A lot has been said recently about the characteristics of the people of Jamaica Plain—and often with some passion. Results of the 2010 census came in last year. Whole Foods, with its hip image, moved into a spot occupied for a long time by Hi-Lo Foods, with its Latin flavor. The change gave rise to a flood of commentary about the composition of the community. The word “gentrification” got tossed around.
The concept is relatively new. The verb “gentrify” (from the noun “gentry”) first came into use between 1975 and 1980, according to Merriam-Webster. At that time, it meant the replacement of poor people living in rundown housing in urban areas with higher-income people who renovated. Later, gentrification also came to mean displacement of minorities by white people.
Based on income and racial/ethnic census numbers, does JP’s reputation as a diverse neighborhood need to be changed?
With at least 24 percent of housing here permanently subsidized, according to a UMass study in the 1990s, the danger of poor people getting pushed out seems slim. Market rents in JP’s 02130 ZIP code, where the cost of living is generally high, average $1,332 per unit compared to $1,103 for Massachusetts and $950 nationally in 2010, according to CLRsearch.com, a national real estate database.
Incomes in 02130 continue to range. About 20 percent of households make below $25,000. (The federal poverty line was $22,050.) An equal percentage makes more than $125,000.
Occupy Wall Street and its local affiliates would be interested to know that JP is home to “the 99.25 percent.” About 0.75 percent of our residents make the national top 1 percent earnings of $506,000 or more per year.
It appears that JP’s middle has shrunk. In 2000, roughly 64 percent of households in 02130 made between $25,000 and $125,000. Now it’s about 59 percent.
The white population seems to have been shifting between 50 and 53 percent over the past 10-15 years, with no major changes in racial/ethnic mix from the 2010 census count of the actual JP neighborhood at 53 percent white, 25 percent Latino, 13 percent black, 4 percent Asian and 2 percent multi or other.
Compared to most places, JP is very diverse, based on the map showing JP to be slightly bigger than 02130 and including Egleston Square. The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) is for the first time using that realistic neighborhood map as it presents 2010 data.
Getting the numbers right can be tricky. The new American Community Survey extrapolates from samples of the population. And because various maps have been used by the BRA and others when compiling JP census data over time, one has to be careful to use the same maps when comparing numbers.
So far, based mostly on ZIP code data for 02130, it seems JP isn’t close to being gentrified.
One thing remains certain over the years. Properly describing the population of JP requires looking at and quoting real numbers from defined neighborhood maps. It should not be done based on impressions.
Correction: This column incorrectly cited a University of Massachusetts Boston study as saying that 24 percent of Jamaica Plain housing is permanently subsidized as affordable. The 1998 study, “Communities on the Edge,” actually said that almost 27 percent of JP-area housing units were subsidized in 1996, but made no mention of whether it was permanent, and suggested that a significant portion of it was temporary and in danger of loss. The study used the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s JP “Planning District,” which does not include Egleston Square, Parkside, Forest Hills or Woodbourne, while including most of Mission Hill.