Manager of Hyde Park apartment proposal defended against allegation of smirking

Opponents of a 27-unit apartment building on land next to the Fairmount commuter-rail station said the $7-million proposal would lead to poor people infesting the neighborhood with their crime-ridden ways, their children breathing in fumes from the auto-body shop next door and their guests jamming up the local streets with their cars.

And, one opponent said at a meeting at the Hyde Park Municipal Building, project manager Mat Thall needs to stop smirking at meetings. After complaining about what he said was Thall's constant smirking, he accused Thall of smirking even as he was complaining about the smirking.

Mimi Turchinetz, a board member of the Southwest Community Development Corp., for which Thall is working, leapt to his defense. "He actually isn't smirking," she declared. "That's just what he looks like!"

Even Tom Menino came in for some level of derision at the packed meeting, officially called by the BRA. When somebody noted "the mayor" had been the one to first propose housing for the site between Nott Street and the train station, several people shouted, "Former mayor!"

At another point, resident Joseph Smith demanded that a Southwest board member who was videoing the meeting with a handheld camera be ejected. "It's an invasion of our privacy!" Smith thundered. "We were not told there was any videotaping." When the board member said it was a public meeting, Smith replied, "How dare you!" John Campbell, the BRA project manager sent on the long trek from downtown to Hyde Park to run the meeting, asked the board member to stop videoing. He did.

Thall and Southwest board Chairwoman Diana Kelly said the building, which would replace two derelict old commercial structures on roughly a half acre of land, is not a public-housing project. Although three units would be set aside for "very low income" residents, such as homeless veterans, three units would be rented at "market rates," while the remaining 21 would be rented to people making up to about $66,000 for a family of three.

Thall said that would include people such as teachers at the neighborhood's charter schools, nurse's aides and, in a nod to former DPW manager and new City Councilor Tim McCarthy, beginning DPW workers. He added current estimates are that such people would be saving only $100 to $150 a month over market rates.

Thall and Kelly said Hyde Park has a shortage of rental units for people who can't afford to buy a house and that by increasing the number of residents near Logan Square, it would help to revitalize the commercial strip along Fairmount Avenue, which now has a number of vacant storefronts.

Beth Wyman, pastor at the Hyde Park Presbyterian Church, said if she weren't married to somebody bringing in extra income, she would qualify for an apartment in the building. "Look at me! [This proposal] is me, this is who would go there."

Thall said that even assuming city approval of the project, it's still three to four years away from construction, due to the complexities of financing such a project in an era that has seen a dramatic cutback in federal housing funds. He added that because Southwest has never built any housing, it had partnered with the Codman Square Neighborhood Community Development Corp., which has built more than 800 rental apartments and which could provide the financial guarantees that would be demanded by private investors and government agencies.

It was the funding of the project that sparked some of the more intense verbal volleys, because Thall declined requests from residents to provide detailed financial information on the project. This was what led to the smirking discussion, during which Thall said the project would be "totally transparent to the agencies that are funding the project." When another resident asked for basic financial information on Southwest, Thall told the resident to go look it up on, a site that collects IRS forms of non-profit groups.

That wasn't reassuring to some residents. "We don't want to wind up with a Filene's, a big hole in the ground for five years," one said.

Like Wyman, other residents supported the project. One nearby resident said she got really mad hearing other residents complaining about the people who would live in the building, accused them of being selfish and said the renovated Washington-Beech project in Roslindale is proof poor people don't bring crime with them, even if they were the only people who could live in the building, which they aren't. And she said maybe the area wouldn't have any parking problems if local homeowners parked in their own driveways for a change instead of on the street.

A traffic consultant hired by the proposal's architects said he spent a fair amount of time in a 750-foot radius of the site last October and found that the area typically has a fair amount of empty curbside parking spaces.

Other residents, however, said, there's already a problem with out-of-towners - especially people from Milton - who park on the street rather than pay the T to use its lot at the commuter-rail station. And the problem is only going to get worse now that the T has lowered the fair on the line - at least as far as Fairmount.

