The Housing and Development Committee of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) met virtually on September 21 to continue its discussion on the Forbes Building, as well as talk abut the Hyde Square Task Force’s plans for moving forward with the Blessed Sacrament church.
Carolyn Royce reported that Beverly Estes-Smargiassi from the Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) came to the August committee meeting to discuss the Forbes Building situation from the city’s perspective.
“There’s a lot of support for protecting affordability for tenants,” Royce said. “A lot of then are senior citizens.”
The affordability of 116 units at the Forbes Building has been in jeopardy, as the building is part of a MassHousing program called the 13A program. As part of the program, the 40 year mortgage on the building matured in March of 2019, which puts the affordability of the units at risk.
JP resident Pam Bender said that the DND and the City Council “can make it clear to the landlord” that “whatever he’s proposing will not get approval…if he’s going to displace tenants.”
Michael Giordano from Councilor Matt O’Malley’s office said that on behalf of himself and Councilor O’Malley, they “can continue advocating” to preserve the affordability of these units, but said that the Boston Housing Authority and the DND “are the most direct departments to speak with.”
Samantha Montano, who is the interim Chair of the JPNC and also chaired this meeting, said that the committee will continue to figure out next steps working with the city and Councilor O’Malley’s office.
Carolyn Royce reported that the committee had heard “earlier this year” about Hyde Square Task Force’s (HSTF) need to sell the Blessed Sacrament church, and after recent community meetings, three bidders have presented proposals for programming for the church building.
HSTF had very specific criteria that they laid out to potential bidders when sending out a Request for Proposals for this project, and received three that they felt fit within the criteria. They were presented to the community at an in-person open house on September 18, as well as two different community meetings that were offered in English and Spanish. The organization is seeking feedback on the proposals from the public before the board makes a decision on who the final developer will be.
Christine Harris of the Friends of Blessed Sacrament said “we thought that the Task Force had done a really good job both in terms of selecting three different proposals….the three proposals are very different and offer interesting questions and potential benefits to the community.”
The first proposal is by a construction company called Pennrose that has done previous work with historic properties. The proposal is to construct 52 housing units with varying levels of affordability from at or below 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) to 120 percent or below AMI. performance space inside the church building, and the HSTF would be a partner in managing the performance space.
The second proposal is by a high school in Cambridge called NuVu, where classes are more collaborative and are not taught in the traditional sense. The high school currently has 50 students, but NuVu is looking to triple that and believes the church building is a good place for the school.
“Personally, I’d like to hear much more about that,” Harris said. “They’re proposing to have a lot of performance event space,” but she said it is “unclear” who would be dealing with the community usage of the performance space.
The third proposal is to build between 40 and 50 units, 13 of them affordable, as well as a “very elaborate theater that would be suitable for performances,” Harris said.
“This is an important juncture for the community,” she continued, adding that she feels the most important question to look at moving forward is “what would best serve the community?”
Another member of the Friends of the Blessed Sacrament talked about questions she had for the developer, including concerns about financial backing for the project as well as questions around affordability and how it relates to the income of the surrounding neighborhood.
Dorothy Malcolm, another Friends member, said that “the three developers were very good,” but she also had concerns that eventually the building will be torn down if the financial backing to complete and maintain whatever proposal is chosen is not there.
Committee member Sarah Horsley said that “of the three proposals,” she felt that Pennrose was best at the affordable housing it proposed. She also said “the school sounds interesting and innovative,” but she wasn’t “sure that that’s top priority for the community.”
Montano said that once a developer is chosen, they will be invited to the committee to discuss the proposal in more detail and answer questions from members and the public.