A quadruple shooting near the Ka-Carlos restaurant on Hancock Street alarmed Bowdoin-Geneva activists enough to demand a visit from police brass and Department of Neighborhood Development director Evelyn Friedman last week. The concern was the possibility that rampant foreclosures in the neighborhood - which includes the now infamous Hendry Street with its rows of boarded up three-deckers - may be driving crime.
"It's kind of the poster child for what's wrong with the housing market," said Davida Andelman at last Thursday's meeting of the Greater Bowdoin-Geneva Association, where Friedman and Boston Police superintendent Robert Dunford showed up to allay fears.
"With the exception of the homicides, the department is doing an excellent job reducing crime," said Dunford. "We are looking at three homicides per 100,000 people. if you look at cities across the country, we're doing pretty good."
Homicides in Dorchester's District C-11 since January, however, have more than tripled over the same period last year, from three in 2007 to 10 in 2008. No other district in the city has been hit harder, including Dorchester and Mattapan's District B-3, which has recorded only two this year. Citywide, homicides are up from 17 in 2007 to 20 this year so far, while most other crime statistics were significantly down.
District C-11 was part of the downward trend as well. Part-one crime rates for the same time period, such as robbery, aggravated assault and rape, have fallen by percentages up to the double digits compared to 2007 numbers.
The quadruple shooting on Monday, April 21, at Whittemore Terrace and Hancock Street, said Dunford, was a result of an "internal beef" among youth that hang out in the Hendry and Draper street area. It was not, as some neighbors surmised, part of longtime rivalry with youth from Woodrow Avenue and Callender Street over in District B-3 that dates back to the Bobby Mendes murder in 1995. None of the victims died in the most recent incident.
"It wasn't a group beefing with another group that came in," Dunford said. "It does not seem like an ongoing disagreement."
Dunford, who once held C-11 captain John Greland's position for over a decade, conjectured that the problems in Bowdoin-Geneva - or Meeting House Hill and Mt. Bowdoin, as the area is more traditionally known - stem partly from inconsistent leadership in the neighborhood. Strong leaders come, initiatives are begun, but then the leaders move away, and efforts peter off.
"It's a sad fact but that's one of the problems with this community, that's one of the things that really holds this community back," Dunford said, adding that absentee landlords with no control over their tenants and the worsening foreclosure crisis are adding to the dilemma.
"I think that's what drives us crazy," said Council President Maureen Feeney, referring to absentee landlords and bank-owned properties. "You can't legislate against stupidity. I don't know how we break that cycle."
Hendry Street, on which banks now own several properties, is getting worse with the warm weather according to Andelman, who said she has gotten calls of late from people who have been "verbally intimidated" on the street, and others who have seen suspicious activity.
"I really feel there is an opportunity on Hendry Street," she said. "Focusing in on it and trying to rehabilitate those houses right away. It's almost like four or five need to happen at the same time. It is so small, but the impact on the neighborhood is so strong."
Jeanne Dubois from Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation (EDC) piped up at that point in the meeting and said that is precisely what her organization in partnership with a for-profit developer intend to do.
Dorchester Bay EDC and partner are planning to bid on a package of four buildings on Hendry Street that are currently under purchase and sale agreements with the city. DND's Friedman confirmed the impending purchases and said the department will pay various banks an average of $20,000 per unit for the properties, some of which need extensive rehabilitation.
"Our first preference is always home ownership, but we also recognize that Hendry Street might not be a place where home buyers want to move in," Friedman said of the potential resale of the properties. "We're not going to restrict them in any way."
Instead, market forces will be allowed to hold sway. No requirements for affordable units and no directive on whether the units will be sold or rented will be included in the open request for proposal the DND will eventually issue, said Friedman. The only restriction whatsoever seems to be that one developer or group must buy all four properties.
Friedman emphasized that the foreclosure problem is worsening around the city even as the city struggles to rescue Hendry Street. The Suffolk County Registry of Deeds recorded 310 foreclosure deeds in the city of Boston, and Friedman said only around one-third of the foreclosures DND is tracking are acquired by new owners after foreclosure. The rest remain in the banks hands, often lying vacant. By comparison, the registry recorded only 109 foreclosure deeds in the first quarter of 2007.
"So we're kind of losing the battle," she said.