Enthusiasm and Ideas for Future of Jamaica Plain and Roxbury Border

The English High School cafeteria was filled and bubbling with energy, enthusiasm and ideas at the second workshop for the JP-Rox Plan Washington Street corridor initiative Nov. 4.

“We’ve been listening to you,” said Marie Mercurio, BRA senior planner, in her welcoming remarks.

Since the first workshop on Sept. 30, “Imagine with Us,” BRA staff spent long days to thoroughly, carefully compile and organize all the priorities set out discussion groups.  A three-page spreadsheet, which makes for very dense reading, but boils down what participating residents want for the Jamaica Plain-Roxbury border.

The area being discussed is 250 acres with a population of 6,000. The average age is 40, and the demographic range is evenly broken up of latino and white residents, 34% and 33% respectively, with a black community of 24%.

What people wanted to see was expanding housing for low- and moderate-income families, and preserving the rich diversity and ethnic character of the local community; hoping that both would expand and strengthen local businesses, which was a third key concern.

The BRA colleagues have been working with the Housing Innovation Lab, and other  city agencies, including the Boston Parks Department, Department of Neighborhood Development, Elderly Affairs  Commission, Office of Business Development, Environment Department and the Landmarks Commission.

Mercurio said the resonating theme from the first workshop was “community sustainability and land use” and they wanted to explore those issues at the second meeting.

But before discussing those issues, city officials addressed the group.

“It’s absolutely true that the mayor wants to bring down housing costs. He wants to preserve and keep stable neighborhoods. He believes that increased housing construction will lower housing costs,” said John “Tad” Reed, acting director of planning for the BRA. He added, there must be balanced development, “…in areas where we want growth with areas we want to preserve.”

Devin Quirk, director of operations for DND spoke about Mayor Marty Walsh’s housing plan, and its four main themes:

  1. Champion low-income affordability
  2. Strengthen  options for the middle class
  3. Assist senior households
  4. Manage Boston’s student population by increased  on campus housing

Quirk spoke about the housing picture of the JP/Roxbury border. There are 2579 occupied homes. With a population of 6,000, 70% rent and 29.7% own their homes, and 29% live in deed-restricted homes for low-income residents

The median home value is $529,000 and the average rent is $2,150 [presumably for a two-bedroom apartment].

A handout said the 2013 median income for the lowest earners is between $10,809 to $23,824 of the boundary. This was for families centered at the top 1/4 of the boundary area around Egleston Square from Westminster Avenue to School Street and Centre to Atherton streets.

At the bottom 3/4 the median income is more than double from $54,000 to $75,000 a year.

“How we measure affordability is by determining that if a household is spending more than 35% of their income on housing, then they are considered cost-burdened,” said Quirk. “A family with an annual income of $40,000 can afford to pay $1,167 a month for rent without being burdened or can afford the mortgage on a house selling for $165,000. A family earning $20,000 a year can afford $582 in rent.

“One thing we do know — is that rents are rising dramatically,” said Quirk. “We are very concerned about displacement of two groups — elderly homeowners on fixed incomes and those families – 22% in the study area — paying more than 35% of their income in rent.”

Quirk outlined four solutions:

  1. Revise the Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP) by mandating affordability requirements in the zoning for the JP/Rox study area, ensuring that all property not just new startups are subject to the IDP.
  2. If financially feasible, zone for more height in exchange for increased affordability stressing low-income affordable.
  3. Public land disposition requirements. Public agencies holding surplus land  [MassDOT, MBTA DND, BRA, Massport] can reduce the cost of its land below the market value to create a larger number of affordable units.
  4. Direct financial subsidies. Including low-income housing tax credits, block grants, commercial linkage fund payments to the Affordable Housing Trust and private acquisition of affordable housing.

Marcy Ostberg, of the Housing Innovation Lab, introduced the small group exercises that had four themes: housing and affordability; business and job opportunity; environmental sustainability; and community resiliency.

Ostberg said group sessions would allow city officials to hone in priorities set out at the Sept. 30 workshop to get to specific solutions or needs.

There were 14 groups sessions, one of which was conducted in Spanish, and moderated by Raul Medina and Giovanny Valencia.

