Editorial: The nonprofit move-outs

November 22, 2013
By

ESAC’s move out of Jamaica Plain apparently will not undermine its key organizing role in Egleston Square. But when the annual “Taste of JP” event will now be staged by a Dorchester-based organization, it’s time to take stock of where JP’s nonprofit sector is headed.

Boston’s gentrification crisis in residential housing was finally, and belatedly, acknowledged citywide in this year’s mayoral race. But there is a similar squeeze on businesses and nonprofits, as local commercial and office rents are as breathtaking as residential prices. And jobs and housing are, of course, linked.

Nonprofits are a major economic engine in JP, which has hundreds of them, probably more than any Boston neighborhood besides king-sized Dorchester. They employ thousands of people at widely varied wage and skill levels, and pump money into other parts of the local economy. Many of them provide services that support JP’s underprivileged population, small businesses and low- and middle-income workers.

But JP has an emerging trend of losing nonprofits, including big, time-tested organizations that are significant local employers. The Home for Little Wanderers sold its S. Huntington Avenue campus for redevelopment into housing in JP’s skyrocketing residential market. In Forest Hills, the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America faces displacement by another expensive housing project. Now, farther up Washington Street, ESAC is moving out, citing the expense of its office space.

Nonprofits, like any venture, must compete in the marketplace. There are often economic upsides to developments that may replace them.

But nonprofits are also a core reason JP is so attractive these days in the first place, and a major factor in keeping its economy diversified. This neighborhood is highly attuned to the importance of hyperlocal economics, the health benefits of people living close to where they work, and goals of class and racial diversity.

For all of those reasons, JP should not let the great nonprofit move-out pass unnoticed without more of a conversation—maybe even a plan.

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