Abandoned buildings rare in JP, Rozzie

The number of apparently abandoned buildings in Jamaica Plain and Roslindale have dropped over the past few years, according to the city’s latest “Distressed Buildings Report,” issued last month.

JP has four “distressed” properties, down from eight in 2008, when the Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) last counted. Rozzie apparently has five such buildings—the report is unclear on that point—also down from eight in 2008. Both neighborhoods have among the city’s lowest abandonment rates.

The citywide total of 123 apparently abandoned buildings is the lowest since DND began counting in 1997.

The point of the survey is to target property owners in trouble and offer them help. DND and other city agencies provide advice on financing, renovating and marketing.

The report was formerly known as the “Abandoned Properties Report.” DND previously told the Gazette that the name was changed due to grant funding requirements, but its website now says it was due to owner concerns about the legal implications of the term “abandoned.”

DND defines as “distressed” any building that is “not occupied and has visible signs of physical distress (boarded, burned, open to the elements, or otherwise deteriorated.” DND acknowledges that it may miss some abandoned properties or incorrectly report buildings used for storage as abandoned.

JP properties on the list include the residential properties at 7 Glines Ave. and 51 Heath St.; the mixed-use buildings at 53-55 Heath; and a commercial building at 181 Amory St.

The Heath Street buildings have been on the list for years, and 181 Amory has gone on and off over the years. The Glines Avenue house is a bank-owned newcomer to the list.

Roslindale properties on the list are not completely clear. The report says there are two residential properties and three commercial properties showing signs of distress. But a detailed list of properties accompanying the report lists only the residential properties: 745 American Legion Highway and 28 Granfield Ave.

A DND spokesperson could not immediately be reached for clarification.

The report is intended to track abandoned property rates annually by neighborhood, but there are some problems with that analysis.

The reports have become irregular. The last report, in 2008, came out six months late with data already 10 months old. A 2009 report was never completed. The current 2010 report was conducted over the winter and into early this year.

The neighborhood comparisons are unreliable because DND uses an incorrect Boston Redevelopment Authority map, which erases some neighborhoods and draws wrong boundaries for others. Intended to be used for census-counting convenience, the map draws artificial districts labeled with real neighborhood names, causing confusion and bad data analysis throughout city agencies. The BRA stopped using the map for census analysis this year, but it remains part of the DND report.

The map puts large portions of JP in Roxbury and Roslindale, while putting almost all of Mission Hill and the Longwood Medical Area into JP. As a result, the report incorrectly says that there 14 abandoned properties in JP this year, when in fact most of them are in Roxbury or Mission Hill. The Gazette combed through the property list to create a correct inventory.

The Distressed Buildings Report can be viewed online at www.cityofboston.gov/dnd/pdr/Distressed_Buildings_Reports.asp.