Upham's Corner Online

Uphams Corner Residents ask for Help with St. Kevin's

Introduction and Overview

At their request, the Improvement Association (UCIA) met with residents of Uphams Corner to address their concerns about the St. Kevin’s Redevelopment Project and to assist them in writing letters to express their concerns.  The meeting was held October 8, 2012 in the Pilgrim Church conference room. 

UCIA provided an overview (and many details) on the history of the project since the school closed in 2008.  They also reviewed the St. Kevin's Area Planning Collaborative (SKAPC) 2009 Visioning Report, emphasizing how well it took into account the needs of the community.

Residents then individually expressed their concerns about the project while UCIA provided additional information helping them understand the importance of their concerns or clarifying misunderstandings.

Finally, UCIA made recommendations on the format of the letters residents will be writing, but not the content.  UCIA emphasized the importance of the letters expressing their own views and not those of anyone else. 

Following is a summary of the information provided at the meeting.

St. Kevin's Historical Overview

St. Kevin's School As of June 2012, St. Kevins school has been closed for four years.  During that period of time, those responsible for taking care of the property - Holy Family Parish - were not doing so and until January 2012, the school and church buildings were easily broken into.  As an example, members of the Improvement Association toured both buildings in the fall of 2011, discovering "treasures" - school equipment - that surely could still be used by other learning institutions.  They openly communicated with Fr. Jack Ahern about finding a home for the equipment, yet this information did not seem to convey to Fr. Jack that the buildings were open to anyone.

However, in  late December 2011 / early January 2012, Fr. Jack became concerned.  He and the police went through both buildings and discovered that five squatters (including Tracy and Jose) had set up house with electric heaters and other living / sleeping accommodations.  They were escorted out and the local parish hired a professional boarding company to secure the buildings permanently.  No one has entered the buildings since.

After the BRA approved St. Kevin's for subsidized housing in March 2010, the Planning Office of Urban Affairs (POUA, the Archdiocese in-house developer) has been attemting to secure funding for the project. They have already obtained money (promised) from the City of Boston, from several banks and they are waiting on the last chunk of money from the Commonwealth of MA which they estimate to be 40% of the funding they need to start the project.

POUA is applying for LIHTC funding - Low Income Housing Tax Credits - from the Commonwealth (as approved by DHCD - Dept of Housing and Community Development).  DHCD provides "paper credits" that can be sold to corporations who are looking for tax credits to offset their taxes.  Officially, the funding POUA needs comes from businesses, but ultimately it comes from the tax payers since the business tax credits create a reduction in governmental income which then falls on the citizens and other tax-paying entities of the Commonwealth to make up.  The end justification (of these shenanigans) is to claim that subsidized housing is "doing good."

The developer has applied twice for LIHTC funding and been turned down twice, which is not unusual in this highly competitive fiscal environment, and will be participating in the next round of funding due on October 12, 2012.

In the mean time, while no one is breaking into the building, the homeless continue to "camp" on the property and deposit mounds of trash there.  Most recently on Saturday night / Sunday morning, October 7, 2012, three people (including Tracy, Jose and David) had set up a makeshift "house" using plastic sheeting to block off the wind and rain from the Columbia Rd side of the St. Kevin's property.

More about the Housing Development

One of the residents said she thought the property had already been sold.  "No, it has not been." According to the listing broker, the property has not yet sold.  He said he could not comment further about its status until after the closing has occurred.  Unofficially, the developer has no money to purchase the property from the Archdiocese (Archdiocese corporation purchasing from the Archdiocese).  They have to first secure the remaining construction funds including the purchase money.  Until the project is fully funded, no title transfer will occur. 

The St. Kevin's development project proposes 80 units, of which 20 are section 8. POUA has stated repeatedly that 20 units are set aside for recently homeless families from St. Mary's Center for Women and Children (another Archdiocese institution). But that's technically not true. Section 8 certificates are managed by a governmental agency, not St. Kevin's and are distributed as the agency sees fit.  The certificates may or may not be awarded to families from St. Mary's.  When pressed on this issue at an April public meeting, POUA (Lisa Alberghini) changed their statement:  "These units are for homeless families or people like that."

St Kevin's Area Planning Collaborative Report

In 2009 a group of stakeholders formed the St. Kevin's Area Planning Collaborative, Joseph Corcoran donated close to $15,000 (approx) and the group hired SAS/Design to conduct an open community visioning process.  What did the community want to see developed on the St. Kevin's site?

