Survey attempted to include everyone’s views

After being out of town, I read the letter to the editor in the April 27 JP Gazette concerning the St. Andrew’s Development Community Survey. On behalf of the four neighborhood groups that helped craft the survey, 12 volunteers who distributed roughly 2,800 copies of it, 14 businesses that hosted collection boxes and all those who took time to complete the survey, it seemed important to respond.

As demonstrated by the tremendous effort of those listed above, the survey was by no means an attempt to exclude anyone. In fact, it attempted the opposite—to include every neighbor and every viewpoint. It was available online and distributed door-to-door on streets from the Casey Overpass to Neponset Avenue. Hard copies were also delivered and available in Spanish. Additional copies and collection boxes were placed in the Covenant Congregationalist Church and in the Woodbourne Apartment complex, which serves low income and elderly clients. Lastly, in case anyone was missed, copies were available in most Hyde Park Avenue businesses.

As to whether a question about income levels “implies that people can be judged as good or bad neighbors based on how much money they earn,” the question was included for a reason we’ve read about in the Gazette—while “affordable housing” is defined by income, the neighborhood has yet to hear a consistent definition of what that income is.

In March, after two neighborhood meetings in which no clear definition of affordable housing was available, residents were left confused and frustrated. So, rather than rely on vague labels and misperceptions, the survey got specific and asked, “what income range the housing should serve.” The seven income choices ranged from “Under $19,000” to “Over $145,000” (modeled after income levels in Harris Polls). Respondents could pick more than one option. In addition, “other” and “additional comments” were available for opinions not covered.

Tremendous diversity was represented in the responses—including calls
for affordable housing, elderly housing and even no housing, just restaurants. The responses represented the entire range of incomes and then some. Especially illuminating were responses that called for “market rate” housing, but then indicated income levels that were modest to low. If the question hadn’t been included, that additional and important insight wouldn’t have been possible.

The Forest Hills neighborhood is diverse. The survey left room for the equal diversity of our neighbors’ opinions. While I deeply appreciate the effort behind the recent petition the fact is petitions only represent people who agree with them. The intent of the survey was to represent everyone and every opinion. Both will be useful tools, but shouldn’t be relied on exclusively to guide the community processes going forward.

Lastly, both the survey and petition were earnest attempts to reach neighbors who haven’t been represented at community meetings. If you’re reading this and haven’t been to an Arborway Yard, Forest Hills Improvement Initiative or St. Andrew’s Development meeting I urge you to stop letting other people represent you and come out and represent yourself. You don’t have to attend every meeting, but if everyone attended even one, the need for surveys and petitions and debate by the few on behalf of the many would be greatly diminished.

Annie Finnegan
Jamaica Plain

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