JPA told of need to raise funds for First Church roof

Special to the Gazette

The Jamaica Pond Association (JPA) held its regular monthly meeting this past Monday, January 9.

Chair Kay Mathew and members Rosemary Jones, Kevin Moloney, Jasmine Crafts, Tony Dreyfus, Tamara Pitts, Peter Steiger, Michael Frank, Michael Reiskind, Franklyn Salimbene, Nancy Mazonson, Peter Elmuts, Barry Schwartz, and Martin Thomson were on hand for the meeting.

Two representatives from local elected officials also were on hand.

Carlos Rios, a legislative aide to new State Rep. Sam Montano, reported that Rep. Montano’s office is focusing on housing, which is a major issue in the district.

My’Kel McMillen, the Director of Constituent Services and Organizing from District 6 City Councillor Kendra Lara’s office, noted that Councillor Lara hosted coffee hours with constituents in December at various locations throughout her district.

Treasurer Martin Thomson reported that there is a balance of $3362.67 in the association’s account at the present time.

The meeting did not include the usual monthly Community Safety Report. It was noted that police officer Carlos Martinez, who regularly has been presenting the monthly report, no longer is with the District 13 Community Safety Office and his replacement has yet to get in touch with the association.

Prior to the business portion of the meeting, Dennis O’Brien from the First Church Unitarian made a presentation about the church’s ongoing capital campaign. He said that the church has completed repairs on the church tower, which was in danger of collapsing, at a cost of $280,000.

However, there is an urgent need now to replace the slate roof on the building, which is the original roof of the 156-year-old structure.

“The roof is leaking significantly,” said O’Brien, who noted that the present roof has outlived its useful life of 100 years by quite a bit. “The leaks last year needed a rain diverter to keep it from collapsing. We’ve kicked this can down the road as far as we can, and the congregation now is authorizing a capital campaign to fix it.”

He said that the estimated cost of repairs, about $1 million, is beyond the ability of the small congregation to undertake on its own.

He said the church is applying for grants and has exceeded its initial goal of raising $350,000 in pledges, which now total $450,000.

“We have been gratified by the response from the congregation and the community for what has been by far the largest capital campaign we ever have undertaken,” said O’Brien. “If we are unable to do this, the church building is not sustainable and not something we can continue to occupy with a ceiling in danger of collapse.

“We are trying to save this aging building,” continued O’Brien. “It is important to the community and a number of groups who consider this their home. It is an important resource to the community and an anchor to the whole Monument Square district. We are pressing forward in faith that we can get this gargantuan task done.

“All repairs have to be made in accordance with guidelines set down by the Mass. Historical Comm.,” O’Brien added. “We have to use the same materials as the original, which in this case is green Vermont slate for the roof.”

He also noted that the roof will be substantially strengthened when the project is completed.

“This is the most urgent need we have,” he said. “If the roof collapses, we don’t have a building anymore. If we are able to receive the grants, the project will be started in the summer and completed by the winter.”

“This is an important structure in the middle of Jamaica Plain,” said Salimbene. “These old structures need the support of the entire community.”

Information about the project is available at

The JPA next took up the matter of the Forbes Building and the precarious standing of its low-income tenants who are facing possible eviction from the apartments in which they have resided for many years. The Forbes is the last of the apartment buildings in the city that were constructed in the 1970s and 80s pursuant to a state and federal program that provided financing and low-interest loans to developers who agreed to rent units at below-market rates for a 40-year period. 

The Forbes’s agreement expired two years ago and the tenants have been left in limbo as state and city officials negotiate with the owner of the building for a buyout figure in order both to allow the current tenants to remain and to provide affordable housing for future tenants.

Laura Mistretta from the Mass. Tenants Alliance said there have been a number of twists and turns in the negotiations in recent months. She reported that the current owner missed the deadline for applying for funding from the city and state and that there is a “huge gap,” amounting to $40 million, beyond what the city and state are willing to offer to purchase the property.

“They’re looking for an $80 million deal, which is astronomical,” said Mistretta. “In addition, the negotiations have been in a ‘black box’ as to the progress of the negotiations.”

She also noted that the six-month leases given to the 80 low-income households in June expired on December 31. She said the owner also has demanded that the state and city waive a Mass. Housing monthly fee in return for which he would agree to freeze rents for 2023.

“We’re getting pretty tired of them promising to submit things on time,” said Mistretta. “We’re looking forward to the legislative session and a home rule petition that would preserve expiring-use housing.”

The association next took up the Jamaicaway-Arborway road project that is being undertaken by the Dept. of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). The DCR examined four plans and decided to back Alternative 4, which calls for the signalization of the current rotary intersections. The JPA has gone on record as favoring Alternative 1.

Moloney noted that there may be a change in the DCR’s current plans because of the incoming new administration. However, he acknowledged that many residents in the J.P. community favor Alternative 4, especially if the DCR would be willing to make some changes to that plan.

The group also discussed the So. Huntington Ave. Bike Lane project that is being undertaken by the city.

Dreyfus, a dedicated bicycle user, reported to his fellow members that he met with a Dept. of Transportation staff member one-on-one for about 30 minutes. He said the most important point he took away from the discussion is that the installation of the protected bike lanes on South Huntington from Moraine St. to Heath St. is “pretty much set to go as soon as the weather permits,” which constitutes about 2/3 of the length of the entire bike lane project. He pointed out that there are some parking spaces that will be lost in some sections along the stretch of the new bike lanes.

However, he noted that the final third of the project, running from Heath St. to Huntington Ave., still has yet to be designed and involves a number of logistical problems. He noted that this last section of So. Huntington is extremely dangerous per statistics from 2015. 

The association then took up the pressing matter of the sharp decline in its membership over the past few years.

There have been about 100 households historically  in the JPA. However, since the pandemic, the membership has fallen to 38, which Thomson noted comes very close to the minimum threshold of 30 community members needed for the election of board members at the annual meeting.

“We need to reverse the decline in membership,” he said.

The members then discussed the issues of membership fees and how the group can create better outreach in order to involve more residents of the J.P. community.

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