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Egleston Square Development Highlights Conflicting Visions For Area's Future06:22Download

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The corner of Washington and Montebello streets in Jamaica Plain is seen last month. A 76-unit development at 3200 Washington St. will replace E&J Auto Tech and an abandoned building. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)MoreCloseclosemore
The corner of Washington and Montebello streets in Jamaica Plain is seen last month. A 76-unit development at 3200 Washington St. will replace E&J Auto Tech and an abandoned building. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

When developers first came to E&J Auto Tech, saying they wanted to tear down the building that houses the auto repair shop and put up a six-story apartment building, owner Enrique Nuñez got nervous.

But he was quickly assured his shop would be relocated.

"I'm going to benefit because they're going to find us another location,” Nuñez said in Spanish, standing in his garage on Washington Street in Boston's Jamaica Plain. “Because of this I support the project."

Nuñez said his shop will move a few blocks over to a similarly sized lot on Columbus Avenue, and that means greater visibility.

"It's a good thing for the neighborhood,” he said of the development. “With a project like this the neighborhood will look completely different. This is progress for practically all of Jamaica Plain."

Mechanic Jose Mendez saws a piece of pipe for an exhaust system at E&J Auto Tech on Washington Street in Jamaica Plain. The repair shop will be moved to a location on Columbus Avenue to make way for a 76-unit development at 3200 Washington St. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Mechanic Jose Mendez saws a piece of pipe for an exhaust system at E&J Auto Tech on Washington Street in Jamaica Plain. The repair shop will be moved to a location on Columbus Avenue to make way for a 76-unit development at 3200 Washington St. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Egleston Square straddles the border between Roxbury and Jamaica Plain. It's a heavily Hispanic area that has seen far less development than other parts of JP.

But that's about to change.

A Boston Redevelopment Authority map shows seven separate housing developments on the horizon for Washington Street. 3200 Washington St., which won BRA approval at last month’s board meeting, is the first of several mixed-use buildings -- some with a few dozen apartments, some with more than 200 -- likely to appear in the years ahead.

Developers of 3200 Washington St. want to level two structures: a vacant plumbing supply building and the small building occupied by E&J Auto Tech. A six-story mixed-use building would go up on the land, with a business on the ground floor and 76 apartments above. Sixty-four of the rental units would be market rate, while 12 others would be affordable.

The developer also plans to rehab an adjacent triple-decker for an additional six affordable apartments.

An abandoned apartment building on Montebello Street in Jamaica Plain will be rehabilitated, bringing six new affordable units to Egleston Square. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
An abandoned apartment building on Montebello Street in Jamaica Plain will be rehabilitated, bringing six new affordable units to Egleston Square. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Developers say the number of proposed on-site affordable units is nearly twice the 13 percent required of new developments in Boston. But some neighbors want the entire six-story building to be affordable.

"If it's going to be built it should be affordable,” said 17-year-old Egleston Square resident Marvin Mendoza, "because I don't want to see my community change at all.”

He lives with his family in a nearby apartment. He said their landlord is raising the rent and it will force the family out of the neighborhood.

Mendoza sees 3200 Washington St. as part of the problem.

“You're not going to see people like me ... in Boston anymore,” he said. “We're all going to be all spread out.” He added: “To me this community is more than just a home -- it's everything. I love this place."

An artist's rendering of Washington Street (Courtesy of Rode Architects Inc. via BRA)
An artist's rendering of Washington Street (Courtesy of Rode Architects Inc. via BRA)

3200 Washington resonates with the community because it's the first development Egleston Square has seen in years. The six-story building would change the physical profile of the neighborhood, causing some in the area to complain about possible shade issues.

Shade is the last concern of Egleston resident Rita Alcaráz, who says the new developments will force out people of color. Alcaráz said Latinos will have to commute to maintenance and restaurant jobs at places like 3200 Washington.

"And who's going to work here? Us,” Alcaráz said in Spanish. “Because white people aren't going to work here for 9, 10, 11 dollars an hour. So we'll have to commute from far away to come and work in Egleston."

Another sticking point is the very definition of affordability. Most of the affordable units at 3200 Washington St. will be for those earning 70 percent of area median income -- about $69,000 for a family of four.

