Asthma-free housing rules in the works
The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) has moved its election back to June 12 and 13.
Potential candidates can pick up information packets, including signature-gathering forms, at Curtis Hall at 12 South St.; the Hyde Square Task Force office at 375 Centre St.; and the Connolly, Egleston Square and Jamaica Plain Branch Libraries. The signature forms have to be turned in by May 13. [See JP Agenda, p. 15.]
The JPNC is a 20-member elected volunteer group that advises the city on neighborhood issues. This year’s election was originally scheduled for May, but has been moved back to allow for more time.
JPNC chair Jesús Gerena and vice-chair Mark Pedulla are among at least five members who will not run for re-election, it was announced at the JPNC’s April 28 meeting at the Nate Smith House.
“I think I have served my time,” said Gerena, an eight-year member whose decision to leave the council was a particular surprise. He noted there will need to be “heavy recruiting” of new candidates.
The April 28 meeting included a presentation from the JPNC’s Housing and Development Committee on asthma-free housing standards. The committee may create its own standards and apply them to reviews of new real estate developments.
The Jamaica Plain area has one of the city’s highest rates of child asthma, which has been linked with various household substances. Health officials say some new housing standards can help—especially eliminat-ing carpets in most areas of the home.
“Carpets are essentially reservoirs of allergens,” said Emily Litonjua, manager of the Boston Public Health Commission’s (BPHC) Healthy Homes program, at the JPNC meeting.
Litonjua gave a presentation on asthma problems and solutions, including a report that JP has the city’s seventh-highest neighborhood asthma hospitalization rate. JPNC members made some criticisms of BPHC’s data-gathering methods, such as under-reporting of asthma in undocumented immigrant populations, that Litonjua acknowledged as likely valid.
A major data problem not mentioned in the meeting was that the BPHC analyzes neighborhood asthma rates with an incorrect map of JP. BPHC, like many other city agencies, uses a Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) map that defines large sections of JP as Roslindale or Roxbury instead, while also placing large sec-tions of Mission Hill and the Longwood Medical Area in JP.
As the Gazette reported six years ago, the BRA created the deliberately incorrect map as a census-counting convenience. The JPNC demanded in 2003 that the map be fixed, which never happened. The map contin-ues to have wide-ranging impacts on the analysis and delivery of city services, including the city’s inaccu-rate claim that JP’s minority population dropped in the last US Census.
In any case, no one doubted that childhood asthma is a problem and that improved housing design can help. The city’s Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) requires some anti-asthma features in housing built with its grant money.
The Housing and Development Committee has been in touch with organizations in other neighborhoods, in-cluding the Roxbury Neighborhood Council, to coordinate information-gathering and policy advocacy.
Marvin Martin, executive director of Dorchester’s Greater Four Corners Action Committee (GFCAC), spoke about his group’s success in devising and enforcing asthma-free housing standards.
GFCAC requires developers seeking zoning variances to meet the standards. Martin said that developers are increasingly open to the idea, especially because “asthma-free” has become a good marketing point. He said that when developers have refused to adopt the standards, the city’s zoning Board of Appeal has backed the GFCAC’s rejection of the zoning variance approvals.
The Housing and Development Committee will work on a proposed set of healthy housing guidelines for JP at its next meeting on May 19 at the Bowditch House. [See JP Agenda.] The proposal likely will be presented at the next full JPNC meeting.
The JPNC agreed to send a letter to the MBTA seeking a community meeting with WCI Corp., the company that recently won development rights to two MBTA parcels near the Forest Hills T Station.
Responding to an attempt by the Jackson Square Citizens Advisory Committee to ban the press from its meetings, the JPNC declared that all community planning meetings should be completely open. [See related article.]
The JPNC agreed to send a letter opposing the cutting of Boston Police and Boston Park Rangers horse pa-trols. [See related article.]