Boston Mayor Michelle Wu is off to a strong start on affordable housing. In her first four months – in partnership with the City Council – she has increased funding for affordable housing production, eliminated the tent encampments at “Mass. and Cass” by placing homeless individuals in supportive housing, supported a real estate transfer fee to generate recurring funds for housing initiatives, eliminated parking minimums for affordable housing developments and announced a new rent stabilization advisory committee, among other measures.
Key to this comprehensive approach is to substantially increase the production and preservation of housing for low-and-moderate income families, seniors and people with disabilities. Fortunately, Boston has some of the most experienced and mission-oriented developers in the country to help further Mayor Wu’s agenda.
Our organization, Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH), is working hard to preserve and create affordable housing in Boston. At present, we have four developments with 564 apartments in pre-development or construction:
- Flat Nine at Whittier: This redevelopment of the former Whittier Street public housing in Roxbury includes 316 units of mixed-income housing and features a mix of building types, commercial space, and outdoor play spaces.
- The Loop at Mattapan Station: This transit-oriented development (TOD) is transforming a parking lot next to the MBTA Mattapan Station into 135 affordable homes and will bring a much-needed grocery store to the area.
- The Kenzi at Bartlett Station: This highly efficient new building will provide 50 units of supportive housing for older adults as part of a five-phase redevelopment of a former bus yard in Nubian Square. Seniors will access health services through a unique partnership with the Boston Medical Center.
- Columbia Crossing: This adaptive reuse of a historic bank building in Dorchester’s Uphams Corner will provide 63 affordable apartments for families, with 4,500 square feet of commercial space for arts and innovation uses.
Teamwork at Projects’ Heart
While each development is designed to meet particular neighborhood needs, they have several common characteristics.
First, Boston has a strong network of non-profit Community Development Corporations (CDCs), and POAH has teamed up with a CDC on each project. They bring a deep understanding of neighborhood needs, help us to engage a diversity of residents, and work to deliver projects that respond to community aspirations.
Second, all of these developments advance racial equity through contracts with minority business enterprises (MBEs), hiring local residents of color, and job training programs. At The Kenzi, for example, POAH has established an ambitious MBE contracting goal of 55 percent.
Third, public-private collaboration was vital. Private investments in the federal low-income housing tax credit program combined with public capital are essential resources for building most affordable housing developments in Boston. POAH works closely with numerous private lenders and investment companies and is fortunate to have MassHousing, Massachusetts DHCD, HUD and the city of Boston as reliable public partners.
Buildings Repair Communities
Next, POAH has made sustainability a key component of its development work. The Loop at Mattapan Station and The Kenzi are among our first developments designed to Passive House standards and The Kenzi will be our first all-electric building.
These buildings also help bridge digital divides. POAH launched a national initiative to provide high-speed, wireless internet for our residents at an affordable monthly rate of $10-$15 and we will bring this benefit to many of our Boston residents so they can be full participants in our economy and civic life.
Lastly, at all of these properties, on-site community impact coordinators will help residents achieve gains in the areas of employment, financial opportunity, education, health and community engagement.
Mayor Wu’s comprehensive housing strategy will go a long way towards meeting the growing housing needs in Boston. At the same time, new housing production can stimulate the economy and can help to attract and retain a growing workforce. POAH looks forward to collaborating with the city of Boston and many others to be one part of the solution to Boston’s housing crisis.
Originally published in Banker & Tradesman March 27th 2022.