A nonprofit serving the homeless plans to create some sort of group home or shelter of 16 to 18 beds at 221 Chestnut Ave. in an unannounced move into a house owned by the controversial firm City Realty.
Neighbors and officials met on Oct. 28 to discuss the impending arrival of the shelter, operated by Casa Nueva Vida. The house contains two other occupied residential units, and one of those occupants said he had no notice of the move from either City Realty or Casa Nueva Vida.
Even after the meeting, attendees tell the Gazette, it is unclear what the facility would be: a state-licensed group home, which would need a conditional use permit, or a transitional housing unit, which would not.
According to abutter Donna Woonteiler, the meeting was attended by the owners of the property, City Realty; the prospective tenant, Casa Nueva Vida; neighbors; and moderated by the offices of State Rep. Liz Malia and City Councilor Matt O’Malley.
The unit planned to be used by Casa Nueva Vida is a 3,200-square-foot, multi-bedroom unit at 221 Chestnut Ave. City Realty has renovated that unit in the last six months in preparation for the new tenant.
Hylan Hoffman, who lives in another unit at 221 Chestnut Ave., told the Gazette last week that he found out about Casa Nueva Vida moving in from a neighbor.
City Realty co-owner Fred Starikov told the Gazette there are no requirements that mandate any community notices for Casa Nueva Vida moving in.
“We didn’t have any obligation to tell the neighbors anything. Who they put in that unit is not something that is regulated,” Starikov told the Gazette. “We really want to protect the privacy of the people who will be living there.”
“The neighbors are all up in arms,” he continued. “I think they don’t want it in their back yard. They just don’t want to come out and say it. There’s some underlying bigotry over there.”
A Gazette call to Casa Nueva Vida was not returned.
“I think they’ll try to railroad it in,” Paul Donelan, an abutter to the site and Woonteiler’s husband, told the Gazette last month. Donelan found out about Casa Nueva Vida from the last owner of the unit.
O’Malley told the Gazette last week that, “JP is a welcoming neighborhood, but neighbors should have input” as to a shelter moving in. But “there’s potential for a memorandum of understanding” between the neighbors, City Realty and Casa Nueva Vida, he added.
Starikov told the Gazette that the City has cleared the deal. He also said that, following the community meeting, the occupancy of the shelter would be capped at 16 or 18 people, down from the 24 originally proposed.
Donelan stated in an email to the Gazette that, “the various parties are currently negotiating to come to an amicable solution to all that addresses concerns regarding density, safety, and supervision.”
The surprise opening of group homes has been a semi-regular issue around Jamaica Plain for years. The organizations that operate them typically cite confidentiality rules and fair housing laws as explanations for lack of public notice. However, they also frequently reveal many details about the homes if neighbors ask.
About 15 years ago, during a series of controversies over group homes, the state Department of Mental Health (DMH) acknowledged that Jamaica Plain had more than its share of group homes and declared a moratorium on permitting any more. The moratorium did not include smaller halfway houses.
Major controversies go back at least to 1993, when the agency Vinfen placed a group home on Orchard Street and notified the community only after the deal was done.