By Josie Grove
Special to the Gazette
A second public meeting about a proposed apartment building at 3353 Washington St. left few people satisfied with the changes to the project.
Despite developer Terry Bruce’s assurances that she and her business partner, Mordechai Levin, are doing their best to make the apartments affordable to middle-class people, residents pushed for cheaper apartments and more affordable-housing units. Many also called for the BRA to not allow the proposal to move forward until the JP/Rox neighborhood planning process is finished.
The second meeting took place June 7 at Curtis Hall.
Since the first public meeting, where residents derided the building’s height, cost, and the modern design, Deb Katz of Interface Studio Architects has made some changes. The top level has been stepped back from the corner of Washington and Green Street, to lessen the perception of height from the street, according to the development team. The materials of the facade were changed, to bring in more wood and warmer materials, according to the development team.
Katz and Bruce gave more specifics on the size and cost of the apartments. The smallest one-bedroom apartment would be 530 square feet, while the two- and three-bedroom apartments would average 800 and 1200 square feet, respectively. Attendees derisively termed these ‘micro units.’ Bruce also estimated the rent for the market-rate units would range from $1,800 for the one-bedroom, up to $3,750 for the larger three-bedrooms, which several people said was out of reach for many Jamaica Plain residents.
“At the last meeting, we heard over and over that affordability was a concern,” said Katz.
As a result, the number of affordable units was increased from six to seven out of the total 44 apartments.
“And that additional unit will be at a deeper subsidy,” said Bruce, who added the developers would be making a contribution to the City’s affordable-housing fund.
But that was not enough for many people at the meeting. Some asked for 25 percent of the units to be affordable, the level recommended by the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation. Others asked Bruce to commit to making 75 percent of the units affordable.
“We could say we would commit to 75 percent affordable housing, but then the building wouldn’t get built,” responded Bruce.
When residents challenged Bruce to be more ‘creative’ in the building’s financing and take advantage of the state’s resources for affordable-housing construction, her lawyer stepped in to explain that those resources are in short supply, and could take away funding from other projects. To make the market-rate units more affordable, Bruce and her business partner Mordechai Levin have said they will accept Section 8 housing vouchers.
Levin himself was not at the meeting, but was nevertheless a lightning rod for his history as a landlord, with people saying he evicts tenants on short notice and leaves buildings empty for long periods. Bruce countered these claims, saying that across all their properties, the vacancy rate as measured by square footage is 3 percent, and the average length of tenancy is more than seven years. Rachel Paxton was quick to point out that the large and long-standing Stop and Shop in Jackson Square would skew the numbers.
Paxton herself was once a tenant of Levin’s in a live-work artist’s studio on Amory Street. She says she was evicted with little warning along with seventy other artists and businesses, and notes the building is still empty, fifteen years later.
Damaris Pimentel remembers Levin more favorably: after a truck ran into Pimentel’s storefront, Levin helped her move to a new space at no cost to her.
“People that do not have a one-on-one relationship with Mordechai Levin probably have a different opinion of him,” she said. “But any project he does, he does it with quality.”
Bruce Marks of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America was rigid in his assessment of Levin as a landlord.
“He’s a slum landlord,” Marks said repeatedly, and threatened, “We know where he lives, so we’ll go to his house.”
Residents had plenty of ire for the BRA as well, with many calling for a moratorium on all development until the JP/Rox neighborhood planning process is complete.
“This process is a sham unless it is extended considerably,” said Reed Miller.
“This is a microcosm of the whole community,” said Erica Schwarz of the meeting, where BRA representative Lance Campbell struggled to contain residents to his imposed ninety-second speaking time, and frequently cut speakers off.
“If we’re not listened to at this level, it creates distrust,” Schwarz said.
For more information or to comment on the project, visit bit.ly/1T9GaNY. The comment period ends June 17.