The Lenox Street housing development in Lower Roxbury is scheduled to be renovated soon, but for its roughly 1,000 residents, soon can’t come quickly enough.
The development — part relic, part fortress — was the scene of a dawn drug raid Thursday. At least 19 people were arrested on drug and gun charges. The raid came in response to months of escalating violence that has struck fear into its mostly law-abiding residents.
But the raid was a one-time event that is just a first step in restoring stability to a neighborhood that has seen a sharp rise in crime in the past couple years. Through no fault of most of the people who live there, Lenox Street has become a markedly worse place to live in the past few years.
“In the past 18 months the number of shootings and aggravated assaults have been at a fever pitch, and the neighborhood and community have come together,” said City Councilor Tito Jackson, who represents Roxbury. “There have been [peace] walks. But another component is working with law enforcement.”
Such is the atmosphere of fear that residents didn’t want to talk about the guys who have been arrested. They have to live beside them and their families, and bad guys have a way of eventually coming back.
“It’s a very good day for the overwhelming majority of our residents, who are law-abiding and just trying to raise their families,” Boston Housing Authority chief Bill McGonagle said Thursday.
“There’s been an awful lot of drug dealing and violence that has created a climate of fear among residents that has seriously impeded their sense of safety and their quality of life.”
For years, Lenox Street has been notorious for all the wrong reasons. While other projects, like nearby Orchard Gardens, have been renovated and reclaimed, Lenox Street has sunk deeper and deeper into disrepair. Until a few months ago its hallways and courtyards did not even have surveillance cameras. It’s been a very comfortable place for criminals to operate.
Lenox Street projects may have more than its share of crime, but it has suffered from sheer neglect, too. As the neighborhoods around it have become prime real estate, public housing residents have been told that the money to upgrade their living conditions simply isn’t there. While other nearby developments have seen major transformations, Lenox Street has only gotten worse.
That is finally on the cusp of changing, thanks to a $60 million renovation on which the BHA hopes to break ground in 12 to 18 months. Like a similar program at the Bunker Hill development in Charlestown, the re-do will convert Lenox Street into a mixed-use development, combing the poor and the well-to-do.
Like housing authorities across the country, the BHA doesn’t begin to have the resources to fix its most dilapidated and outdated developments. But, like Bunker Hill, Lenox Street sits in what has become a hot neighborhood. Turning it into a mixed-use development is not without its skeptics, but it may be the only way to generate the millions of dollars in repairs the place needs. Changing the physical environment at Lenox Street will do more for the quality of life than any drug raid.
Jackson said he believes that a major issue at Lenox has become its proximity to “Methadone Mile” the stretch along nearby Massachusetts Avenue dotted with methadone clinics that longtime Roxbury and South End residents cite as a major destabilizing factor.
“I don’t think there should be all those clinics in one area,” Jackson said. “It doesn’t lead to community-building.”
There is no one solution to fixing a struggling neighborhood. Lower Roxbury needs more than more aggressive law enforcement - like jobs, better schools, and more entrepreneurial opportunity. But for the first time in a generation, Lenox Street isn’t simply being written off, which is great news. Hauling off drug dealers is a solid start.