLI

The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) voted unanimously to endorse a petition that calls for 50 percent of housing developed as part of the Forest Hills Improvement Initiative (FHII) to be affordable.

It also voted to support the creation of a new group dedicated to improving the aesthetics of Jamaica Pond at its monthly meeting Tuesday night at Curtis Hall.

Francesca Fordiani introduced a petition started by neighbors in Forest Hills, urging the Forest Hills Improvement Initiative Working Groups and the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) to include affordable housing as a top priority in the development of the Forest Hills Area.

“At least 50 percent of the housing developed on publicly owned land should be affordable, and should include a mix of home ownership and rental housing to meet the needs of all residents,” the petition says.

Board members also engaged in a short discussion about the reality of the affordability of affordable housing for the low-income people it is supposed to target.

“It really only means less expensive,” said Carlos Icaza.

The definition of what qualifies as affordable housing varies depending on the source. According the City of Boston, it is housing priced for people who make below 110 percent of the area median income (AMI). But according to local non-profit the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Develop Corporation (JPNDC), affordable housing is housing priced for people who make below 80 percent of AMI. The city says the AMI for a family of four in Boston is $50,000. According to the JPNDC, the AMI for a family of four in Hyde/Jackson is $47,500.

Three parcels owned by the T near the Forest Hills T Station are now for sale as part of the initiative. Development also includes a commuter parking lot on Hyde Park Avenue, the Fitzgerald lot and the Arborway yard. The entire FHII area is bounded by Washington Street (between South Street and Arboretum Road) and Hyde Park Avenue (between Washington and Patten streets.)

The BRA has hosted two community meetings so far, as well as numerous working group meetings. Results from those meetings are being shaped into a community vision for Forest Hills. According to JPNC board member Pam Bender, voices in favor of affordable housing have not been heard by the BRA.

“There is a group of us who live in the Forest Hills area who have gone to meetings and raised the issue of affordable housing,” said Bender. “Interestingly enough, when the BRA publishes its notes from the meeting, it doesn’t seem to show up.”

According to the BRA’s notes from the last community meeting, Jan. 10, which are published on its web site, affordable housing was mentioned by the public concerning Parcels U, bounded by Hyde Park Avenue, and W, a large triangular site on Washington Street.

The last report by the Gazette covering the initiative mirrors that information.

In addition to supporting the petition, some council members accused the BRA of a lack of planning and being disorganized about the process.

“I’m really not thrilled about the BRA’s personal outreach and marketing,” said Fordiani, referring to what she claimed has been poor advertising about community meetings by the BRA.

“The BRA has not been totally prepared to run meetings,” said Icacza, who has attended working group and community meetings since August, “especially community meetings.”

According to BRA spokesperson Jess Shumaker because the March 3 meeting was postponed, the BRA was jammed with advertising deadlines. That meeting was postponed so that the transportation consultants hired by the BRA could be at the next meeting.

She said the BRA initially planned for six meetings, but it is not opposed to holding more if the community believes that is necessary. Flyers have been posted in the business district and e-mails have been sent to people who signed up at meetings. Shumaker also said the BRA has a new feature on its web site, which allows one to sign up to receive alerts about meetings in the specific neighborhood he or she chooses.

Board members said they need to pay more attention to the process. Icaza cited a number of problems. He said the major problem is neighbors, for the most part, want to talk about transportation first and development second. But the BRA is talking development first. He said it is doing a traffic study right now, but the $60,000 budget is not enough for an adequate analysis.

However, JPNC also acknowledged positive work. “I saw a lot of things that seemed very good,” said Steve Backman, referring to open space and mixed-use retail. “A lot of things show foresight and detail, but the issue of housing is up in the air,” he said.

“I am dedicated to seeing this process work,” said Icaza, “but the BRA has a big semi-automatic pointed at its feet, shooting at them every step of the way.”

The next community meeting for the FHII is scheduled for tomorrow morning, from 8:30 a.m. to noon, at the Covenant Congregational Church, located at 455 Arborway next to the Court House. For more information, call the BRA at 918-4334. In addition, a summary of the working group and community meetings, as well as PowerPoint slides displaying the area and potential uses, are available online at www.cityofboston.gov/bra.

New Group
The council board voted 5-4-3 to support the new group Friends of Jamaica Pond.

According to Michael Reiskind, Friends of Jamaica Pond existed a few years ago as an advisory group, but is now reorganizing under the direction of Gerry Wright of the Jamaica Pond Project.

Issues like more benches around the pond, better maintenance and an improved watershed and gardens make up the group’s agenda.

The group is applying for a Small Changes grant from the City of Boston Parks and Recreation, which has a pool of money left over from the 2004 Democratic National Convention, allotted for physical improvements to the city’s parks.