JP Observer: JP’s affordable housing is diverse, plentiful

April 27, 2012
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The affordable housing stock of Jamaica Plain is another diverse element of the neighborhood that is home to a well-known mix of races, ethnic groups and income levels.

When the words “affordable housing” are used in JP, no specific picture should come to mind, because the housing is so varied. Also, thanks to the housing’s creators and managers, as well as the residents themselves, it is often impossible to tell from appearances if a particular building or unit is subsidized.

Taking inventory of affordable housing in JP is difficult. No one organization keeps records of all the units in the area described as JP by the City of Boston zoning map. When surveying subsidized housing, it can be hard to find all of it. I recently made the first attempt to make such an inventory.

Right now, it appears that more than 3,000 total affordable units in JP are owned (sometimes as shares in a co-op) or rented by people who meet low- to moderate-income federal guidelines for this area. That is almost 18 percent of Jamaica Plain’s total housing units, estimated at 16,797 by the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s U.S. Census analysis.

Senior citizens with some disabled people occupy 10 JP buildings containing about 1,000 subsidized independent living units, about one-third of JP’s total.

Fewer than half the 3,000 units are in “public housing” owned by the Boston Housing Authority. Bromley-Heath, the first tenant-managed public housing development in the country, consists of about 1,000 units. The landmark complex is prominently located at the Centre Street gateway to the neighborhood in Jackson Square. Other public housing is the South Street, Amory Street and Pond Street developments, providing a total of 360 units.

The majority of subsidized housing here consists of an additional 1,700 units.

The below-market buildings range from new, wood-frame, single-family homes to large, historic, brick apartment buildings. Some “developments” are actually scattered on smaller lots around the neighborhood. Others have housing above, retail below.

Non-“public” subsidized housing created through renovation or new construction began in the 1980s and exists in almost every area of JP, including Pondside, Woodbourne and Moss Hill.

The Italian Home for Children is home to 31 kids ages 4 to 12 on Centre Street in Moss Hill while they go to school and receive services. The home is one of several subsidized group residences, most for disabled adults, around JP.

Affordable housing is funded by various means, including tax credits, government funds and donations—even by private, market-rate housing developers.

City of Boston inclusionary zoning requires developers of market-rate projects with 10 or more units on public property or that require a variance to subsidize 15 percent of the units for income-qualified buyers. JP has at least 55 units of permanent affordable housing in those developments.

Lots of parties have created affordable housing in JP over the years. Two nationally respected local organizations, Urban Edge and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation, have done much of the work with support from City Life/Vida Urbana, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council and much of the JP community.

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