Residents weigh-in on CPA funds during forum

May 4, 2018
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A local community development corporation organized a forum for residents to discuss their ideas about what should be done with the $20 million per year that will be raised by the newly adopted Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds.

Residents suggested specific ideas for projects for housing, parks, and historical preservation, as well as ideas about how to promote projects that would fall into two or more of those categories. The forum was held on April 3 by the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) at the Anna Mae Cole Community Center with about 50 people attending.

Boston adopted the Community Preservation Act (CPA) by voting in support of it in November 2016. More than 170 Massachusetts municipalities have adopted the CPA, according to the Community Preservation Coalition. The CPA will generate millions of dollars of revenue to be used for the creation and acquisition of affordable housing, historic preservation, and open space and recreation.

The CPA created a Community Preservation Fund in which revenue is collected by a property tax-based surcharge on residential and business property tax bills. The city created the Community Preservation Committee to determine how funds will be used. Jamaica Plain’s Christine Poff, who previously led the Franklin Park Coalition and started the Boston Park Advocates, is the director of Boston’s Community Preservation Committee. The tax collection began in July 2017.

The forum included panels led by elected officials Jamaica Plain City Councilor Matt O’Malley, state Reps. Jeffrey Sanchez and Liz Malia, JPNDC’s Leslie Reid, Franklin Park Coalition’s Samantha Wechsler, and Gretchen Grozier of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society. The event had three breakout groups for each aspect of the CPA: historical preservation, affordable housing, and open space and recreation.

“This conversation that we’re having right now is going to further engage the administration and the council on how to spend these dollars once they’re coming in,” Sanchez said about the forum. “It’s so important that we’re clear, because with that clarity will come the advocacy and the product that will help the people that need it the most.”

One resident asked if it would be possible to start a dog park with the CPA funds. Poff said that CPA money “could absolutely go towards” dog parks. She also said that the community seems to be divided about whether or not they would like a dog park in the neighborhood.

“Where the Hyde Park area, for example, is divided, I think that’s where we would want to come in a little bit and pull everyone around a table and work out a compromise,” Poff said.

Poff also said that collaboration may help local organizations get funding, instead of competing for funding.

“I knew that we were going to get applications from the Eliot School, the Footlight Club, the Loring-Greenough House, and from First Church, and we said what are we going to do?” Poff said. “These four applications are going to cancel each other out. So now they’re all talking about coming together as a group to get ADA accessible ramps and they might pool together for an accessibility grant for all four of their resources.”

“Nobody particularly likes paying more in taxes, but this is different, this is a real investment in our city,” O’Malley said. “We’re talking about affordable housing, which is so desperately needed. We have great parks and open space but we need to make sure we have the resources to maintain them, and we have so many historic buildings and we want to make sure that they still have access, this is really going to help us deliver those.”

For historical preservation, some ideas that residents had about investing in were the Haffenreffer brewery at Germania Street, creating an arts and cultural center at Blessed Sacrament Church, expanding the Eliot School, improving Spontaneous Celebrations building at 42 Danforth St., and investing in the Arboretum Farmhouse as an educational space.

For parks and open spaces, ideas included having a food forest for pollinators, creating a dog park in Hyde Park, extending the footpath in Bussey Brook Meadow to Roslindale, improve recreation around Neponset River by cleaning the river, creating more tot lots and play spaces, providing more facilities for middle and high school students, and green roofs.

For affordable housing, it was discussed that market value properties could be acquired to be used as affordable housing, creating housing for small households, and improving access to home ownership.

Poff mentioned that it may be possible to put the CPA funds into bonds in order to increase their value, which several residents were excited about.

“Bonding is a good idea for the money so that we can have as much leverage as possible,” Sarah Horsely, housing advocate said.

A major idea that was discussed among residents was the possibility to hit two birds with one stone by proposing projects that had more than one purpose, such as combining historic preservation with affordable housing by acquiring historical buildings for affordable housing.

Applications are now available for the first round of funding. The pilot program application seeks “shovel-ready” projects that require $500,000 or less in funding and where construction can begin soon after funds are received. Organizations with affordable housing, historic preservation, and parks and open space proposals may apply for funding.

To learn more about the rules of the CPA funding, visit bit.ly/2uMcCDx. For more information about the CPA or how to apply for funding, visit https://www.boston.gov/community-preservation-act. For questions about the program, call 617-635-0277 or email [email protected]