Redevelopment would not bring positive change

The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC), Boston Health Care for the Homeless and the Pine Street Inn intend to redevelop the property at 461 Walnut Ave. in the Egleston Square neighborhood of Boston. The project would consist of 20 respite care beds and 33 “enhanced Single Room Occupancy” units for homeless people. Though the responses from the wider neighborhood have been wide ranging, the overwhelming majority of households that stand to be directly affected by this development have voiced concerns to both the JPNDC and the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

Our objections have been mischaracterized as purely oppositional to homeless housing initiatives. In fact, we support the objectives of positive change in our neighborhood, including the potential creation of new jobs, economic growth, enhancing diversity and serving the needs of at-risk populations. But we also have serious reservations and believe that this project, as designed, will not provide this positive change. The project’s poor fit with the current residential make-up, the increased traffic potential, the off-loading of services onto abutting streets and numerous public safety concerns for existing and proposed residents are all neighborhood concerns.

Unlike the burgeoning Jamaica Plain neighborhoods of Hyde Square, Jackson Square and Centre Street, Egleston Square has long been neglected by both development organizations and the City. The result has been a high density of subsidized housing facilities, a struggling business community and a high crime rate. These factors should be considered when additional development is proposed for our neighborhood. Sadly, any such consideration has been visibly absent from this proposal, which does little more than mimic the status quo approach to Egleston.

The picture that we see is one where both existing neighbors and the proposed residents face practical and public safety issues. The residents who would be housed in this facility are the chronically homeless with significant medical needs, a history of substance abuse and serious mental health issues. Few, if any, are expected to have cars. Yet this is a neighborhood without even basic grocery stores nearby. The picture that the developer paints of a population that can be integrated into the residential neighborhood and be well served by it is simply not realistic.

Additionally, this is a family neighborhood with lots of children. With Franklin Park’s White Stadium across the street, the Hernandez School a very short distance away, and many young families throughout the neighborhood, public safety must be a paramount concern.

Economic development professionals have neglected this neighborhood for years. But better late than never: Now is the time for the JPNDC, elected officials and residents to collaborate on a project that builds our community rather than moving it backwards and putting it at risk. When this happens, there will be enthusiastic support.

Kate Peppard, Jaime Rodriguez, Tom Morin, Jason Heinbeck, Moira Meehan, David DuBusc, Luis Prado and Michael Orff
Jamaica Plain

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