Biggest development in decades raises hopes and fears in Mattapan Square

Updated May 18 at 11:54 am

Growing up in Mattapan in the 1980s and 90s, Kenya Beaman remembers a Mattapan Square that had something for everyone: a record store, department stores, a cinema and places to have a cocktail or sit down for dinner.

“Brigham’s Ice Cream was the right place,” Beaman recalls. “After you got off the bus you sat in there with Mr. Evans waiting for your mother to pick you up and he gave you a little child-sized shovel while you waited. There was a real sense of community.”

In recent decades, vitality has oozed from the surrounding business district along Blue Hill Avenue near Boston’s southern border at Milton.

“Companies went and closed. The shop windows were just empty. It just seemed like the owners just put everything in to get the rent — there wasn’t really an intentional or thoughtful process to preserve this community and the variety of shops in Mattapan Square,” said Beaman, now Community Engagement City manager for Mattapan. “There’s nothing I want.”

The ongoing construction of Mattapan Square’s largest development in decades has raised the prospect of a revival while raising fears that existing small businesses could be squeezed out. A $57 million residential-commercial building developed by two Boston-based nonprofits is slated to open this summer on a former MBTA parking lot on River Street. Its price tag dwarfs the $32 million spent building the new Mattapan Community Health Center a decade ago.

Hobby Fair in Mattapan Square, early 1980s

Linda Burnett/Old Dirty Boston Facebook page

The Loop at Mattapan Station will have 135 apartments, 18 of which will be reserved for households earning no more than 30% of the region’s median income – a maximum income of $28,200 for a single person to $40,250 for a four-person Household. These low-income households pay rent at 30% of their household income. The remaining units are available to those earning up to 80% of the area’s median income, with rents at this income level ranging from $1,613 for a studio to $2,461 for a three-bedroom condo. The six-story building, the tallest on the plaza, was developed by the Preservation of Affordable Housing and the Nuestra Comunidad Development Corporation.

“We understand that rents are going up in all areas – residential and commercial – and it’s difficult when you’re doing any of these developments. We are certainly not trying to displace current business owners in any area,” said Diane Clark, director of real estate development for Nuestra Comunidad and a native of Mattapan. “We think what we’re bringing to the community is something that supports what’s there, and hopefully you’re bringing more businesses into the neighborhood and supporting the business that’s already there by bringing more people into the community.” bring neighborhood.”

In a statement, Cory Fellows, a vice president of POAH, described the project as a response to “a lot of interest and a backlog in this type of housing and commercial development.”

Over the next five years, city guides envision more significant developments in Mattapan, which historically has seen less development than other Boston neighborhoods. Twelve new projects and $60 million rehabilitation on Blue Hill Avenue are being planned.

“There’s this fear that the city doesn’t care and that Mattapan as we know it just doesn’t exist anymore,” said Nicole Echemendia, president of Mattapan Square Main Streets. “The uniqueness of these small corner shops going out and big chain stores coming in.”

Raheem Goode has owned a tattoo shop next to the Loop for seven years and struggles to keep prices affordable while his rent continues to rise. He is excited to see new housing opportunities emerging in the neighborhood where he grew up, but is unsure of the ultimate impact of this and future developments.

“I’m concerned that all of these developments will discourage people in our community from opening a business here,” Goode said. “Even if this is for them, it might prevent them from pursuing their own dreams of starting a business in their own community.”

Raheem Goode stands in front of his tattoo parlor on River Street, behind him the construction of The Loop at Mattapan Station, April 27, 2022

Tori Bedford / GBH News

Mattapan is home to churches, a teen community center, yoga studios, massage parlors, saloons, exercise programs, a city farm, historical landmarks, an active cycling community, and a number of primarily take-out restaurants.

“If you look for it, you can find it, but these things don’t air as often as we’d like,” said Echemendia, who accuses commercial property owners of poor maintenance. “If you just look at these buildings for what they look like, you won’t even want to go inside. But there is so much more behind the dirty look of these buildings.”

It’s an ongoing struggle, says Echemendia, to empower residents to fight for the future they want for the square. Her organization works to meet regularly with property owners, who largely decide which businesses come and go.

“We can’t force landlords to put a specific business on their property, but we can talk to them about what exactly the community wants to achieve,” Echemendia said. “It’s not like we can stop development, you know. It is here. But how do we all work together to keep Mattapan Square’s identity alive and make sure people are comfortable and not just kicked out? It’s a big job.”

Tattoo artist Lawrence Brothers works on an ankle piece for Kadijah McGregor at the Boston Body Ink Art Specialist, April 27, 2022

Tori Bedford / GBH News

Although crime rates have sharply declined In recent years, the neighborhood, which was once nicknamed “Murderpan,” is still struggling to attract new business investment, Beaman said.

“I think a lot of that is what people see and read in the newspaper and on TV. I mean, Mattapan isn’t like a goddamn neighborhood,” she said. “It has its challenges, but you don’t go in Lower Mills, another mixed-income neighborhood [nearby in Dorchester], and think of “low-income” or “poor people”. In Mattapan Square, for some elected officials, everything is “low-income” this and “low-income” that. Now that you’ve labeled this neighborhood as such, why would I want to go there?”

At 38%, the home ownership rate in Mattapan is actually higher than that citywide average.

Introducing improvements that work for the community requires residents to take action to address developments they don’t want, Beaman says.

“I think people understand that there needs to be some level of change, but nobody wants the changes to be so drastic that people are then forced out of their homes,” she said. “You have to be part of the process. If a Zoom link is sent to your email, don’t ignore it. This is your chance to say no, we don’t want that here.”

Jeff Brice hosts a radio show at Radio Concorde on Blue Hill Ave. at Mattapan, May 5, 2022

Tori Bedford / GBH News

Jean-Claude Sanon, a former Boston City Council candidate who has lived in Mattapan for nearly five decades, expressed skepticism about the impact of feedback provided at community meetings hosted by the Boston Planning and Development Agency.

“Every time they brought something to the pitch and they asked for our opinion, nobody’s opinion mattered. It’s an insult to our intelligence,” Sanon said. “Come with the feeling of working with the people who are here, their contribution is important. Respect them, treat them like humans. This is not a plantation.”

In the new Loop building, the developers have The strategy focuses on ‘resident empowerment’, including ‘access to economic opportunity’, from hiring builders to attracting ground floor businesses. Nearly 57% of the hours worked to construct the building went to people of color, which the city says is above the city’s target of 40%.

Goode says a new development could mean more business for him or a rent increase that gets him packing.

“I’ve lived here my whole life, I’ve seen how Boston has changed from the ’90s to now,” says Goode. “I’m not so scared of losing this place, you know. I, I will go with the wind. Everything revolves around progress.”

As development in Mattapan progresses, Echemendia envisions a business district that offers restaurants, places to hang out with friends, family-friendly amenities, bookstores and cafes – an improved version of what Beamon remembers the square as having been.

“The future I want is a district that is warm and welcoming to families, that is clean, where people can come and get what they need,” Echemendia said.

Updates: This story has been updated to clarify rents and income limits for apartments in the Loop at Mattapan Station and to include comment from Diane Clark, Director of Real Estate Development at Nuestra Comunidad.

This story emerged from a listening session GBH News held with community leaders in Mattapan. To learn more about these listening sessions or how to host one, email [email protected]

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