Nobody Home

June 22, 2007
By

John Ruch


Gazette Photo by John Swan
This house at 279 Lamartine St. is boarded up and labeled officially “abandoned” by the City of Boston.

JP’s Abandoned Buildings

In a neighborhood packed with apartments, condos, co-ops, co-housing and roommates galore, you might think it would be rare to hear, “Nobody home.” And you’d be right.

The city’s 10th annual list of abandoned buildings includes eight in Jamaica Plain—among the lowest counts in the city. Citywide, there are 354 buildings reported as abandoned, slightly more than in 2005.


Local residential properties on the list include 55 Heath St., 279 Lamartine St. and 10 Westminster Ave.

Commercial or industrial properties include 181 Amory St., 33-37 S. Huntington Ave., 3012 Washington St., 3425 Washington St. and 3700 Washington St. Most of those properties have been the focus of development ideas in recent years.

The list was compiled last summer and is already out of date. Another JP house listed as abandoned, 80 Jamaica St., has since been demolished. The property is now owned by a developer.

The city Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) compiles the list by canvassing city streets and checking city assessing and fire department records. Surveying is particularly intense in areas with historically high abandonment rates, according to the Abandoned Buildings Report released along with the list to explain the data.

DND defines “abandoned” as any building that appears not to be occupied and “has visible signs of physical distress.” Sheds and garages on residential property aren’t counted.

The report acknowledges that DND may miss some abandoned properties while possibly incorrectly reporting buildings used for storage as abandoned.

DND compiles the list to encourage reuse, whether by the current owner, a new owner or the city after tax foreclosure or some other type of seizure. Part of the city’s “Leading the Way” strategy to increase housing is the reclamation of abandoned residential buildings.

“The mayor wants to know exactly what’s going on with these abandoned properties,” said DND spokesperson Kerry O’Brien.

Current owners of abandoned properties are contacted, if possible, and offered DND advice on financing, renovating and/or marketing.

Residential abandonments often involve elderly owners who can’t afford to maintain a house, said O’Brien.

Failed or pending reuse attempts surround several of JP’s abandoned properties.

The 279 Lamartine house has been on the agenda of the local Problem Properties Committee for about three years after neighbors complained about such issues as people apparently camping in the yard. The committee is a public/private effort to target dangerously neglected local properties. It often deals with abandoned property.

The 181 Amory industrial building has been vacant for about 20 years. In 2002, police arrested three men for breaking into the building while carrying pepper spray, an expandable baton and a stiletto. That same year, a cab driver was shot to death in the parking lot.

Last year, the property was announced as the possible location of an “eco-village,” an environmentally conscious co-op condominium. The group behind that effort is still holding organizational meetings.

The S. Huntington property is where a heating/air-conditioning company and a locksmith used to do business, surrounded by larger parcels collectively numbered 31-45 S. Huntington. A large condo building was proposed there in 2002, but financing reportedly fell through.

Another condo project was proposed in 2004, but has yet to materialize. The buildings on the property have been vacant since around that time.

More than a decade ago, a parking lot was proposed for 3012 Washington. The idea drew controversy.

A barbershop operated at 3700 Washington for 63 years, closing in 2003. In 2004, a proposal to open a Domino’s Pizza there was driven out by neighborhood opposition.

According to the Assessing Department, property taxes are past due on 181 Amory, 55 Heath, 3012 Washington and 10 Westminster.

In the 10 years since the first abandoned properties listing, the citywide total of abandoned properties is down 66 percent. Between 2005 and 2006, the city saw a net gain of four abandoned buildings.

The DND also reports abandonment rates by neighborhood and compares them year-to-year. But those figures are incorrect because the DND, like most city agencies, bases the data analysis on an incorrect Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) map that considers large portions of JP to be in Roxbury and Roslindale, while including most of Mission Hill and the Longwood Medical Area in JP. (Among other oddities, the BRA map places the JP police station and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation headquarters in Roxbury.) As previously reported in the Gazette, the map was drawn years ago for census-counting convenience and is now institutionalized.

However, the data shows that JP has far fewer abandoned properties than such neighborhoods as Dorchester and Roxbury.

This year’s abandoned property survey is under way. Residents are welcome to notify DND about properties that appear to be abandoned. “That helps tremendously,” O’Brien said. Residents can contact Ron Farrar at 635-0340 or rfarrar.dnd@cityofboston.gov.

To see the full list of abandoned properties and an interactive map, see www.cityofboston.gov/dnd.

Best of JP 2014