The director of Boston’s Community Preservation Program, Christine Poff, spoke at this week’s North End / Waterfront Neighborhood Council (NEWNC) meeting about the 2-year old Community Preservation Act (CPA) and the projects it has supported locally in the North End and Downtown Boston.
As a refresher, the Community Preservation Act is the State Law that allows cities and towns in the Commonwealth to pass, by ballot question, a 1% surcharge on property owners tax bills. Boston’s ballot question appeared in 2016, passed by a wide majority and went into effect the following year. The CPA tax applies to all properties, but the bulk of the proceeds comes from large commercial buildings adding up to a $25 million fund. By law, the fund can only support historic preservation, affordable housing and parks and open spaces.
The largest CPA grant in the North End is the nearly $2 million toward the affordable housing project on N. Margin Street at the Knights of Columbus building redevelopment. Specifically, $1,960,500 was granted to the Knights of Columbus to convert their 41 N. Margin St. building into 23 affordable housing apartments for seniors, including three units of housing for homeless seniors and a neighborhood meeting space.
A second large grant of $1 million is currently being used for climate resiliency at Langone Park and Puopolo Fields where rising tide mitigation will prevent flooding and protect the open spaces at least through 2050. This project also aligns with the city’s waterfront efforts as part of Resilient Boston Harbor and Climate Ready Boston.
These were two of the 56 projects funded citywide in 2019. The previous year included one of the first CPA projects at Copp’s Hill Burying Ground which received funding for gravestone restoration.
Not all CPA requests have received funding. Three recent applications that were not selected include the Old North Church crypt, capital improvements for the North End Dog Park submitted by RUFF, and a pocket park at the Freedom Trail Cross St. plaza submitted by Charter Cross Street, LLC. Applicants can, and are often encouraged, to resubmit in future years.
CPA director Poff emphasized that projects are community-driven rather than just assigned to city agencies. In the Q&A, starting at 7:00 minute mark in the video, council member Damian DiPaola suggested an effort toward historic designations to support the North End as Boston’s Little Italy, potentially with a sign over Hanover Street. He noted the general lack of recognition in city parks and memorials regarding the contributions of Italian immigrants.
Poff noted that CPA funds could be used to create a North End survey that would support designation as a historic district or specific landmark designations (11:00 in video). Unlike Beacon Hill, the North End is not designated as an official historic district. Council member Carmine Guarino suggested a workshop to give ideas for future CPA grants. Poff said she would be open to a workshop and helping residents apply for potential CPA projects in the neighborhood. She also noted a preference for resident-driven projects rather than tourist-centric efforts.
Resident Victor Brogna asked about whether churches are eligible, specifically to help restoration at Sacred Heart Church and St. Stephen’s Church. While the CPA is being challenged on funding church projects by church vs. state activist groups, Poff said the program intends to continue supporting general historic projects on church property.
View the above video for the full presentation and discussion of the CPA at the June 2019 NEWNC meeting.