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Brighton Head Start center to be displaced by new development

Karen Morales
Brighton Head Start center to be displaced by new development
Parent Darlene Flores shares her story at a community meeting with ABCD board of directors. Photos by Tyahra Angus, courtesy of ABCD

A business deal between a luxury apartment developer and a property owner in Brighton has put 100 families and their children at risk of losing affordable early education and childcare by the end of next month.

Action for Boston Community Development’s Head Start & Early Head Start center in Brighton has been providing childcare services to low-income families at 149 Washington Street since 1984. According to ABCD President and CEO John Drew, the owner of the property, St. John’s Seminary, sold it to AvalonBay Communities, a national developer, leaving ABCD scrambling to find a new location to house their school.

Last Thursday, over 50 parents gathered with members of the ABCD board of directors at the Brighton Marine Health Center to communicate a plan of action and hear concerns.

“It’s a tough job in this environment to help victims of this tsunami of development and gentrification,” said Drew.

The agreement

He told parents that ABCD was “all in” to try to solve the displacement crisis, and that he is seeking different kinds of solutions, from extending the lease to getting his legal team involved.

Claudia Arrecis, a Head Start parent and member of the ABCD board, outlined the various negotiations between ABCD and St. John’s over the last three years.

In 2015, St. John’s announced that they were planning to sell the St. Gabriel’s space, where the Head Start center is located, while offering to renovate the basement of their other property, Our Lady of Presentation Church, at 676 Washington Street, to relocate the school.

An agreement was signed by both parties, and from 2016 to March 2017, the design and planning of the new Head Start center was carried out.

“Based on their assurances, we did not pursue other potential options for relocation of the Head Start site in a market which was, and continues to be, very challenging,” wrote Drew in a letter addressed to AvalonBay in October 2017. The developer did not respond.

Last March, St. John’s told ABCD that they would no longer be honoring the agreement to renovate 676 Washington Street and would be using the property for their own purposes.

Negotiations

“We’re talking about children here,” said Arrecis. “I always thought the church was for the poor. I see this as an injustice.”

AvalonBay Communities and St. John’s Seminary did not respond to the Banner’s request for comment before publication time.

Drew told parents that he has attempted to negotiate several times with the seminary, including offering to purchase and renovate the basement of Our Lady of the Presentation Church into a condominium, which would also be converted into a new space for Head Start.

However, correspondence from Monsignor James P. Moroney dated March 20, 2018 addressed to Drew said that St. John’s Board of Trustees unanimously rejected this offer.

Most recently, Drew has sought assistance from the Boston Planning Development Agency to pressure AvalonBay in giving back to the Brighton community in the form of a new Head Start location.

The families

“We’ve been in that building for 35 years,” said Drew. “It’s not just a place to drop off your children, it’s a home for them.”

The majority of families ABCD’s Head Start program serves are families of color. A third of them are recent immigrants. According to ABCD press materials, many of the families served live in public housing and over one-tenth live in homeless shelters.

Darlene Flores, a parent who attended last week’s meeting, said she came to Brighton eight months ago from Puerto Rico after being displaced by Hurricane Maria.

“When we found a new apartment and my daughter was accepted into the Head Start program, we finally started feeling stable,” she said. “Please don’t take away the stability.”