JPNC votes to send letter in support of Forbes tenants

The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) held its regular monthly meeting this past Tuesday.

Chairman Will Cohen and members Dave Baron, Michael Reiskind, vice-chair Bernie Doherty, Nick Chaves, Alexis Rickmers, Gert Thorn, Peg Preble, Omer Hecht, Paige Sparks, Renee Stacey Welch, and Sarah Freeman were in attendance.

The committee’s principal action was to vote to send a letter to city and state officials, as well as the owner of the Forbes Building, affirming the JPNC’s support for retaining the affordability of the apartment units for the 75 low-income residents who presently are in limbo as to their future status.

The Forbes was among a large number of projects constructed more than 40 years ago pursuant to a federal program that provided subsidies to developers, in return for which the developers agreed to set aside a large portion of the units for low-income tenants.

The Forbes was the last such project in the city to have its 40-year agreement expire three years ago. There have been ongoing negotiations between the Forbes’s owner and city and state officials to maintain the affordable units going forward, but there has been no real progress between the parties, leaving the low-income tenants in a position of not knowing what their future holds.

The gist of the letter, which was put together primarily by JPNC vice-chair Doherty, who has been a passionate and outspoken supporter of the tenants, and Gert Thorn, conveys the importance of protecting the interests of these long-time, low-income tenants, almost all of whom are senior citizens, who are being threatened with the loss of their apartments.

“It is a desperate situation that these tenants are being faced with,” said Doherty.

Michael Kane, a JP resident who is a long-time housing activist, also addressed the group. 

“The committee’s speaking out on this issue is very important to the community and the tenants and serves to bring pressure on the owner,” said Kane, who noted that the Forbes’s owner still has failed to produce a written plan guaranteeing affordability for the present tenants despite having promised to do so last May.

“This drawn-out process is heightening the anxiety of the tenants,” said Kane.

Kane also outlined that the main issue comes down to money, with the owner reportedly seeking $80 million from the state and city in order to maintain affordability for the tenants, which is roughly $40 million more (double) than the present state guidelines allow for.

The committee then voted 9-1-1 to approve sending the letter to the Forbes Building’s owner, the mayor’s office, and state officials.

In other business, Carlos Rios, a legislative aide in the office of State Rep. Sam Montano, attended the meeting and informed the council of the 21 bills that Rep. Montano will be filing on behalf of her constituents.

He said most are housing-related and some others are LGBTQ-related. Rios noted that one that he himself is “passionate about” is a bill that would secure housing for returning citizens.

Doherty told the council of the MWRA’s plans to construct an additional water line, 10 feet in diameter, from the Quabbin Reservoir to Mattapan that presumably will traverse underneath the Forest Hills area.

“This is something that will affect the community as a whole,” noted Doherty.

Cohen noted that there are still five vacancies on the JPNC, two in Area A, two in Area B, and one in Area C.

Welch presented the report from the Housing and Development Committee (see accompanying story). 

Housing Committee member Kathy Brown told the council of a letter that the committee would like to send to the mayor’s office pertaining to inclusionary development in which they are seeking to increase to 20 percent, from the present 13 percent, the number of units to be set aside for inclusionary development, and to reduce the median income thresholds that qualify for the subsidized units, including a three percent set-aside for Section 8 voucher-holders.

Mayor Wu has presented a proposal that increases to 17 percent the set-aside for affordable housing for new developments in the city.

Doherty noted that presently, the average median income threshold for a family of four to qualify for the subsidized housing units is $84,100 “which remains out of the reach of many.

“This falls far short of meeting the needs of the working class and poorer class in this city,” said Doherty, whose career has been devoted to affordable housing issues.

Brown concurred, saying, “ ‘Affordable housing’ is not really affordable.”

Cohen however, noted that the goals stated in the letter could be seen as constraining the development of housing in the city because it establishes thresholds that are more aggressive than in neighboring communities.

“I am worried that pushing it this far could have a perverse effect and might actually result in a decrease in the amount of affordable housing construction,” said Cohen.

In the end, the committee members decided not to take a vote on the content of the letter, which was presented to them that night, until they had more time to review it.

Baron presented the Zoning Committee’s report regarding the project at 27 Dixwell St., a three-story, 12-unit building with two affordable units that will be three stories in height. He noted that the original project had called for four stories and 14 units and that the roof deck had been reconfigured.

He said that the Zoning Committee approved the project. The full JPNC then voted to endorse the Zoning Committee’s recommendation. The developer now must go before the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals for final approval. 

The Public Service Committee report of its January 3 meeting was presented by Reiskind. He noted that the committee had taken up the pressing matter of requesting additional trash barrels from the DPW at various areas in the community in order to address the letter problem.

He also mentioned an innovative pilot program that was undertaken last year by the city to remove snow from the city’s sidewalks is now permanent and will include the Jamaica Plain neighborhood, with a focus on corners and intersections that will be of immense benefit for senior citizens and those with disabilities.

Sparks presented the report for the Outreach Committee and discussed the three initiatives that the committee is undertaking relative to promotional materials, public posting places, and schools and youth engagement.

She also noted that the committee is looking at the date for the annual election for the JPNC, with a preferred date of Saturday, June 24, and an alternative date of Saturday, May 20. Sparks said that volunteers will be needed to help with the election.

Alexis Rickmers presented the Parks Committee report. She noted that the committee has been reaching out to the various community groups and city organizations that hold outdoor activities.

The next meeting of the council is set for Tuesday, February 28.

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