Op-Ed: The State of JP: No one can afford this

February 14, 2014
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By Orion Kriegman, Juan Gonzalez, Abigail Ortiz, Carlos Espinoza-Toro, Greg Buckland and Tracy Bindel/Special to the Gazette

“Ain’t No One Can Afford This,” reads an anonymous note to the world scrawled on the map of the Orange Line near the JP Monument. These six silent words speak volumes about the state of our neighborhood.

For each of the past three years, over 250 neighbors have met at the State of Our Neighborhood forum, a community conversation about JP today and the neighborhood we want in 10 years’ time. The 2014 forum is Thurs., Feb. 27, 6-9 p.m. at Kennedy Elementary School in Hyde Square.

Previous State of Our Neighborhood forums have led to innovative projects strengthening local food systems, supporting local businesses and weaving relationships across divides of race, class, age, language and life paths:

• Egleston Farmers Market. Every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Our Lady of Lords Parish Hall, this is the only year-round farmers market in Jamaica Plain and the only one to accept food stamps. Over 500 people pass through each Saturday, conversing with local farmers and buying veggies, meat, eggs, cheese, fish, chocolate, honey and local wine—all to the live sounds of local musicians.

• JP Local First. This organization has created a free business directory for independent, locally owned businesses throughout JP. Look for their sticker in your favorite local store windows!

• Curbside composting. First discussed at the 2013 State of Our Neighborhood, immediately endorsed by two city councilors (Matt O’Malley and Felix Arroyo), and filed for hearing in City Council. With a push from organized neighbors, this could become a city program as it has elsewhere in the US.

• JP Yard Sharing. Matches neighbors with yards and gardeners seeking space. Every yard-share creates their own agreement, and some involve multiple families getting to know each other as they tend a garden.

• Affordable housing organizing. The first State of the Neighborhood in 2011 led to a community forum on the roots of gentrification and its impact in JP. The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation, responding to the interests expressed by neighbors at these forums, launched a campaign with the Boston Tenant Coalition to educate about the need for affordable housing .The Public Awareness Campaign was endorsed by JP residents, organizations and businesses and led to two trainings about tenants’ rights and responsibilities and an ongoing conversation exploring other affordable housing options.

Despite all this good work, and all the good work of JP’s many active neighbors and organizations, Jamaica Plain continues to grow increasingly unaffordable and inequitable for many of its existing residents.

For example, residents from the Hyde/Jackson square area report not having another option but to leave JP due to the lack of affordable food in the neighborhood and the ever-increasing rents in private-market apartments. They couldn’t buy their groceries in the local supermarkets or grocery stores, having to invest time and transportation to go to other neighborhoods to buy products at a lower price.

We know that these realities impact people of color in Jamaica Plain disproportionately. For example, as with the rest of Boston, white residents in Jamaica Plain enjoy significantly better health outcomes than black and Latino residents. These health inequities are systemic, unfair, avoidable and unjust, as the Boston Public Health Commission reported last year.

This year’s State of Our Neighborhood will focus on creating racial justice and equity in Jamaica Plain with breakout groups on gentrification, food justice, health equity and fairness for local businesses. We hope you will be there to lend your voice to the conversation about what we can do to make a lasting difference.

And bring a neighbor!

The writers are members of the State of the Neighborhood organizing team.

The graffiti on a public map in Monument Square that inspired the State of the Neighborhood’s 2014 slogan. (Courtesy Photo)

The graffiti on a public map in Monument Square that inspired the State of the Neighborhood’s 2014 slogan. (Courtesy Photo)

  • Eric Herot

    Seconding Brendan’s question: Other than the closing of the (deeply dilapidated and disgusting) Hi-Lo market, I’m not clear on exactly what has come or gone in the neighborhood to make food any less affordable.

    Also, the neighborhood council’s tendency to demand lower density housing with more off-street parking and expensive roadway redesigns (to accommodate the increased vehicle traffic those parking spaces are bound to bring) are all policies that make housing in JP *less* affordable. Simply requiring developers to make 10-20 percent of units in a luxury building “affordable” barely nudges the needle in terms of supply meeting demand, and it tends to hurt people that aren’t rich but also aren’t poor enough to qualify for the subsidy. And of course lets not forget that the cost of those affordable units isn’t covered out of the pocket of the wealthy developers. It’s paid for by making the other units in the building even more expensive.

    It disappoints me that the Gazette takes such a one-sided and uncritical stance on why housing prices in the neighborhood are rising the way that they are.