"The force of youth" it was called by organizer Maya Gaul, a lifelong resident of School Street.
It was nothing less than an amazing and spirited rally for the soul of Jamaica Plain; never before seen in Egleston Square in this observer's 40 years in the neighborhood.
On a mellow Wednesday evening, more than 50 youth and adults gathered in the Peace Park at Egleston Square to demand 100 percent affordability at the development of 3200 Washington St. Specifically, the group wants housing to be affordable for families earning $26,000 a year.
The current proposal calls for 12 of the 76 housing units of a five-six story development to be what the city of Boston considers affordable.
Loosely organized by a coalition of organizations and volunteers under the name Affordable Housing Egleston, the leaders prefer anonymity and deflect most questions.
Some of the groups involved are Bikes Not Bombs; Beantown Society, a component of Spontaneous Celebrations; Reclaim Boston; Christ the King Church and the Egleston Square YMCA, among others.
All gathered at the Peace Park for a cook out to celebrate "what makes Egleston Square beautiful."
Key leaders Abdul from Bikes Not Bombs and Yeya, a volunteer from the Egleston Square YMCA, addressed the gathering to announce that the real purpose was to protect and preserve that beauty: the vibrant culture and diversity and protect those who live there from displacement. Neither gave their last names.
"We will march down to 3200 Washington Street," said Yeya, "and we will demand 100 percent affordability! We will stand at the plumbing building for 100 seconds and count down to 100 to show that we mean 100 percent affordability."
And then in the middle of rush hour 6 p.m. Egleston Square traffic, the group of fifty marched down the outbound lane of Washington Street to Iffley Road chanting "Eggy United will never be defeated!"
They marched behind a red and white banner held by Yeya, Maya and 13-year-old Isaiah from Bikes Not Bombs that said "Arborview Realty: Egleston Demands 100% Affordable Housing."
While the developers have ties to Jamaica Plain's Arborview Realty, the development is being done by a separate company, 3190 Washington St. LLC.
Other signs told those stranded in a long line of rush hour traffic (a few of whom honked in support) what the group was all about:
- Stop Gentrifying Egleston
- We Will Not Be Moved
- Build Housing for People Not Profit
When the marchers reached Iffley Road, Abdul, Yeya and volunteer George Lee circled the group in the outbound lane of Washington Street. Everyone held hands and signs as Yeya then led the count. "1, 2, 3, 4, 5. ...25... 35.. 75.. ...100. One hundred percent affordability for 32oo Washington Street."
The marchers then posed for a group photograph in front of Economy Plumbing Building, safely on the sidewalk.
(It was a very well timed rally: A Boston Police supervising sergeant pulled over just at that time; Washington Street was cleared by then.)
When asked if she would describe the Egleston Affordable Housing Coalition as ad hoc, Maya said no; it will remain "a force for youth and young adults" but she did not say how.
Lee said after the march that dozens of petition pages signed by over 500 people in support of the coalition's goals had been delivered to the Boston Redevelopment Authority and more would be delivered after that night's rally. He said the next step will be for the Affordable Housing Egleston members to attend the May 20 meeting of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council's Zoning Committee. There, they plan to press their demand for 100 percent affordability for families earning $26,000 a year.
The 100 percent affordable demand is a high bar for developers to meet in that any units renting or selling below market rate generally require some sort of federal or state subsidy or tax credits. The city requires every development to have a number of affordable units equal to at least 15 percent that development's market-rate housing. For developments near transit, JP's Neighborhood Council asks for 25 percent affordability.
A neighboring property could be in affordability mix, if efforts to craft a deal between the developers and Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corp. come to fruition. That property, at 52 Montebello, could become six "deeply affordable" units.
The Boston Redevelopment Authority's window for comments on the 3200 Washington St. proposal ends May 1. Go to this page on the BRA Web site to enter your comments directly.
Win or lose, this loose but determined coalition representing the longtime residents of Egleston Square has drawn a line across the pavement and said no to developers taking away their "Eggy."
No other neighborhood in Jamaica Plain facing the same pressures has stood up like this group, in this observer's experience.
[Editor's note: We've updated the number of units proposed to be affordable from 11 to 12 and added a sentence about a neighboring property that is part of the negotiations, 52 Montebello Road.]