Thall said Southwest might need to try to convince the T to lower the fares to the last stop on the line - Readville - because people who used to get on the train might now drive the short distance to Fairmount to save themselves the $8 a day getting on at Readville would cost them.

Campbell brought the meeting to a close by denying the fix was already in at the BRA for the project. "That is the furthest thing from the truth," he said, adding the meeting in Hyde Park was only the first in a long series of steps before the BRA decides to approve the proposal.

ISD also has to review the plans - and depending on what it says, the Zoning Board of Appeals might have to hold a hearing on it as well.



Free tagging: 


People in Boston will

People in Boston will complain about ANYTHING. And then they'll complain why nothing gets better.

It's an apartment building near the train station--makes sense to me! Also, Codman Square CDC is a good development company. What is the problem?? (I'm sure I'll hear puh-lenty about why this is the worst idea ever.)


Oh, it's not just Boston

Believe me, this happens everywhere.

I live out in the semi-sticks (Hopkinton), and every time a development is proposed, the first argument that comes out of people's mouths is increased traffic. Even if the proposal is for <10 houses/units, people immediately whine about traffic.

It's an apartment building near the train station--makes sense to me!

Yup, me too.


Oh, it was flashback city for me

Brought me right back to my days covering small towns out along 495 and in greater Framingham (what I hear the kids these days now call MetroWest). Not quite as bad, though, as covering town meetings in Stow, where they made the reporters sit up on the stage with the moderator to make sure we didn't try to vote.


Oh Yes, That Does Look Like Smirking

Thank you for the link, Felicity! I must say, it certainly does look like he's smirking, but can't tell if he "just looks like that", or in this case, he's smirking again because he's holding an end of a ribbon the mayor just cut. Nonetheless, that woman to the left of the mayor seems to be looking directly at him with a rather irritated expression. Is she thinking; "why are you smirking at this ribbon cutting?"


I know you are probably just making with the funny, but...

...magnetic tape is actually less expensive and more reliable than direct-to-disk recorders (DDRs).

<pedant> (full disclosure - worked for Panasonic for years)

Of course, it's quite likely the board member was using a tapeless camcorder. Many consumers like the simplicity of direct-to-disk. But professional videographers still primarily use tape, and likely will for a looong time. Tape is not only far cheaper to archive than disk drives, it actually has a much better shelf life. And while tapeless camcorders are more compact and simple to use, traditional tape rigs are generally more robust, and more easily repairable when they do fail (paying a few hundred to fix a camcorder may be silly if that's all you paid for it in the first place, but a TV crew is not going to just chuck a $40K piece of equipment when it gets dropped on the floor).

It's not uncommon to find video production facilities with high quality archival tape from the 70s that has been stored correctly and is readable on equipment available for sale today. Conversely, video stored on hard drives that are only a dozen years old may only be recoverable with extensive (and expensive) effort, or may even be irretrievably 'bit rotted'.


We now return you to the frustratingly goofy charm of local democracy...


So I Shouldn't Throw Out That U-Matic Machine?

There's a collection of old media devices I haven't had the heart to throw away; things like Carousel slide and 16mm film projectors, even a very old stereopticon. The biggest and heaviest item is a Sony U-Matic video recorder, which predates VHS and Betamax formats. I'm sure it hasn't been plugged in for many years, but it still looks impressive sitting on the bottom shelf.

Can we give this woman a medal?

One nearby resident said she got really mad hearing other residents complaining about the people who would live in the building, accused them of being selfish and said the renovated Washington-Beech project in Roslindale is proof poor people don't bring crime with them, even if they were the only people who could live in the building, which they aren't. And she said maybe the area wouldn't have any parking problems if local homeowners parked in their own driveways for a change instead of on the street.

Seriously. That is awesome. If more people like her would show up to public meetings, then all the worthless, selfish, asshole NIMBYs wouldn't be able to block so much desperately needed housing.


Poor people?

