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Yvonne Abraham

Whose bad behavior?

For decades, residents of the South End's lovely Upton Street have been fine living alongside the 80 recovering addicts at the rehab center on their block.

But middle-age, formerly homeless people? No thank you. Those people are trouble.

Hope House, the storied home for men coming out of drug and alcohol addictions, sometimes directly from prison, plans to leave its three brownstones at the Tremont Street end of Upton for a much larger facility in Roxbury.

Tom Duffly, executive director of Hope House, wants to sell the South End property to the Pine Street Inn, which intends to turn the brownstones into single-room rentals for a few dozen men and women who have proved they can live independently.

Some Uptonites won't have it.

Hope House guests are strictly controlled, the neighbors say, booted immediately for infractions. Pine Street tenants will have leases, and there will be only one house manager living on site.

More autonomy means more trouble. And if those tenants behave badly, it will be too hard to evict them. And then? There goes the neighborhood.

"It's difficult to tell who these people are," says neighbor Norm Knickle, who has lived on Upton for 2 1/2 years, "unlike people like you and me, who have more clear identification."

Knickle and another neighbor, Jerry Frank, both members of the Union Park Neighborhood Association, want to see those buildings turned into condos, filled with affluent folk who pay lots of taxes and are invested in the neighborhood.

Other association members disagree with them, Frank says, but those people "have a background in social work and don't happen to be abutters."

Besides, Hope House came in decades ago, "when the South End was a pit," says Frank, who has lived on the block for 20 years. Upton Street has changed since then. There are no abandoned buildings, no need for renewal efforts. Even Hope House wouldn't fly if it were trying to come in now, he says.

"Upton Street is saying we don't need you," says Knickle. "That is no longer the character of the neighborhood."

If this is the character of the neighborhood, I say bring back the pit.

Pine Street Inn knows what it's doing: It has been developing permanent, supported rental units for 23 years, and today has 450 men and women in 20 properties spread across five neighborhoods. More than two-thirds of those residents are over 46, and almost a third have lived in the same rooming house for more than five years. About a quarter of them are working. Most pay 30 percent of their income as rent.

Sex offenders and former drug dealers aren't allowed. Everyone is clean. To get in, residents sign a lengthy agreement that says they'll be evicted if they're under the influence on or near the property, cause trouble, or don't pay their rent. In 2006, 10 of the 450 were evicted, nine of them for failure to pay their rent.

"People don't want to get booted out," says Shepley Metcalf, Pine Street's spokeswoman. "Why would we allow behavior that would cause displeasure in the neighborhood?"

Boston police say there have been no complaints this year about residents in any of the three rooming houses Pine Street already runs in the South End.

"I don't think they're any more of a danger to the community than someone with a million dollars to buy a condo," Hope House's Duffly says.

Frank, who calls the Pine Street Inn's Harrison Street homeless shelter "a very, very nasty place," says he could stand a single rooming house on Upton, maybe, a facility with mostly working residents, and stricter controls. But he's not banking on compromise. He and some of the neighbors are going to use zoning regulations to fight the project.

"I just think there's enough money and influence here that it isn't going to happen very easily," he says.

Super. What an inspiring victory that will be.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at

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