Special to the Gazette
Known mostly for creating jobs and affordable housing in the Jamaica Plain area for the past 44 years, the JP Neighborhood Development Corporation’s (JPNDC) current strategic plan calls for going deeper and wider to increase services it provides to Boston families.
The nonprofit’s “Capital Campaign for Equity and Prosperity” is in full swing to provide more families with the tools to overcome a notorious wealth divide in the U.S. as it exists in their lives in Boston.
Highlights of the creative 2019-2023 strategic plan, linked to jpndc.org, describe huge asset disparities here between white people and people of color: “The most sobering data to many of us was provided in 2016 by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, which reported a ‘staggering’ wealth gap between white households ($247,000) and households of color ($8 for African-Americans, $0 for Dominicans) in our metropolitan area.”
Key to the JPNDC’s goal is to “put thousands of Boston families on a trajectory of upward financial mobility” the highlights say. To do this, JPNDC provides families with career, credit and consumer counseling. It also helps small businesses, including small construction contractors, grow. Third, JPNDC supports early childhood education by doing the administrative work, including handling registrations, for about 45 family day care centers in the area.
“A lot of people are talking these days about the wealth divide’s root causes,” JPNDC Communications and Fundraising Director Sally Swenson said in an interview last week. “We know JPNDC can’t pretend to change the structure. We take a family-by-family approach.”
People often come in with a short-term goal, like buying a home, Swenson said. After addressing that, staff members help with careers and credit ratings and other more long-term improvements to make their families more financially secure into the future. “Otherwise, they are just handing poverty to their children,” Swenson said.
In order to serve the increasing number of struggling families who are seeking its services, JPNDC needs to build out 6,000 square feet of child friendly space in The Brewery, which it owns. Plans are to put the direct service programs in a “Center for Equity and Prosperity” that will occupy the ground floor of the building. Offices will be on the second floor. The built out and renovated first floor space will include a “welcoming” reception area featuring a family-friendly play space, training space and a technology area with computers and printers.
The local Community Development Corporation (CDC) capital campaign is raising funds to create the Center and obtain furniture and equipment. So far, 230 separate donations, including one from the Community Preservation Act, have brought in 53 percent of the necessary $2,500,000. The sooner the rest comes in, the sooner JPNDC can expand its services for more Boston residents who need them.
Meanwhile, of course, JPNDC will continue to work to add to the 1,1117 affordable housing units it has developed around the neighborhood, “building green” each time. It will also continue to oversee commercial spaces leased primarily by women and people of color. The historic Brewery has 50 commercial tenants on five acres of renovated buildings that make it “Boston’s largest small business complex.” JPNDC also manages 10 commercial spaces in Hyde and Jackson Squares.
Community organizing is one of JPNDC’s ongoing efforts. “The results are better when the people affected are involved,” its website states and gives examples.
JPNDC says it will remain a partner to residents of Mildred Hailey Apartments, as a “key part of a revitalized Jackson Square.”
The strategic plan also looks inward, according to the highlights document, stating JPNDC’s “commitment to utilizing a racial equity lens to examine all aspects of our organization, set clear goals and measure progress, and continue devoting resources to anti-racism training. Targeted areas of focus will include governance, hiring, and communications.”
Not long ago, it would have been unusual to see a CDC like JPNDC offering programs that serve all of Boston. CDCs have traditionally stuck to projects in their neighborhoods.
As the neighborhoods themselves have changed, that practice needs to be modified. too. According to the strategic plan highlights, in 2018 only 11 percent of families the nonprofit served lived outside JP. But word spread about the family prosperity programs the JPNDC offered, and people from other Boston neighborhoods wanted to participate, Swenson said.
The “explosion” of high-priced development in JP is “shutting JPNDC out of development opportunities,” according to the plan highlights. “…we must look outside the neighborhood,” it says. JPNDC is trying to avoid competition with other CDCs and nonprofits and, instead, seeks “cooperation.”
“…gentrification has significantly changed the demographics of our home neighborhood,” the plan highlights say. “Yet in large part because of [JPNDC and others’] efforts to create and preserve affordable housing, households earning below $50,000 a year still make up nearly one-third of the population of JP.”
“JP folks have been fantastic and supportive” of the JPNDC focus on equity and prosperity for people who have few assets” Swenson said. “People—new and older residents—understand their role in gentrification and want to give back,” she said.
Despite JPNDC’s work with families from other neighborhoods, “JP is number one” Swenson said. “We are committed to Jamaica Plain.”
For more information about the strategic plan for Equity and Prosperity and JPNDC itself, see jpndc.org or call 617-522-2424. With questions about the capital campaign for Equity and Prosperity, contact Randi Sayers at [email protected] 617-522-2424 x256. Send an email to [email protected] to request a virtual appointment for financial coaching, job search, early childhood education services or small business assistance.