Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Housing Demand Left Unmet

By Erika Templeton

ALLSTON—With budget cuts that have left city departments over-stretched, and an economic recession that has left families scrambling to pay their bills,

the demand for affordable housing projects has been left unmet.

Department of Neighborhood Development spokesman Kerry O’Brien listed several new challenges to the city’s housing initiatives, including the rise of foreclosures, a softening housing market, and “the long-term risk of losing thousands of affordable rental units as owners are presented with the option of converting their properties to market rate.”

Added to the problem are housing costs in Allston and Brighton that have increased dramatically in the past decade. The median sales price in 2000 was $158,767. By 2005 it nearly doubled to $314,500, according to a data profile created by the Policy Development and Research Division of the Department of Neighborhood Development.

As prices rise, wages change far less. Since 1999, median income in the neighborhood has risen just 21 percent, to $46,000. Now, for nearly a third of all families in Allston, housing costs account for more than 35 percent of their income, the data profile said.

The growing gap between market and income rates has led to an increased need for affordable housing. At the same time, the city has implemented deep budget cuts, and new development projects are strapped for cash.

Non-profit organizations like the Allston Brighton Community Redevelopment Corporation are struggling to fill the demand for cheap housing. Recently, the corporation finished a 33-unit project on Glenville Avenue. The apartments will be available to those earning less than 60 percent of the median income, and tenants will be selected through a lottery. Already more than 700 residents have applied.

“There’s definitely a demand for affordable housing in the neighborhood that is not being met,” said Carrie Knudson, housing project manager at the corporation.

Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development has been working on a mixed-income housing project at 1501 Commonwealth Ave to address the needs of hundreds of families who won’t be chosen in other housing lotteries.

In July, the department approved the Brighton Partnership for Community Reinvestment’s proposal for the 32,000 square foot lot.

The decision has stirred debate among residents, many of whom believe the selection was based more on financial constraints than community needs.
Out of four plans proposed to the department, the Brighton Partnership’s uses the least amount of subsidy money and creates the fewest affordable units—19 out of 57.

“The developer that put in that development plan is trying to cover the cost of building,” Knudson said. “One way to get around the fact that subsidies are limited is to increase the number of market rate units in a building.”

Limited money has led to limited support for families who cannot afford the market rate for housing in Allston.

Questions and comments are welcome at

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Sexual Assault Up for Third Consecutive Year

by Erika Templeton

ALLSTON—Rapes in the neighborhood have jumped over the past year, police said. Reported cases rose 36 percent, from 11 rapes and attempts between January and July of 2007 to 15 during the same period in 2008, according to a statistical report released by the Boston Police Department.

The increase comes despite a 2007 initiative to help reduce rape attempts by educating bar managers in rape prevention. The initiative, which called for cooperation between police, bar owners, Boston University, and Boston College, came after a report showed rape cases doubled in Allston and Brighton from 2005 to 2006.

Officials say the increase stems from a rise in date rapes among the student body, many of which involve alcohol. Dan Daly, the district D-14 community service officer, said the spike in rapes can often be traced to “guys and girls meeting at the local bars.”

“There’s definitely a greater risk among student women,” said Simon Smith, 23, a manager at Wonder Bar. “They go out for a while, meet some guy at the bar, and all of a sudden, his house is closer.”

The women’s bathroom at Wonder Bar used to have signs that read “Don’t be the next victim.” Smith said they were torn down and the city won’t fund new ones.

The law says penetration must occur for an assault to be categorized as rape. More often, cases fall under the broader category of sexual assault, and go unrecognized.

Annual reports from the Boston University Police Department use a looser definition of “forcible sex offenders.” In 2006, there were seven incidents of sexual assault on campus alone.

Officer Daly said police efforts to raise awareness may have led to the recent spike in reported sexual assaults. “A lot of women probably heard about it, went to a lecture and said, ‘Hey, that happened to me too.’”

Questions or comments are welcome at etemp@bu.eduA typical Saturday night at Wonder Bar.

Harvard, Allston on Quest for Compromise

By Erika Templeton

ALLSTON—For decades the neighborhood has faced the ever-encroaching campuses of Boston University, Boston College, and Harvard University.

Today, the front line lies at Western Avenue in Lower Allston, where Harvard’s new development plans seek to alter the commercial landscape, and tensions are surging as residents say the city and the university are working against them.

“They have their own plan,” said Natalie Tarbet, assistant director of the Joseph M. Smith Community Health Center, which sits on Harvard-owned property. “They’re not going to let the community get in the way. ...Only rarely does Harvard get stopped in its tracks.”

