The acquisition of the former Blessed Sacrament Church by the Hyde Square Task Force is as surprising a win as the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation’s acquisition of it years ago.
It will be as big a challenge as well. As the Task Force puts its money where its protests were, it should keep in mind the difficulties that put the JPNDC into the position of selling off the property.
Like the Task Force, the JPNDC won the property by staging a savvy political campaign against gentrification. The JPNDC, a nonprofit affordable housing developer, built many below-market-rate units on the site. But financial realities forced the JPNDC into a sometimes tense team-up with a for-profit developer to turn the church into $400,000-plus condos. That plan, and a secret move to sell off the Norbert School for expensive apartments, divided the JPNDC’s board, sapped its coffers and fundamentally undermined its mission.
Now the Task Force is the community nonprofit taking the moral high ground against gentrification. But its rallying has been long on passion, short on planning. The Task Force now has the giant responsibility of maintaining a historic building and then filling it with viable programming—a job that will take massive amounts of creativity and money.
Make no mistake, this is a moral victory for the JPNDC, too. It sacrificed deeply to stave off its own condo plan and arrange the Task Force sale. But the Task Force likely won’t be able to define a win in terms of selling to yet another nonprofit. It has to come up with a plan and it has to make it work. And anyone with any political, financial and creative leverage in JP has to step up and offer to help.