Aren't the proposed units "affordable housing," not even public/subsidized housing?

If people who qualify for HUD affordable units, first-time homebuyer programs, etc. are poor people, then I don't even make enough to be poor. Yet my family is comfortable, living our lives, doing our thing. We don't commit crimes either.

(But yes, that person is correct that most people in subsidized units are just working, raising kids, running a household, and aren't presenting any threat to anyone else. Issue that do arise are related to warehousing of people in huge developments who collectively have a harder time and fewer resources than the population at large, not due just to people having lower incomes in general. There's a BHA normal-sized apartment building in my neighborhood. I didn't even know it was BHA until I happened to see the address in a list on a housing application I was helping someone with. The folks in the building are great neighbors.)


Oh please

Poor by choice, I assume, with rich mommy and daddy to fall back on when you need money? If that's not the case, can you please enlighten us as to how someone who is allegedly too poor to even qualify for affordable housing would manage to buy a market rate condo in rather unaffordable Fort Hill?

A tale of two towns

I remember attending meetings in Milton where residents stopped the completion of the greenway to Mattapan because of fear people from Dorchester crossing over the border and causing problems, now the residents of Hyde Park are complaining about those Mitonites sneaking over the border and stealing valuable parking spaces.


Usual suspects

Didn't notice Adam there, but I"m glad he was and covered the low lights.

Since I moved from JP to HP and attended numerous HP community meetings, I know some of the same naysayers and nasties will be there. I am sure they consider themselves gadflies and the only people who keep processes honest. Haar.

Of course the open recording of speakers at public meetings in public spaces is legal. The law forbids surreptitious audio recordings (plus, the civil liabilities if you falsely ID someone as say a pimp or drug dealer, or if use your vid or pic for non-news commercial profit). The guy who made repeated, high volume assertions that anyone would need his permission and a release is one of the usual suspects. He persisted even after a couple of folk told him how it works.

Likewise, the incredibly patient Mat Thall responded several times to inflammatory accusations about finances with calmness and reason. He did tell th screamer more than once that all of the Southwest Boston CDC's federal financials were available for free at Guidestar. The character in the audience asserted repeatedly, and again yelling, the lie that Thall refused to provide the financials. I have no doubt that if you were ask him today, he'd repeat that. Also, Thall spoke to the larger financial issues, including that SWCDC will be a junior developer paired with the much more experienced and richer Codman Square NDC, and how the money would come from federal and private sources.

These meetings always include paranoid assertions and accusations. They can seem like the British Parliament, without the nice clothes.


It's unfair to call opponents

It's unfair to call opponents of this project out as poor people haters. I'd qualify for one of these units if the facts presented are in fact the case. The point is the development which is situated in a prime location to boost business vitality in one of the already lower income neighborhoods is being stipulated to specifically target people who, again, don't have a lot of money. We should be encouraging truly mixed income development with a share of market rate units that aren't dwarfed by conditional ones.


Which is a point nobody made last night

There was the one lady in front who specifically said the project would bring poor people and poor people bring crime. Thall had to keep making the point that we're not talking about poor people here - along with the maximum income allowed, there are also minimum salary requirements to get into the 21 units not set aside for the very poor (which is a state requirement) or people dying for a unit with a view of the Neponset (and the train tracks). So it's not a housing project for people with no money.

Also, parking kept coming up as an issue.


I see. We all acknowledge

I see. We all acknowledge that crime and poverty are in fact related, but this development is clearly not a housing project in the historical sense. Boston does have a history of sticking housing developments into neighborhoods and crime follows, so that's where the fear likely stems from. I don't think that fear is based on protectionism in HP either, but more like the city has experienced a lot of revitalization and prosperity and HP hasn't had a market piece of that yet, so why shun the market in a prime potential area before it even gets here? But I'm not an urban planner so maybe this makes sense?


Mat's my guy

Having set up and run thousands of meetings in my time, I have been impressed by Thall in action. I definitely would not have maintained his equanimity in the face of irrational, sometimes screaming, audience members. He was cool.

