Letter: Homeless care opposition is sickening

March 16, 2012
By

If anything proves that Jamaica Plain has become a selfish, gentrified community, it is the opposition to the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation/Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program housing at 461 Walnut Ave. (“Homeless care project is back in court,” March 2).

How the 11 litigants can sleep at night or even look their fellow man in the face to deny the sick, frail and elderly a nice place to live near a beautiful park is beyond me.

I’ve lived in Jamaica Plain 40 years and did more than anyone to make Franklin Park the great place it now is for that neighborhood. This is sickening to me.

The last time I was this enraged was when a similar clan, the Jamaica Pond Association, successfully denied the Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center to remove to the former Boy Scout building on the Arborway 20 years ago.

There are two larger and more complicated parts of this sad, sad story. The first is the lack of leadership from the mayor. He needs to stand up and say, “This does not happen under my administration’s stewardship of this city.”

The second is the role of the community development corporation (CDC). All of the community development corporations in Boston are from 35 to 45 years old, yet few have mastered the art of becoming an integral part of its service area.

CDCs are in, but not of, the community. They have not kept up with the changing demographics, but more importantly they are not 24/7 organizations that advocate for their service area. They

are simply seen—rightly or not—as real estate development agencies.

Most CDCs are nervous among their communities and spend time looking over their shoulders to see if they’ve annoyed the mayor. They need to spend far more time advocating for the people who live in their service area. They are masters at working political and financial levers, but don’t walk down the street and talk and wave, or walk upstairs into the apartment buildings they own and say hello to their leaseholders.

They do not advocate for the families that live in their housing or who have bought homes in their service areas. In short, CDC staff are not visible enough. They do not take on other people’s issues. They need to master Community Organizing 101: walk the streets and businesses of their service areas. Build trust. Make friends. Be seen. Make others issues their own. Stand up.

The opponents of housing for the sick and frail are dead wrong and deserve contempt.

But this travesty allows those of us—board, staff and volunteers —who believe in the original power of CDCs, the opportunity to transform the community development corporation to make “community” the equal of “development.” Take it, or those who need housing, services, advocacy and friendship will continue to lose out to a completely gentrified and hopeless Jamaica Plain.

Richard Heath

Jamaica Plain