Heard The Call: Boston Housing Ready to Reach Out To Youth of Bunker Hill

The leadership of the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) has reached out to the Turn It Around youth group and other youth in the Bunker Hill Development to talk with them about the potential changes coming to their homes.

After an article in last week’s Patriot-Bridge where Fatima Fontes – a college-aged resident of Bunker Hill and an active member of Turn It Around – criticized the lack of engagement with youth, BHA officials have heard the call and are excited to talk with her and others.

They have already been in contact with the Turn It Around group and are reaching out for other youth organizations.

“What I like about Fatima’s comments in that story is that they really bring it back to what this is about – that being families, communities and new homes,” said Interim BHA Director Kate Bennett. “It’s true that we often talk about the Bunker Hill proposal as an initiative and redevelopment and designs and components. She brings it right back to what is at the heart of all this and we appreciate it.”

Fontes, who has grown up most of her life in Bunker Hill, said in last week’s article that many planning the mixed-income redevelopment haven’t talked to youth, and they often haven’t considered the sentimentality of the place in young peoples’ lives. She was also very curious about how residents would be housed while construction is going on, whether some would have to leave the Town and if it would be safe for those staying to be exposed to the construction.

All of those are fair and great questions, said the BHA, and they want to hear them from Fontes and other young people in the Town.

“We understand her voice and we fully understand this is a very disruptive and scary process,” said Lydia Agro of the BHA. “Unfortunately, the existing housing just isn’t viable…We want to have these young people at the table to help them figure out the vision for the next chapter with us. That is really critical.”

Added Bennett, “We’ve done other re-developments where youth have been at the table and have actually changed the trajectory of the project because of what they expressed. It meant that the project did happen, but was better because of what they helped us understand. We are always looking for new, young tenant resident leaders.”

Relocation is a scary prospect for many families in the development, but BHA officials said it would be kept to a minimum and likely only in the first phase of the project, if approved. Right now, there are about 50 families that would need to relocate off-site, potentially, if the project goes forward as planned. That, however, could be accomplished by finding families that want to move out of the development to other parts of the City, in other developments. Some might want to leave Boston altogether, and that is another choice. All of it, they said, would be carefully planned one-on-one with individual families when the time comes, likely next year. Some initial meetings, however, have already taken place with residents.

Agro said the Bunker Hill redevelopment will be different in that most people in the 1,110 existing public housing units won’t have to leave Charlestown.

“Unlike many previous redevelopments, there is going to be more onsite relocation here,” she said. “We’re hopeful most families will be able to stay onsite. During the first phase, there are 50 right now that would have to be moved off-site to get things started. We really hope to do that through attrition. We aren’t going to place new families anywhere in Bunker Hill starting in the New Year. We haven’t placed anyone in the first phase for a while now. Our projections are that we can absorb a lot of relocation with families on site.”

During the holidays, though, for many young people, the process can become scary to know they could have to leave next year for another part of the city – as things are up in the air right now.

Much of the planning for relocation, or even moving within the site, cannot be done until more definite plans are in place – leaving those who live there in a bit of flux for the time being.

Agro said they have a relocation team in place and they will sit down with each and every family to figure out what the best situation will be for them. That will include weighing where kids go to school, where parents work, and what services they need to be close to.

“That work is going to happen and it’s hard to know the details now,” said Agro. “Until you sit down and have that conversation, it’s hard to know.”

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