The visioning process generated a design and a report that focused on multiple community issues:
  • Economic revitalization
  • Community revitalization
  • Support of the Strand Theatre
  • Intergenerational support of the community
  • Educational programs for the community
View / Download SKAPC Executive Summary Report

The design included meeting space to encourage the revitalization of community, a shared parking garage to support visitors to the Strand as well as people coming to shop in Uphams Corner and it promoted programs supporting the arts especially involving youth.

Mayor Menino and the City of Boston have put millions of dollars into the restoration and upgrading of the Strand Theatre, unfortunately, without addressing the needs of the community and how best to support attendance at the Strand.
  • Currently, parking is far away from the Strand while the collaborative design put it across the street from the Strand
  • There is NO place for residents and groups to meet in Uphams Corner to engage in community revitalization.  By comparison, Grove Hall has a community center that promotes meetings and the revitalization of community.
  • Bringing in businesses to Uphams Corner one at a time will NEVER revitalize the neighborhood.  Uphams Corner needs an economic engine (large organization).
  • There is NO educational institution in Uphams Corner while the neighborhood is one of the least educated in the city.  Uphams Corner needs an adult education center including jobs training, literacy training, ESL and education in support of the arts which could also serve as an economic engine.

Issues Raised by Uphams Corner Residents

One by one, residents spoke up relating their concerns while the Improvement Assocation added clarity (facts, history, etc) to the conversation.  Other attendees chimed in, adding to the richness of the conversation.

The meeting closed with UCIA recommending the format (not contents) of the letters.  UCIA listed the issues cited by everyone present and asked each resident to make note of their top three to include in their letter.  The group also identified the (long) list of recipients to which the letters will eventually be sent.

Note:  The following list is NOT the complete list of issues raised at other meetings but represents those raised by the residents at this meeting.

Egress traffic problems
Any cars exiting via Davern Ave will have to turn right.  If they want to go North on Columbia Rd, then they will be making a U-turn at the Bird Street light.  If they want to go West on Dudley Street, they will exist via Bird St and cut through on Monadnock Street which already suffers from many drivers using that street to avoid the Columbia / Dudley intersection. Adding 55+ cars to this neighborhood will make the traffic problems much worse
Parking on Columbia Rd
Parking is already a problem on Columbia Rd.  No parking in the business district from 8am to 12noon so cars park in front of St. Kevin's.  Once the housing development is in place, there will be even more restrictions on parking.  The residents of Arion St have NO place to park except Columbia Rd.  The St. Kevin's housing project will make the parking problem much worse.
Limited Parking Spaces
What happens if residents have visitors or a party?  Where are the cars going to park?  The answer is Virginia Street - not Monadnock because it is already too crowded.  The effects of resident parking spillover into the local community streets means a worsening of the quality of life in this section of Uphams Corner.
Homeless Shelter at Risk
The Pilgrim Shelter managed by Children's Services of Roxbury has been located at Pilgrim Church and has been serving as a shelter of last resort for homeless men for over 22 years.  Two types of men come to the Pilgrim Shelter - those with an assigned bed and those without.  Those with an assigned bed arrive early (5:30pm +) and the doors open for the unassigned at 7:30pm.  So the "unassigned" have to hang out (so to speak) in the community waiting for the shelter to open for them. 

At the present time, the men wait discretely.  What is going to happen when the St. Kevin's property is made up of families with children?  Are they going to "freak out" because "men" seem to be hanging out close to the housing development?  The point is that the Pilgrim Shelter has operated sucessfully for over 20 years, providing a badly needed service to the City.  It is well respected by the Homeless Commission (Jim Greene). 

Having a family housing project across the street from the homeless shelter is a formula for getting the shelter shut down.
Housing Density
Uphams Corner is already considered a high population density section of the City of Boston (22k/sq mile).  Why is the City deciding that Uphams Corner should get more people?
The Sun
Since the Pilgrim Church was built in 1893, the church has enjoyed the sun coming into the windows and allowing the church to have both a vegetable and ornamental flower gardens.  If the building at Columbia Rd and Davern Ave is raised up another two or three stories, the church will be relegated to being in the shadows much of the day.  This is a dramatic decrease in the quality of life.

Posted: October 17, 2012     Nancy J Conrad

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