Community Preservation Forum Visits the South End

Members of the community filed into the Villa Victoria Center on West Newtown Street to learn about the Community Preservation program and how one can identify and apply for project funds.

The Community Preservation Director Christine Poff and the new Director of Community Relations Thadine Brown were on hand to solicit input and participation as they develop a neighborhood agenda going forward.

“The Community Preservation Act (CPA) was passed by the people of Boston, and is a great opportunity to fund parks, housing and historic places,” said District 2 Councilor Ed Flynn. “It is a great project, and now we’re going to get people to weigh in and to apply and come up with different recommendations for the Mayor and the City Council to decide on.”

In November 2016, Boston voters approved the CPA by voting “yes” on the ballet question. By adopting the CPA, the City has created a Community Preservation Fund. The City finances this fund in part by a 1-percent, property-tax-based surcharge on residential and business property tax bills, that began in July 2017.

Residents who are low-income or are elderly are exempt from the surcharge on their property tax. An average Bostonian will pay an additional $25 per year in taxes, but Poff noted that the South End which has high property taxes, it is probably closer to $100 per year.

The funds collected by the City, about $18 million will be matched by the State to create a $20 million pool of money that can go towards affordable housing, historic preservation and parks and open space.

The funding of any preservation project requires a recommendation from the committee, which is made up of nine members (five appointed by the Mayor and four community residents), who will make recommendations to the Boston City Council and the Mayor on how CPA funds should be allocated.

At least 10 percent of the funds need to go towards each of the three categories: historic preservation, open space and housing.

“We want to connect you and help you in figuring out a way to do it,” said Poff. “We want to make this is accessible to the average resident and not just a regional group like the Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion (IBA). It can be either a non-profit or for-profit organization.”

Poff noted that the Community Preservation Committee met for the first time two weeks ago and is working on creating a plan. The goal is to have projects touch every neighborhood in Boston, which are equitable and open to all.

This spring, they are hoping to launch a pilot program to make sure their process is ready to go as more projects start to stream in. They are looking for shovel-ready projects that could begin construction by this spring or early summer.

For example, one project in the Fenway is a beautiful gate on Westland Avenue that is ready to go, but needs some additional funding before it can be completed. Another project is to create some raised garden beds for veterans to use this summer.

Currently, none of those applications are from the South End, but Poff is happy to hear any ideas for applications that could be.

“There are a lot of competing interests here and we need to make sure everyone is heard but we know we’re not going to make everyone happy,” said Poff.

All of the completed applications will be listed online, where members of the community can comment on them and make suggestions. There will also be community meetings on the projects selected.

In addition, Poff said they are looking to create community groups to help the Community Preservation Committee comb through applications and point out which projects will have a bigger impact on the community.

She said that East Boston is trying to self-organize a neighborhood group and that might be something the South End would want to look into as well.

“What project might have the most impact?” asked Brown. “This way you can rank first, second and third on the order of projects you want to see get done, and will have the most impact.”

Some ideas from residents included creating more parks, converting a historic building into a shelter or affordable housing and adding more public art to open spaces.

Poff said they are working with city and state agencies like the Department of Recreation and Conservation (DCR) and the Boston Parks Departments on projects that might fall under their jurisdiction. But Poff made it clear that they cannot replace their funding to maintain and upkeep their parks.

“For example if you wanted to do an art installation on the Southwest Corridor, the organizers will have to work with the DCR to figure out who will be submitting the application and applying for the contracts,” said Poff. “It will all be a little complicated, but DCR is really excited we might fund them.”

IBA, a nonprofit organization in the South End that works towards providing safe and sustainable affordable housing along with education and arts programs are also excited about the chance of accessing CPA funds.

“We are very excited to open our space and learn more about this exciting new funding,” said Vanessa Calderon-Rosado, chief executive officer of IBA. “In 1968, we first organized to stop the city bull dozers and stopped the displacement of many South End residents. We are still doing that 50 years later…We are very excited on what the CPA funding will bring to every part of the city and especially in the South End, which is a historic district.”

Many of the IBA buildings including the Villa Victoria Center needs help in restoring a steeple and steps in the front and they could use more help in sustaining affordable housing throughout the neighborhood.

“If you have an idea let us come back and work with you,” said Poff. “We want to make sure this is accessible to everyone.”

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