Opponents of the project say area median income is out of touch with the reality of the neighborhood. They used census data to estimate incomes for families renting in Egleston, concluding that new apartments should be reserved for families making $26,000 a year.

The census tract that includes 3200 Washington lists a median household income of $66,477. But it's a different story when broken down by race. For Latinos, the median income is $37,125; for whites it’s $92,083.

“This is an area of poor people, working people, but we work for low salaries,” resident Alcaráz said. “The majority of us have two jobs to pay our rent. And so you come and build apartments for people who earn $60,000 or $70,000 a year. Only in our dreams can we afford that."

“The majority of us have two jobs to pay our rent. And so you come and build apartments for people who earn $60,000 or $70,000 a year. Only in our dreams can we afford that.”

Egleston resident Rita Alcaráz

In the face of protests, the BRA approved 3200 Washington Street last month, paving the way forward for developers. Board member Michael Monahan said protesters should be applauding developers for building more affordable units than required by the city.

"One-hundred percent privately funded project, going above and beyond the affordability number … no public subsidies whatsoever,” Monahan said. “I don't know why people aren't clapping.”

The project went through on a 3-2 vote -- the two dissenting votes coming from the two people of color on the board.

The company developing the project is 3190 Washington LLC. Spokeswoman Rosy Gonzalez said the development is just what the square needs.

"Creating mixed-income and mixed-use housing is what our city is trying to do,” Gonzalez said. “We’re not displacing anyone. We’re creating housing where housing does not exist today.”

But Gonzalez said the project strikes a chord with neighbors because it's been a long time since a development in Egleston Square was built.

“We're very used to the triple-decker conversions, so I think folks are seeing this as a step towards maybe the neighborhood changing," she said.

Many in Egleston Square are warm to the idea of coming developments.

“There has to be a mix [of housing],” said homeowner Russell Sweeney, who lives a block away form the development site. “To say that this should be all affordable housing is crazy to me, because there are plenty of people who can afford [to rent].”

He added: “Not to say that it should be gentrified just because there’s high crime in the area, but [gentrification is] happening everywhere… There’s no stopping it in the city.”

Kevin Koppes owns a video shop on Washington, right across from the future apartments. He's wary of gentrification, but can’t oppose tearing down a vacant plumbing supply building for the sake of new housing.

"It would be really hard for me to make any sort of arguments against more housing in JP,” Koppes said. “Is it kind of a sign of things to come? Yeah, probably, but again, it's an abandoned building, JP needs housing, Egleston needs housing.”

And Koppes said more housing ideally depresses the cost of rent.

“Is it kind of a sign of things to come? Yeah, probably, but again, it's an abandoned building, JP needs housing, Egleston needs housing.”

Egleston business owner Kevin Koppes

Egleston Square is part of an area that spans four stops on the Orange Line in Jamaica Plain, what the BRA calls the Washington Street corridor.

The concern raised about 3200 Washington is something city planners expect they'll confront again soon, as more developers eye projects in the area, so the BRA recently launched a public planning process for the corridor. Officials say the nine-month effort will result in a land use plan, laying out requirements for issues like height and density, suggesting new uses, and codifying the envisioned changes with new zoning.

BRA Director Brian Golden said the agency wants to involve neighbors in creating a new blueprint for the area.

"When the public has input in the plan, and development comes along that is consistent with that plan, the public reacts positively… and we've seen that wherever we've done it," Golden said.

In recent years the BRA has carried out planning studies in various hot spots in Boston: the Ink Block area in the South End, the Guest Street area in Brighton, and the Fenway.

“Those three nodes were the beneficiaries of a really substantive community process,” Golden said. “And the projects that followed have by and large been very well received.”

A similar planning initiative is happening along the Red Line in South Boston, between Andrew Square and Broadway Station. The issue in both neighborhoods comes down to a shift well underway in the city -- rising demand for housing and business spaces in neighborhoods close to the T.

The question sure to persist is this: Who will be able to afford to live in the future Boston?

This segment aired on September 10, 2015.

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Simón Rios Twitter Reporter
Simón Rios is a reporter in WBUR's newsroom. He joined the station after two years at The Standard-Times in New Bedford, where he cut his teeth covering immigration and business.

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