Essaibi-George Talks Homelessness, Education at JPNC Meeting

By Lauren Bennett

    The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council met for their monthly meeting on May 28, where they heard from City Councilor At-Large AnnissaEssaibi-George as well as regular updates from council committees.

    Essaibi-George spoke about the work she has done with the City Council, specifically related to housing the homeless, the opioid crisis, and education. She said that 4200 students have been identified as homeless, with the number probably closer to 5000. As a city, Essaibi-George said that Boston has gotten better at identifying homeless people and she has been working to house more homeless families, eventually leading to the elimination of homelessness. She said she also works to support families who are at risk of losing their housing.

    “We are seeing larger family sizes due to more kids or multi-generational families within those units,” Essaibi-George said. She said she believes “we need to move away from thinking about one and two bedroom units and start thinking more about three and four bedroom units.” She also wonders whether the Boston Housing Authority waitlist should be closed, as it may be giving people false hope that they are going to get housing quickly. Right now, there are over 40,000 families on the waitlist. “We need more private developers on line opening their doors for family homelessness,” she said.

    Essaibi-George also said she called for the formation of a mental health commission for the City of Boston, as many young people in the city do not have access to mental health services.    She said she hopes to “create an atmosphere in school buildings where mental health professionals can better do their jobs,” with “culturally competent and properly trained professionals in schools.” She said she’s also looking to create “more creative care” by working with Chief of Health and Human Services Marty Martinez as well as local colleges to create better access points for students.

    When it comes to the opioid crisis and caring for homeless people, “We’ve got quite a bit of work to do in that space,” Essaibi-George said. She said the City Council has been an advocate for more resources for better care. She said the city has gotten “much better” at tracking improperly discarded needles, and she is asking in this year’s budget to double the mobile sharps team members to eight. Last year, over 600,000 needles were collected through the mobile sharps team, she said.

    She added that there are now drug take back kiosks in police stations across the city, and all of the large pharmacies (CVS, Walgreens, etc.) have them too. She’s hoping to get more needle kiosks attached to the drug ones, and hoping that the needle ordinance “will have more success this time around.” She said she is also working with City Councilor Matt O’Malley on some work surrounding vaping.

    On the education front, Essaibi-George said she think’s “we picked the right person to lead the district,” speaking about new Boston Public Schools superintendent Brenda Cassellius. Formerly of Minnesota, “she has shown a tremendous willingness to get to know Boston,” Essaibi-George said. She said she os very open to taking phone calls and has been “out and about” in the city. She said she hopes that Cassellius’ strong community engagement will lead to a “more transparent school committee.”

Public Service Committee:

The JPNC voted to approve the petition at Blue Nile to change its license from beer and wine only to include liquor. It was reported that there was “very little discussion” at the meeting regarding the change.

Housing and Development Committee:

JPNC member Carolyn Royce said that the city is looking to update its Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP)  “in several ways.” She said that Tim Davis from the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) is having conversations across the city to get different ideas from different neighborhoods. She proposed a letter to Davis saying that the JPNC supports the request of the IDP Coalition for the BPDA to hold a meeting in Jamaica Plain to talk about the update, and that the JPNC offers to help host the meeting. The JPNC voted to approve the letter. “I think this is a good idea,” Royce said

    Another letter was proposed to MassDOT regarding the Arboryway Yard and funding for a permanent bus facility in the department’s Capital Improvement Plan. The JPNC supports the use of the Arboryway Yard as a bus facility.

    “The facility that’s there right now is just a temporary facility,” said JPNC member Kevin Rainsford. He said money needs to be put into this, as “every one of their bus facilities is in need of repair.”

    Within the letter is a request that a community advisory group be formed for ongoing discussion about what the use of the site would be. Royce said that this is a letter the JPNC sends annually to MassDOT in order to keep reminding them about the Memorandum of Understanding, and “to keep the request alive” as well as keep the community informed about the issue. The JPNC voted to approve this letter.

Zoning Committee

JPNC member David Baron said the Zoning Committee met on May 1 and May 15. Four projects were approved by the JPNC. At 67 Forest Hills St., the proponents are looking to construct a new three-family house. At 17 Chestnut Ave., the proponents are looking to change the occupancy from commercial to a three-family residential building and renovate the building to add a story.

    At 137 Carolina Ave., 71 Call Street, 73-73A Call Street, and 77-79 Call St., 417 square feet of land is proposed to be conveyed from 137 Carolina Ave. to the abutting project on Call Street.There will be new construction of four attached three-story, two-family dwellings with eight residential units in all. The parking for 71 Call St. will be at 73-73A Call Street and six off-street parking spaces will be created.

    At 79-81 Spring Park Avenue, the proposal includes installing skylights and finishing the attic space for the creation of a home art studio.

    Two projects were denied by the JPNC, one at 197-201 Green Street, where the proposal includes the consolidation of parcels to create one new lot. The existing structure will be razed and a four-story mixed use building will be erected with 23 residential units, one retail space, and six off-street parking spaces. This one had already gone before the ZBA prior to the JPNC general meeting, so the Council did not vote on this one at the general meeting.

    At 11 Minton St., the JPNC went back and forth about whether or not to deny this project, as many people at the meeting had complaints about the practices of developer City Realty, who is in charge of this project, The proposal is to renovate the building at 11 Minton St. and add a third-floor addition, including dormers and a pitched roof, as well as installing a sprinkler system. Some JPNC members felt that the project should be denied because of the issues with City Realty, but others said that the project should be allowed to move forward. Ultimately, the JPNC voted to deny this project.

Education Ad Hoc Committee

JPNC member Trevor Wissink-Adams said that the Education Ad Hoc Committee met on May 21, and is “continuing to focus on meeting in the fall for BPS to have a registration information session for new families.” He said they also discussed a mobile welcome center for families to enroll their students as another possibility, but Wissink-Adams said he was “less hopeful that that will come to fruition.” The information session with BPS is more likely to occur, he said.

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