JPNC Housing Comm. Hears From Forbes Residents About Loss of Parking Spaces

The Housing and Development Committee of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) held its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, June 18. On hand for the session were chair Danielle Sommer-Kieta, vice-chair Purple Reign, Willie Mitchell, Bernard Doherty, Gert Thorn, Aiden Foley, Esther Beiilard, Sarah Horseley, Pam Bender, Carolyn Royce, and Lorenzo Bartoloni. Also in attendance were Michael Kane, a long-time affordable housing advocate who is the founder and Executive Director of the tenant-run Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants, and a number of tenants of the Forbes Building, including Erica Johnson and Mary Lundergan of the Forbes Tenants Association.

The main discussion of the evening focused on a presentation from residents of the Forbes, which is located at 545 Centre St. and which has been a source of controversy for the past few years. The Forbes was the last of a 1970s-era state government housing program that gave subsidies to developers in order to provide affordable housing for low-income tenants, particularly senior citizens and the disabled. However, the program had a 40-year life, after which the buildings reverted back to the owners without any affordable-housing restrictions. The restrictions on the owner of the Forbes ended a few years ago, allowing the owner to convert the building to market-rate rents, thereby jeopardizing the housing of the long-time senior citizens and disabled tenants who live there.

After almost three years of negotiations among the owner, the tenants, and state and city agencies, an agreement was reached by which the state and city will provide funds to the owner for a capital improvement program in order to undertake major renovations of both the interior and exterior of building (including new windows, new exterior cladding, and a new roof with a rooftop garden) plus new landscaping. The apartments (which had not been renovated in 40 years) will have new floors, new kitchens, and new baths. In addition, there will be rental subsidies for the tenants’ that will maintain the Forbes as affordable housing for the next 40 years.

Although the tenants and housing advocates generally have applauded the agreement, a sticking point has been the landscaping aspect of the plan. The owner will be adding shrubbery and green space that will result in a reduction of parking from 27 to 15 spaces. The plan provides spaces for rideshare vehicles and electric bicycles.

“By reducing the on-site parking spaces to 15, this will force many people to park in the street or to give up their cars,” said Kane, who noted that the BPDA voted to approve the parking reduction plan without any notice to the residents.

“This feels like the classic rubber stamp by the BPDA of a developer’s proposal without community input,” Kane added, who noted that 78 residents presently own cars with more than half parking on the street, which includes some current market-rate tenants. Kane said that when the building becomes fully affordable-housing and the market rate tenants (and their cars) leave the building, it will improve the situation, but there still will be many current residents who will lose their parking spaces.

“This is totally unnecessary,” said Doherty. “To have the BPDA vote on this in a backroom deal is another way of spreading a bad impression of their organization.” Doherty also suggested that those who are senior citizens and who are residents of the building should organize to put pressure on politicians.

“This is a significant change not only for the residents, but also for the members of the Jamaica Plain community,” said Thorn.

“This is very unfair for seniors who use walkers and canes who have to park off-site,” said Johnson. “They should be able to park at the building. There are 147 apartments and if you eliminate what we currently have, it’s just unfortunate.”

“I don’t agree with the trade-off of geen space for parking spaces because of the hardship it will put people through,” said Lundergan. “It seems that you just have to agree with everything if you want housing. It feels like, ‘Just be quiet and allow the people in power to negotiate.’ We don’t know anything and then they just tell us what they’ve done.”

“Given the number of seniors and disabled who live in the building who depend on cars, this seems like a Fair Housing issue,” said Kathy Brown, a long-time housing advocate who was in attendance at the meeting.

“There also is a problem with the process. How could the BPDA do this without notice to the community?” added Bender.

“Taking away parking that already is there makes no sense, especially for seniors and persons with disabilities, for whom parking off-site can be unsafe,” said Reign.

However, two committee members suggested that the landscaping changes will have benefits.  Royce said the addition of green space and parking spaces for rideshare vehicles are welcome from an environmental perspective. Foley noted that a lot of the design elements, including the rideshares and e-bikes, may have been required by the city’s and the state’s new building codes for green requirements and that the committee should hear from the designers before taking any action.

Thorn made a motion that the committee write a letter to the BPDA and city officials expressing their disappointment with the reduction in parking and asking for an explanation, and also noting the lack of process and lack of notice to the tenants.

Kane suggested that any letter from the committee should acknowledge the owner’s commitment to maintaining the property permanently affordable, which represents a substantial positive step for the residents.

After Thorn and Doherty emphasized that the purpose of the letter should be to focus on the lack of notice to the community, resulting in their lack of involvement in the process, the committee members voted 11-0-1 to approve the drafting of a letter to be sent to the city and the BPDA, with Sommer-Kieta and Doherty taking on the task of drawing up the draft. The draft letter will be presented to the committee at the July meeting, and in turn will be presented to the JPNC.

The committee heard briefly from Royce of the committee’s Arborway Yard subcommittee regarding the subcommittee’s most recent meeting. She mentioned that there were discussions about the lack of capital funding in the state budget for the construction of the new MBTA garage at the site. She also said that the possibility of constructing a parking garage underground for the T employees at the site came up, which would address a significant bone of contention between the T and the committee. The T’s plans for the site call for locating a 150-space parking area for its employees within the eight acres of the community development land that had been part of the original 2001 memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the city and the T. The subcommittee has been adamantly opposed to locating the parking lot within the eight acres and has called for the original MOU to be adhered to.

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