68 Blocks: Life, Death, Hope: Part 3 of 5
Time to celebrate and to worry
On Hendry Street, a new sense of stability is unraveling. On Norton, a gang target plans a peace festival, which police fear will only draw trouble. Nothing is easy in Bowdoin-Geneva, but no one is giving in.
Hendry Street stretches for just two and a half blocks, but more than any street in Boston it has epitomized both the failures of urban life and the potential for people and government to be forces for good. For decades, the street was wracked by violence, poisoned by drugs, and destabilized by foreclosures. In 2008, the city took unprecedented steps to stop that cycle. This summer one last troubled apartment house threatened to drag the street back into lawlessness.
A century ago an Italian immigrant named Joseph Miraglia moved to the neighborhood and established a heating oil company. The Miraglia family went into real estate and would eventually own more than 20 properties in Bowdoin-Geneva, including six along Hendry Street.
As in much of urban America, the 1970s in Bowdoin-Geneva marked a tipping point. Police responded to 100 calls in 1977 on Hendry Street, almost double the number from the prior year. In the mid-1980s, officers made more than 100 drug arrests in the area in a year, including that of a woman, 59, charged with using her 9- and 10-year-old granddaughters to help sell marijuana out of their Hendry Street apartment. Since 1980, 20 people have been shot on Hendry Street in June, July, and August — one of the highest concentration of summertime violence anywhere in Boston.
Hendry Street runs for 550 feet from Bowdoin Street until it reaches a dead end at an outcropping of rocks known as The Humps. The geography had long been a challenge for police because fleeing suspects could cut through backyards, traverse The Humps, and emerge several streets away.
Foreclosures and violence haunt the street
A rash of foreclosures hit Hendry Street in the mid 1990s, followed by a more devastating wave that began in 2005. Half of the buildings squeezed onto the street – 10 out of 20 – have had at least one foreclosure. Abandoned buildings served as stash houses for drugs and guns and gangs. It became so lawless that in August 2006 a property owner was afraid to board-up his empty house at 21 Hendry Street without a police escort.
Reclamation of Hendry Street
The city spent $301,000 to acquire a row of four triple-deckers, some of which were seized by eminent domain. It sold all four properties to a Roxbury developer, Bilt-Rite Construction, with a caveat: The homes had to be rehabbed and sold to people who agreed to live there. The nonprofit Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corp. acquired and renovated four other properties along Hendry Street. The city offered $25,000 subsides to encourage new residents to buy property and put down roots, providing $175,000 in no-interest loans.
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The city also spent $13,500 to plant 18 new trees. Residents petitioned to reverse the direction of the one-way street, a move designed to slow traffic and drug sales. The street now has four new garbage cans. This summer, Public Works spent $10,000 on new sidewalk ramps. The city paid $12,105 to build an extra-tall fence behind three houses, a physical barrier to stop backyard police chases. Suspects could not longer cut through and disappear into The Humps.