Affordability questioned as next Jackson Sq. project gears up

As “Site III” of the Jackson Square redevelopment project gears up, residents are concerned about the issue of affordability and what it means for the neighborhood.

About 35 people attended a community meeting about the project at the Julia Martin House at the Bromley-Heath housing development on March 5.

Site III is vacant land roughly between the Orange Line corridor, Amory Street and Centre Street. The project will include two buildings, with one having 105 units of mixed-income home ownership, while the other will have 42 units of 100 percent affordable rental.

There will also be about 12,000 square feet of retail space and 179 parking spots.

The project will be built through a partnership between Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development (JPNDC) and The Community Builders (TCB).

About 11 acres of land in Jackson Square is being redeveloped by a team that includes Mitchell Properties, JPNDC, TCB and Urban Edge. TCB and Mitchell Properties recently completed the first phase of the redevelopment at 225 Centre St. The overall redevelopment has moved slowly over decades of planning and funding bumps.

While the Site III project has a lot of affordable units, many residents expressed concern about how “affordable” is defined, because it often means a higher rate than local residents can afford. Developers were unable to give specifics, saying it will depend on development costs.

Maria Christina Blanco, a JP resident who works for Jamaica Pain-based housing advocacy group City Life/Vida Urbana, said she wants to make sure the project “has housing accessible for all income levels.” She mentioned a daycare center she knows of that is being driven out of the neighborhood because of rising rents.

“How can anyone say we don’t need more affordable housing?” Blanco asked.

She said the project is a “chance to influence the market” and asked, “Why would you lose that chance?”

City Councilor Tito Jackson noted that he represents the Roxbury section right across the street from where the meeting was taking place. He said the question is, “How do we preserve the neighborhood and keep people who were here during the toughest of times, when there were shootings between Bromley-Heath and Academy Homes in Roxbury?”

Jackson said a balance needs to be struck between affordability and raising property values, as people who are homeowners like that happening.

Mildred Hailey, who founded the Tenant Management Corporation (TMC), which used to be the advisory group for Bromley-Heath, said she felt there was no communication between the community and local developers in terms of discussing affordability.

“They feel shut out of the process,” she said.

Hailey said people who have been fighting for 40 years to better the community “feel frustrated and cast aside.” She said she wants to make sure the community is a place “where our kids can afford rent.” She called the affordable housing in the site III project “a drop in the bucket.”

Eric Herot, who recently moved to JP, took issue with the site’s parking, saying that drives up the costs of the units and it is “silly” to have that many spots near a train station.

“Will people use the parking?” he asked.

Noah Sawyer of TCB said that indeed people will use the parking spots or the developers would not build them. He said at 225 Centre St. right across the street, 57 spots were built and people are asking for more.

Other topics discussed included bringing artisan retail and small businesses to the development.

Leslie Bos of JPNDC said the next steps are to have a Boston Redevelopment Authority Article 80 review process in late 2014, have a development update in 2015 and hopefully start construction in 2017. She said they hope to have another community meeting before the Article 80 process begins.

A sketch of the two development buildings at Site III. (Courtesy Image)

A sketch of the two development buildings at Site III. (Courtesy Image)

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