After a robust and noisy hour of considerable animated discussion, Ostberg called the groups back to recap their main conclusions. There were more than 50 ideas and recommendations, including:

  1. Density that’s compatible with the community and that building height should respect the existing neighborhood
  2. What are the city resources available for subsidies?
  3. Who is leading the city in regards to land acquisition and disposition?
  4. Increase opportunities for worker-owned businesses such as co-ops.
  5. Keep 25% inclusionary zoning in the zoning code for all housing, not just new construction
  6. The increased focus on creative housing design and eco-friendly designs are a distraction. Housing models should be based on what’s affordable to build for the lower- and middle-income family.
  7. Does artist housing contribute to gentrification?
  8. Don’t isolate low-income families along racial lines. Preserve ethnic and economic diversity by preventing displacement

Mercurio closed out the busy evening by reminding the participants that,  “…with you we not only will have a development guideline with new zoning built in but also a time line of long and short term implementation.”

The next workshop is on Dec. 10 with a main topic of land use and development.

Susan Nguyen of he Housing Innovation Lab talks with neighbor participant

Richard Heath

Susan Nguyen, left, of the Housing Innovation Lab, talks with a neighbor.

2103 median income in the JP Rox boundary.Those with the lowest incomes $11.00 to $24.000 are clustered at the top quarter of the area around Egleston Square. This area has the most homes owned by social housing organizations with income protections. The bottom 3/4 is where the private housing market owns.

Richard Heath

A map of 2013 median income on the JP-Roxbury boundary. Those with the lowest incomes $11,000 to $24,000 are clustered at the top quarter of the area around Egleston Square. This area has the most homes owned by social housing organizations with income protections. The bottom 3/4 is predominantly privately owned.

Leslie Bos of JPNDC moderates one group session.

Richard Heath

Leslie Bos of JPNDC moderates a group session.

Abdul Hussein of Affordable Housing Egleston announces free food " There's no food a these meetings!"

Richard Heath

Standing: Abdul Hussein of Affordable Housing Egleston

Group sessions

Richard Heath

Group sessions

Tad Reed Acting Director of Planning at the BRA moderates a group session.

Richard Heath

John “Tad” Reed, acting director of planning for the BRA, moderates a group session.

Devin Quirk of DND)talks with Bill Reylt and Kathy Brown at a group session.

Richard Heath

Devin Quirk, of Department of Neighborhood Development, talks with Bill Reylt and Kathy Brown during a group session.

Devin Quirk Director of operations at DND painted a sobering picture of housing in the JPRox boundrry "One thing we do know is rents are rising dramatically"

Richard Heath

Devin Quirk, director of operations at DND, said about housing in the JP-Rox boundary, “One thing we do know is rents are rising dramatically.”

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  • Kerin

    Building height should respect existing housing = no density.

    Sorry, but I don’t see why we should stick with the same density that was used 100 years ago. It’s 2015, we have a housing crisis. There’s hardly any build able land so the only way to go is up.

    Building only low density yeilds fewer units which makes them more expensive. Affordability requires more density. Can the city please explain economics to these folks?

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  • Monster

    A couple thoughts:

    1. Putting the onus of housing students onto the universities that enroll them would provide a large reduction in demand for housing in Boston. Student demand (which is financed not by local wages but by student debt and/or parent handouts) drives a ton of the housing market in Boston. If those students had to live on campus, working people might have more housing options in the neighborhoods.

    2. 35% of income = affordable is a very crude measure. A person banking $1 million a year could easily (not wisely, but easily) spend 90% of their income on housing and live comfortably on the remaining $100,000. On the flip side, a person taking home $10,000 a year might struggle to live on the $6500 leftover after they paid their 35%. I suspect this is another factor driving the increase in housing costs…more dual-income families with less kids means they can comfortably spend a larger proportion of their income on housing than was previously possible.

    3. Building height restrictions should be reduced on commercial arteries (such as Washington St. proper) while maintaining them within the side-street neighborhood areas. This will generate high density mixed-use development while maintaining the small feel of residential-only areas.

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