To the "road" issue, I learned last evening that this was a carryover from when HP was its own town, before the 1928 annexation by Boston. It looks like a street to us, but it's not on Boston's maps and officially is neither a street nor private way. According to the traffic guy, BRA and architect, the project team needs to get this settled as something, in the best case as a private way, so they can pave it for two lanes and add an ADA-compatible sidewalk.

This is not Thall's dictatorial show. The SW Boston CDC is the junior partner to Codman Square's senior. Thall does not decide anything solo and only massages and speaks for the process. They have been around planning, regulatory and public-hearing processes from the start, with all manner of agencies and potential investors advised along with the public. Thall may be one of the frontmen, but he's definitely a team player.

With the several obstreperous and plain nasty folk shouting in the audience, I was really impressed by Thall's calmness under fire. Good on him and good for the process that we can all involve ourselves in.


Matty, I have no delusions

Matty, I have no delusions about million dollar condos in HP at the moment. But, the market rents in HP I THINK in 2011 were the lowest in the city. HP also had some of the cheapest houses in the city. With or without the economic limitations of the tenants it'd probably draw the same people anyway, so what's the point of capping it? Junk yards and train tracks have little effect on rents in other highly desirable areas btw.


The point is unit creation

I have no connection with SWBCDC or Hyde Park except that I run through the neighborhood rather than Roslindale due to the flatter terrain. Running around, I see that the real estate market, while not as hot as Southie or J.P., is not that bad. I see houses being renovated, which is good. There is new-ish housing in the area, like beyond the Renaissance Charter School, so it's not like nothing is being built. It's just that there's not that much open space to build on.

SWBCDC is trying to create places for people to live. Ordinary folk, not poor or rich folk. These are brand new units, so that means more opportunities for people to live in Hyde Park. They've built in Roslindale without problems (except for the large development they weren't able to do on Rowe Street, but don't get me started on that.) These new residents will hopefully shop in the shops and utilize services in Logan and Cleary Squares. If they create more foot traffic, the area benefits. If that causes Hyde Park to be the new "in" place, then perhaps you end up with luxury condos on top of the parking lot at Hyde Park Station or the buildings at Hyde Park Ave and River Streets being torn down and replaced by the likes of that new thing at Jackson Square.

Sure, I think new housing is a good thing, but in the end it doesn't affect me either way.


Thanks, Adam

After a lively discussion about the subject yesterday, I'm really glad you were there at the meeting to document the goings-on so thoroughly. Incredibly (*cough*), I see very little similar coverage of the story over at the Globe.


Side issue to the requirement for set asides

Does housing, especially in new developments, reflect changes in economic classes? I wonder this whenever I read the term affordable housing as opposed to housing for poor or market rate housing.

When I was a kid there were basically two sets of incomes where housing was concerned: poor and not poor. Section 8 went to renters who qualified as poor. Anyone above the poverty line (granted a somewhat arbitrary and generalized number) either paid market rental rates or tried to buy. Buying of course had the same tax subsidies as today, but, new housing never included units priced as "affordable" with the concomitant lotteries.

So in an economic system where there are poor, middle class and rich, where do people who can't afford market rate, but are not poor, fit?

Does the rest of the nation include affordable units in addition to market rate units or is this mostly a Boston policy? Does this not quite poor, not quite market rate reflect a kind of Walmart syndrome where Walmart's full time wages are still so low that full time staff still qualify for SNAP and other services directed primarily toward people who can't work or can't find work? In other words a working poor?

Does this fall under the term a shrinking middle class? Or would the idea be more accurately described as a devalued middle class? In mid-sleep I thought I heard on the radio a reference to the average effective middle class income having decreased over the years. Such that the middle class, in terms of incomes, has not so much shrunk as simply shifted downward. But wasn't that the point of trickle down theory of economics? To make the value of middle class incomes trickle downward, slowly, so that people would just get used to it, instead of realizing they were being screwed?