Group home to open near pond

March 20, 2009
By

JOHN RUCH

PONDSIDE—A group home for up to 10 “medically fragile individuals with developmental disabilities” will soon open in a renovated house on the Jamaicaway across from Jamaica Pond, according to Vinfen Corporation, the non-profit human services agency that will own and operate it.

Vinfen bought the house at 424 Jamaicaway, on the corner of Lochstead Avenue, last month for $900,000 from controversial local property owner Roger Smith, according to county records. It is renovating the four-bedroom house now with an eye on opening in late summer or early fall, according to Vinfen spokesperson Donna Rheaume.

Rheaume said Vinfen will “put together a neighborhood outreach program” about the home. But it appears Vinfen has not notified any neighbors yet.

Mark Zanger, chair of the Jamaica Pond Association (JPA), said he was unaware of the home until the Ga-zette informed him of the sale. Zanger said he is familiar with Vinfen and noted the organization might not be obligated to notify the JPA if the home does not need zoning variances. But, he added, the JPA would like to learn more about it.

“It could be cool. It could be an issue,” Zanger said. “It might be a welcome addition to the neighbor-hood. We just have to see.”

The surprise opening of group homes by Vinfen and similar organizations has been a regular issue around Jamaica Plain. The organizations that operate them typically cite confidentiality rules and fair housing laws as explanations for lack of public notice. However, they also frequently reveal many details about the homes if neighbors ask.

Vinfen drew the attention of the Jamaica Hills Association (JHA) last year for the surprise opening of a group home on Parkside Drive. The JHA was especially concerned by two incidents of home staff members searching the streets for lost residents.

A resident of another Vinfen home on Gartland Street was stabbed to death in the house last year. His roommate was charged with murder.

Local controversies over surprise home openings by Vinfen go back to at least 1993.

The Jamaicaway house is a 3,800-square-foot single-family dwelling, according to city Assessing Depart-ment records. Rheaume said that after the renovations, five residents can move in immediately, followed by up to five more later on an unclear timeline.

The home will be staffed at all times, Rheaume said. “Our folks require nursing and the home will be staffed,” she said. It is unlikely that any of the residents would have cars.

“We want to maintain the beauty of the property in character with the neighborhood,” Rheaume said.

The house sits next to another major institutional property—the Rogerson House, an assisted-living home for people with memory loss. The JPA holds its monthly meetings in a room at Rogerson House.

Other Vinfen-owned property in JP includes 480 Arborway and 24 Robinwood Ave., according to city records. Vinfen rents properties as well.

As the Gazette reported last year, 424 Jamaicaway was among the properties co-owned by brothers Roger and Douglas Smith, who are possibly the neighborhood’s biggest rental property owners. The Jamaicaway house was one of the properties cited in a legal affidavit about the recent break-up of their real estate empire.

The Smiths have long drawn complaints about conditions at their rental properties, as the Gazette previ-ously reported. In 1981, Roger Smith was convicted of arson and insurance fraud involving a JP rental prop-erty the brothers owned.

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