Residents find Mattapan a fair/good neighborhood

By 
Tayla Holman, Special to the Reporter
Jul. 5, 2012

After a year of reaching out to the community, Mattapan United revealed the results of resident feedback at its “give back” meeting Wednesday evening at the Young Achievers School.

Most respondents said the quality of life in Mattapan was fair to good, with few responses for poor or excellent. “People like living here,” said Donna Haig Freidman, director for the Center for Social Policy at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School, who gave a presentation of the main themes from the questionnaires, one-on-one interviews, and a recent “visioning” meeting.

Mattapan United is a grassroots organization, funded by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), whose goal is to create sustainable improvements in the community. It is one of three Resilient Communities/Resilient Families grants in Boston, the other two being Roxbury/Warren Gardens and Codman Square.

The agenda included slideshow presentations of the organization’s purpose and goals and the data collected in the last year, as well as introductions for the chairs of the seven action groups that were created in response to residents’ main concerns.

Milly Arbaje-Thomas, director of ABCD Mattapan Family Service Center, and Karleen Porcena, lead organizer for Mattapan United, presided over the meeting.

The survey found that 48 percent of Mattapan residents were homeowners, and that there was very little turnover.

“Mattapan, in contrast to some of the other neighborhoods, has a very high level of people being here for a very long time, which is a sign of neighborhood stability,” Friedman said.

One resident pointed out that one of the slides showed that Mattapan had a lower homicide rate than other areas in Boston, although it was higher than the city as a whole, which was contrary to the media’s perception of the neighborhood.

On the challenges side, the surveys showed only 21 percent of the labor force is able to work in the community, and that residents typically have a longer commute to work than people in other neighborhoods.

There was also a significant health challenge, with a 37 percent obesity rate in the community, compared to 22 percent for Boston as a whole.

Although the intention was to keep the meeting light and focus on the positive, Arbaje-Thomas had troubling news to share with attendees.

“[On June 27] The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education cut all of the Mattapan funding for adult-based education,” she said.

Seven GED and ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) classes held at the Church of the Holy Spirit and the Haitian American Public Health Initiative (HAPHI) were cut, and ABCD’s Mattapan center lost $155,666 in grants.

Arbaje-Thomas said that back in February when the list of programs was being put together, ABCD was “so 100 percent sure that Mattapan was not going to lose its funding.”

“They actually said they were going to reallocate the funds outside of Boston because it was getting too much,” she said, “but at no time did they say that were we even remotely at risk.”

The meeting ended with a call to action and attendees were urged to contact the commissioner of DESE, Mitchell D. Chester, to ask him to reconsider the decision.

As part of Mattapan United’s “Summer of Action,” the action groups will meet twice a month from July to September. The groups are business development, community fabric, jobs, safety, open/clean spaces, housing and health. Meetings will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 the second and fourth Wednesday of each month at the ABCD Mattapan Family Service Center, 535 River St., Mattapan.

To get involved with an action group, contact Karleen Porcena at karleen.porcena@bostonabcd.org or 617-298-2045, ext. 245. To learn more about Mattapan United, visit their website mattapan-united.org.