Residents of Jamaica Plain are wrestling over who can lay claim to the neighborhood. At a time of declining and stagnating real estate values overall, when one-third of mortgage holders nationwide are underwater, prices here are steady and rising. Some will benefit and some will not. We are attracting heightened interest, including from far-flung real estate actors who seek a place to produce a return—for example, the developer for one of the currently proposed projects (the Boston Residential Group for 161 S. Huntington) is backed by global-scale institutional investors. On the same project, hard-won community gains of the recent past, that institutionalized resident participation in planning processes, have come into question as the Boston Redevelopment Authority gathered and then simply ignored participants’ input.
The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation is coming up against market pressures with the Blessed Sacrament development in a way that raises fundamental mission-related questions, while facing increased homeowner activism in opposition to affordable housing in general. We remain in dispute over the meaning and effects of the Hi-Lo/Whole Foods transformation. As I see it, big issues—about the right to housing, about the value of place for communities and individuals who live there, about inequality itself—are playing out through these challenges and controversies, in which we see neighbors fighting with and distrustful of one another. Into this context, two issues recently emerged about the appropriate scope of conduct for elected representatives of the neighborhood: first, whether it is appropriate for our elected officials to accept gifts from developers while those developers’ projects are under review; second, whether it is appropriate for the chair of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council to engage in certain political activities as an individual while serving in this public role. These strike me as legitimate concerns and questions to raise in a democracy, and I would like for us support one another in retaining cool heads and reaching solutions that affirm transparency and democratic process. Unfortunately, the Gazette responded with an editorial that not only fuels the flames of distrust among neighbors by casting some concerns as “anti-gentrification ideology” (whatever that is), but also advances a strong defense of the ways that money can buy access to local elected officials. (“JPNC chair should resign,” jamaica plaingazette.com, Nov. 1.) Let’s hold each other to a higher standard.