After publishing a letter asking Whole Foods to help set up a housing fund to benefit Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood, Massachusetts State Senator Sonia Chang- Díaz has followed up with a second letter, which tries to clarify her positions about her initial letter. The first letter was criticized by many constituents, leading some to create a Facebook page that wants her voted out of office.
Here is the letter she sent us yesterday:
May 12, 2011
Julio Ricardo Varela
Re: Whole Foods in Hyde Square, Jamaica Plain
Dear Julio Ricardo:
Thank you for contacting me with your views regarding Whole Foods Market’s entry into Hyde Square in Jamaica Plain. I appreciate your taking the time to participate in this debate about our neighborhood and to share your perspective with me.
Since Whole Foods announced its decision to open a store in Jamaica Plain, my staff and I have done our best to understand the different points of view on this issue. We met with representatives from Whole Foods; attended many community meetings; spoke with former employees of Hi-Lo, members of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council, and staff at the JPNDC and local Main Street organizations; and read hundreds of letters and emails from JP residents.
As many residents expressed, there are several benefits to bringing Whole Foods to JP. The store would be a source of new, good-paying jobs. This is no small thing for the workers and families who will be touched by employment, especially at a time of still-fragile recovery for our economy. Whole Foods would also increase access to healthy foods at a time when other socio-economically diverse neighborhoods are suffering negative health consequences due to a lack of healthy options. It would also increase quality of life for residents who want Whole Foods’ offerings in JP.
Yet, others pointed out that the presence of Whole Foods will likely rapidly and substantially raise property values in the surrounding neighborhood. Experiences in similar neighborhoods around the country strongly suggest this is true (e.g. Washington Post 7/22/06; Fortune Magazine 7/12/07).Increasing property values in our community is usually a good thing. Indeed, it’s something every home owner in JP—low- or high-income, white, brown, or black—surely hopes for. But, if property taxes and rents shoot up faster than people’s incomes can keep up with, we risk displacing long-time JP families and their neighbors, both renters and home-owners.
This rapid displacement is a high price to pay. That’s why I believe, with a heavy heart, that the disadvantages of Whole Foods’ arrival in JP outweigh the advantages.
To be clear, however, my role as State Senator does not afford me the power to prevent the lease of property between private parties—nor should it. A new group of residents, the JP Neighborhood Council Ad-Hoc Committee, has been charged with helping the community collectively respond to this situation in a way that respects and includes residents on all sides of this issue. Whole Foods has said they strive to be a good community partner, and as such, I hope they will be responsive to the requests of the Ad-Hoc Committee and the larger community.
Recently, I released a letter offering two ideas into the mix of those the JPNC Ad-Hoc Committee will likely consider as they begin the process of finding a compromise. In the letter, I proposed that Whole Foods commit to hiring local residents for a specific percentage of jobs in their new JP location, and work with community partners to create a housing trust to help prevent the displacement of low-income families in the neighborhood.
As always, I welcome your feedback on my position on this issue or any other affecting our neighborhoods.
Thank you, again, for taking the time to reach out to me. Your advocacy helps bring about better public policy in our district neighborhoods and in the Commonwealth. Should you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me or my Senior Policy Aide and JP Liaison, Nika Elugardo, at (617) 722-1673 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Second Suffolk District