To open a dialogue in the neighborhood, Mayor Thomas M. Menino created the Harvard-Allston Task Force in 2006. The 16-member group of civic leaders and residents meets regularly with officials from the university and the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

Residents at the meetings have complained about sidewalk construction that does not take bus routes into account, green spaces that do not grant community access, property buyouts that have slowed local business, and public housing relocation projects that reinforce the socioeconomic divide.

“We’re still learning,” said Gerald Autler, project director from the Boston Redevelopment Authority, acknowledging flaws in the plan. “Harvard is making extensive changes.”

Those changes have meant compromise for everyone involved, but not all residents see it that way.

“Money, power, influence, Harvard pretty much has it all,” said task force panelist Harry Mattison.

Many fear the university holds greater political sway, which puts the community at a disadvantage. “When you’re a working-class neighborhood trying to organize on a grassroots level against one of the richest institutions in the world, it’s an uneven playing field,” said Jake Carman, a 22-year-old member of the Allston-Brighton Neighborhood Assembly.

Autler cites Harvard’s previous property-buying tactics as one cause of community resentment. “Harvard purchased a lot of land through a front company, and so there’s a lot of lingering mistrust,” he said.

Some, like Harry Nesdekidis, local activist and owner of Harry’s Foreign & American Auto Body in Brighton, hope the task force start moving forward with plans. He also knows there’s no going back.

“It’s too late, they already bought it,” he said about Harvard-owned properties like 370 Western Ave., where buildings that once housed Kmart and Frugal Fannie’s have sat vacant for years. “Instead of dragging something out that you know is going to happen, just do it. Then have the city hold the school accountable.”

Harvard has given up some of its original plans in an attempt to compromise with residents. “You’d be very had pressed to find a community benefits package that is on par with [Harvard’s] anywhere in the nation,” Autler said. “In the next year or two people are going to start seeing tangible results.”

Nesdekidis supports the development of new green spaces and is pleased with the new “education portal,” a series of tutoring and enrichment programs in writing, math and science created by Harvard for community children. ““I hate seeing when something goes forward and it’s just for Harvard today,” he said. “Let’s see something for the next 100 years, for our kids.”

Mattison, too, wants the task force meetings to be more than a clash of wills. “Our goal is not to prevent Harvard expansion, per se,” he said. “Our goal is to put forth a more just and compelling vision where it’s not just all about Harvard. It’s about everyone.”

Officials from Harvard did not return phone calls.

Please send questions and comments to

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Joan Pasquale, Volunteer Magnate

by Erika Templeton

ALLSTON— Joan Pasquale fights everything from crime to trash to poison ivy.

“It’s just doing what comes naturally as being a neighbor,”

she said in her heavy Boston accent. “I haven’t thought twice about it.”

Pasquale has been volunteering in Allston-Brighton since she moved to the community 39 years ago. Now she heads the Parents and Community Build Group, a non-profit, volunteer organization.

“It’s our neighborhood, and when we fix it, we benefit first,” she said. “It only takes two minutes of your time to say, ‘Can I help you?’”

Pasquale frequently motivates hundreds of volunteers for events like the group’s biannual Ringer Park clean-up.

Ryan Woods, director of public and private partnerships with the Boston Park and Recreation Department, is grateful for her contributions to the 12-acre green space. “She helps us be the eyes and ears of the park,” he said.

Charlie Rockwell, head of another Allston-based volunteer group, Keep Allston Decent, enlists Pasquale’s networking prowess. “What we lack in my group is the numbers,” he said, “and she was really willing to connect us with people.”

Pasquale is in tune with residents’ needs, specifically those of the many low-income, immigrant families that come to Allston.

“This is their town, and this is what we’re all about,” she said. “We’re all about representing what the community is truly made up of.”

Pasquale focuses on hosting free and open multicultural events, as seen in her contribution to the Allston Village Street Fair, on Sept. 14. She used the event to inform residents about easy access to education, health care and job opportunities in the community. “People are more receptive to it in a more comfortable social environment,” she said.

Pasquale said the physical appearance of Allston is one of the neighborhood’s biggest challenges. “I find it extremely disappointing,” she said. “There’s no reason why Allston shouldn’t look like the South End. It did at one time.”

But Pasquale is not complaining. “An attitude of ‘here I am and here’s my list of change that I want to see,’” she said, “That’s not going to work anywhere.”

Instead, Pasquale is working to raise thousands of dollars in donations to improve the neighborhood. "She's very persistent," said Rockwell. "You get a lot of 'no's when you do non-profit work. It's not glamorous, and it's not fun and you get a lot of doors slammed in your face. But she doesn't let it stop her."

.Pasquale brought new playground equipment, benches, and chess tables to Ringer Park.