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Adrian Walker

Diehard neighbors vow to fight homeless housing

Walter Pollard is clearly a man who’s not used to losing. That is a problem right now, because Pollard is in a battle in which victories have been hard to come by.

Pollard leads a small band of Jamaica Plain residents bent on stopping a popular project: a bid by Boston Health Care for the Homeless and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation, both nonprofits, to build 20 units of housing for sick and homeless people at the site of the old Barbara McInnis House on Walnut Avenue. The property is to be managed by the Pine Street Inn.

The project is backed by many neighbors, the Boston Redevelopment Authority, and the mayor. A lawsuit by Pollard’s group was summarily rejected in January by a Suffolk Superior Court judge who dismissed it as speculative and unsubstantiated. Pollard, a downtown banker and lawyer who moved to the neighborhood in the 1990s, plans to appeal.

“This has been characterized as people who want to help the homeless versus people who don’t,’’ Pollard said last week. “That is patently false.’’ He said he and his friends would gladly raise money for the house, as long as it was sited somewhere else.


The idea of building permanent housing came in part from doctors and nurses who found that instability in the lives of the homeless greatly complicated caring for them.

On a visit a couple of years ago to the South End headquarters of Health Care for the Homeless, I met a young doctor named Jessie Gaeta who told me that the biggest reason her patients seldom saw sustained improvement was because their lives did not allow the consistent routine that chronic illness required.

The McInnis House has offered short-term care, usually a few weeks, but the idea was to make it a place some patients could call home. Since homeless people had been getting care at the same site for years, organizers assumed the neighborhood opposition would be minimal.


They were wrong.

Pollard works at the investment firm of Brown Brothers Harriman. He and his wife have painstakingly restored their residence, an old nursing home. He decries the popular characterization of opponents of the McInnis House project as heartless NIMBY nitwits.

Fair enough, but I believe he and his friends greatly exaggerate the negative impact of the project. And I believe they are wrong to use their considerable resources to try to wear down the supporters of the project and encourage them to look for another site.

In a January ruling, Superior Court Judge S. Jane Haggerty methodically demolished the plaintiffs’ various claims that the project would damage their property values, cause an unfair spike in traffic, block their light, or violate the zoning code. (Actually, it does violate the zoning code, but the BRA granted it a variance, which the judge said it was right to do.)

There are other neighbors, of course, and they see the project as a plus. Among them is Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission.

The neighborhood has already lost needed programs to help the most vulnerable, she said. “When I moved in, there was a nursing home on the corner and a facility for DYS kids who were aging out of state care, and both of those are gone. It feels almost unconscionable to me that this is being held up because a handful of neighbors want some other kind of housing there.’’


Pollard says that the project will degrade the quality of life in the neighborhood. Maybe that depends on how one defines quality of life. Perhaps who is kept out of a neighborhood is far less important than whom a neighborhood is willing to embrace.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.