Letter: The JPNDC’s bigger picture on Blessed Sacrament

August 3, 2012
By

We, the board members of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC), write to clarify issues that have arisen about the redevelopment of the Blessed Sacrament Church.

Since 2005, 81 affordable homes, green space, retail space and youth program space have been developed on the Blessed Sacrament campus—tremendous accomplishments achieved during the worst economic climate in 75 years. Strong community support helped the JPNDC and its partner, New Atlantic Development Corp., not only to acquire the site, but also to overcome vociferous opposition to affordable housing. If a for-profit developer had bought the site (and many eyed it eagerly), dozens of low-income families, formerly homeless men and women, and first-time homebuyers would have been shut out of JP.

When the Archdiocese sold Blessed Sacrament, it restricted the re-use of the church to housing. This deed restriction, combined with extremely high construction costs, pointed to market-rate condos as the only viable option. Accordingly, the City-approved plan for the campus included 37 market-rate condos in the church. The plan also called for the COMPASS school to remain in the Norbert building, but COMPASS left in 2009.

Over the years, the JPNDC has shown the church and Norbert buildings to nearly 60 parties and investigated creative uses such as schools, office space, nonprofit space, artist workspace, senior and veterans’ housing, co-housing and churches. None of these proved viable, primarily because of high redevelopment costs and very limited funding sources.

Where are we today? JPNDC and New Atlantic have invested over $1.75 million in the two vacant buildings and pay $20,000 per month to carry them. Costs to prevent the deterioration of the historic church are mounting. To halt the financial loss, preserve the landmark church building and complete the redevelopment of the campus, we signed a purchase and sale agreement this spring to sell the Norbert to a local developer planning market-rate apartments and set a goal of identifying a viable plan for the church by mid-summer.

The last months have been extremely difficult for the JPNDC. Our board has had exhaustive conversations seeking alternatives to the market-rate plan. We revisited numerous options and could not find a single feasible solution. After seven years of vacancy and difficult financial decisions ahead, the JPNDC board elected to sell our share of the church to New Atlantic to develop 32-34 market-rate condominiums. As part of that decision, the JPNDC is seeking funding—and needs community support—to make four of the church condos affordable. The JPNDC will also begin a planning process to shape programming for 2,000 square feet of community space located at the front of the church (stipulated in the redevelopment plan).

We acknowledge the changes in our community and struggle every day with concerns about how new market-rate housing will impact Hyde Square. We also remind ourselves to view the campus redevelopment as a whole. Completing that redevelopment, finally, is essential in order for JPNDC to carry out other critical projects that will benefit low-income people in JP, including the creation of new affordable homes.

Leslie Bos, Girma Belay, Kathy Brown, Karen Zerby Buzzelle, Charles Hills, Arthur Johnson, Reuben Kantor, Bashier Kayou, Danilo Morales, Josh Muncey, Maddie Ribble, Alberto Rivera, Martha Rodriguez, Guadalupe Romero, John Stainton, Felicia Sanchez and Joseph Vallely

Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation Board

Jamaica Plain