JPNC Housing & Development Committee Discusses Equity Proposals; Forbes Building

The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council Housing & Development Committee met on August 17 to discuss proposals from the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) subcommittee, as well as hear from Beverly Estes-Smargiassi, Assistant Director of Preservation & Community Development for the Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) regarding the Forbes Building.

Subcommittee Proposals

The DEI subcommittee has come forth with a two part proposal to include under-represented individuals in the Housing & Development Committee.

DEI subcommittee member Marvin Mathelier said that “this was something in the making for quite some time,” and “we’ve acknowledged that this has been an issue.”

He said that  people of color, renters, people who live in income restricted housing, and who cover all areas of the neighborhood are not currently adequately represented on the committee.

“The majority are white and homeowners now,” he said of the current committee. “There is room for improvement. There is room for us to have deeper and more thought-provoking conversations.”

He continued, “our ultimate goal is to ensure people of color and renters are able to participate in the committee, which will then help shape the neighborhood that we want.”

He said that the subcommittee will “do our homework” and conduct outreach to members of the community to get them to join the committee.

Sarah Horsley, another member of the subcommittee, explained a little bit about the proposal, which includes two parts. The numbers that the group came up with are “based on the desire to be in alignment with the demographics of JP as they are now,” she said.

As written in the proposal, part one includes:

Part #1 – The Working Group recommends that the Committee set the following goals for participation of under-represented groups as members of the H&D Committee:

• 45% of Committee members be Black Indigenous & People Of Color (BIPOC)

• 50% of Committee members be renters

• 20% of Committee members be renters in income-restricted housing

• 33% of Committee members be from each of Areas A, B & C

Part #2 – The Working Group recommends that the Committee allocate designated seats for under-represented groups, in the percentages of the goals laid out above.

“We recognize that it takes time to do the outreach,” Horsley said at the meeting. The group said they would also like this to be the case for the full JPNC in the future.

“I think we want to see these bodies be representative of the community, but at the end of the day, the seats need to be filled,” said JPNC member Kevin Rainsford.

Pam Bender, a member of the subcommittee, said that she and others “feel a sense of urgency to fill committee seats,” adding that the group is just “asking for a pause” on allowing anyone to fill the seats.

“I’ve tried my best whenever there’s a vacant seat to do that outreach,” Rainsford said “…with lack of success. I think there’s a systemic problem that we need to look at ourselves. What’s the systemic issue…that keeps us from being able to reach that goal?”

Mathelier said that “we do see that…there are friction points,” adding that he believes the pause to allow for outreach will be beneficial. “You brought up a good point,” he said to Rainsford. “We do realize it’s going to be an uphill battle to some degree.”

Others agreed that the pause would be helpful and would give the committee the time and space they need to do the work.

“I think I am a prime candidate for this kind of proposal,” said JP resident Marvin Watkins. “It really comes down to outreach.” He said he did not know about the opportunity to serve on the committee until Mathelier had reached out to him.

Housing & Development Committee member Carolyn Royce asked if a time limit could be placed on the pause, as “it really does depend on the outreach,” and “we’re short people on the committee…I really don’t like shutting off public participation.”

After further discussion, the committee ended up voting to ask the full JPNC for this proposal as written with the seats held for underrepresented groups for six months. After six months is up, there will be a check-in, and the vacancies will be opened up to everyone. The full Council approved this request at its August 24 meeting.

Forbes Building

The Forbes Building has often been a topic of conversation in the neighborhood recently, as the building is at risk of losing its affordability.

Beverly Estes-Smargiassi from the DND came to speak to the Housing & Development Committee about this issue from the city’s perspective.

She said that the Forbes building is lumped in with other buildings that had mortgages run by MassHousing as part of a program called the 13A program. The mortgages were 40 years, and “all came due in the last decade.” She said that there are approximately 13 developments in Boston with more than 100 units that were a part of this program.

Estes-Smargiassi said that there has been a “10 year scramble” to maintain affordability in these buildings, but there has been “some success” with nonprofits like the Fenway Community Development Corporation and others who have acquired these buildings and are “able to preserve those units in perpetuity.” Additionally, she said that there are also “for-profit landlords who have stepped up to the place and extended affordability in their buildings.”

She added that the city “thought the Forbes Building would be a no-brainer,” as the owner has always “expressed interest” in preserving the affordability of the building, which is occupied mostly by seniors and people with disabilities.

“Unfortunately, it has been harder and harder to get a yes with this owner,” she said.

The mortgage on the building matured in March of 2019, Estes-Smargiassi said, adding that “then the affordability became highly, highly at risk.”

She said that the city is “making sure he is abiding by the rules for keeping buildings affordable for a three year tail after the loss of subsidy,” but “we are coming up to that three year mark in this coming March.”

Estes-Smargiassi said that MassHousing believed there would be a plan to preserve affordability, but she said there is none as of yet.

She said that the Forbes Building “never had city money so we don’t have any easy leverage to get him to come to the table, so that’s a challenge.”

In Jamaica Plain, DND is currently tracking 21 developments, and Estes-Smargiassi said that only the Forbes Building is at risk right now.

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