Photos by Katherine C. Cohen

Campus & Community

A housing dream come true

4 min read

Harvard’s 20/20/2000 program helps to fund Jamaica Plain apartments

It’s been a decade since the launch of Harvard’s 20/20/2000 initiative, the University’s 20-year, $20 million, low-interest loan program to help create low- and middle-income housing in Boston and Cambridge.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday (Oct. 30) marked another success story, this one at the Doña Betsaida Gutiérrez Cooperative on the Blessed Sacrament campus in Jamaica Plain. There were 1,600 applicants for the 36 units available; 14 families have already moved in.

“This is fulfilling a dream that a lot of folks had for many years,” said Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, one of the speakers at the event. “If you listen to some folks out there today, they don’t understand what affordable housing, workforce housing is all about. … It is so desperately needed.”

The Blessed Sacrament campus has been one of the largest Boston recipients of 20/20/2000 funding, which has so far helped build 4,350 affordable units in 120 projects in the two cities, or one-sixth of the total affordable units built or renovated since the program’s start in 2000. The projects have included affordable apartments, first-time homebuyer condominiums, homeless shelters, cooperative housing, assisted living for low-income seniors, and live/work space for artists.

The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corp. (JPNDC) and development partner New Atlantic Development Corp. have received a total of $1.3 million in 20/20/2000 loans through both Boston Community Capital and the Local Initiatives Support Corp. to support site acquisition and construction financing for phase 1 of the Blessed Sacrament project.

Menino praised the development as “a real team effort all the way.” He acknowledged Harvard’s support and said, “Quality, affordable housing means so much to families across the city, and the 20/20/2000 program demonstrates the value of the creative and productive partnerships that enable such progress.”

The Blessed Sacrament’s phase 2 of the development, which meets LEED Gold energy standards, is named after Puerto Rico native Betsaida Gutiérrez, a longtime Blessed Sacrament parishioner who has lived in Jamaica Plain since 1972. Gutiérrez — “She’s small, but she’s a ball of fire!” said state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez in introducing her — rallied former parishioners and neighbors to ensure that their former church would be redeveloped in a way that benefited the community.

A tour of the units revealed sunny spaces painted in crisp, serene wall colors, cushy wall-to-wall carpet in the bedrooms, and open-plan kitchens with islands for breakfast seating. When the project is completed, it will also contain retail space that is expected to bring 20 or 30 jobs to the neighborhood.

But that isn’t what the residents were thinking about during Saturday’s ceremony. Rosaria Pena, whose remarks in Spanish were conveyed by a translator, said Betsaida was “part of her family now,” adding that her affordable rent will help her to put her son through college “and build his future too.”

And Ethiopian immigrant couple, Teklu Tessema, a taxi driver, and Tsigie Gebretsadik, a cashier, did not speak at the ceremony, but as it finished, both were wiping tears from their eyes. “We are still excited, and it’s been almost a year,” said Tessema of the two-bedroom condo they got as first-time buyers. “We are so happy,” added his wife.

“We need more affordable housing,” said Julia Martin, who lent her name to a JPNDC senior community nearby that was built in 2006. “We need more like this is Jamaica Plain. The first day, there were 500 people looking for an apartment — the first day alone, and it was pouring rain, and they stood there in that rain. That’s how important affordable housing is.”

Speaking at the event, Harvard’s executive vice president Katie Lapp congratulated the JPNDC and its partners for contributing to the vibrancy of Hyde Square.

“We take great pride in helping make dreams come true for so many families who deserve the respect and comfort that good housing provides,” said Lapp.