There has been no shortage of discussion over the concerns about five affordable buildings in the massive Bunker Hill mixed-income redevelopment – a conversation that has gone on for a year or more – but the development team took a big step last week in committing to reducing those buildings to three all-affordable buildings, and potentially only two.
The issue has emerged mostly in the community at-large where many have raised serious reservations about the idea of segregating about 50 percent of the public housing residents in five of the 16 buildings. That, many felt, was inconsistent with a true mixed-income development. To date, the development team has struggled to present an alternative, and it has been a barrier to reaching ‘yes’ for some time, but during an Impact Advisory Group (IAG) meeting on Oct. 28, the team might have moved beyond the barriers that stopped other development attempts in the past.
Bunker Hill Redevelopment Director Adelaide Grady told the online meeting they have found two alternatives they believe can minimize the need for all-affordable buildings.
“Between these two new alternatives, we’re committed as a development team in partnership with the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) that we can get to three (all-affordable) buildings with the hope of getting down to two as we implement these approaches and this is all based on the financing tools available today,” she said. “New tools may become available or as the affordable housing crisis deepens and as the composition of our government changes. Whichever way we get there, we are comfortable at this time to commit to three all-affordable buildings.”
That was a big change to the landscape of the project, as the all-affordable concepts had been rebuked by the community at-large, though not so much by the actual current public housing residents at Bunker Hill. The new plan seemed to offer hope within the IAG that the project could work.
“I actually came here to fight this,” said IAG Youth Seatholder Fatima Fontes, a resident of Bunker Hill. “I had thought the all-affordable were in one vicinity. After seeing the presentation, I am very, very happy with the way it looks.”
IAG member Joanne Massaro, one of those very hesitant about the previous plan, said she liked the options, and said it was “workable.”
“It was a difficult challenge and I appreciate the work,” she said.
However, she also challenged the developers to try to work towards having no all-affordable buildings using Low Income Tax Credits (LITC) and mixing in three- and four-bedroom resident units.
Grady said using that approach can work, but investors in the open market and in the tax credit market are typically hesitant to invest in such approaches. The developers have to raise $1.5 billion in private money to make the development happen.
“(That approach) is really an investor challenge on the side of the conventional investor and the tax credit investor,” she said. “It can be done. It has been done. We could explore opportunities to do that in the future, but it’s a very inefficient and complex approach and we’ve had pushback from investors in both types of financing because of the complexity. It’s something we can explore in future phases.”
IAG Member Mary Boucher, who lives across the street from Bunker Hill, said she was happy with the changes – and that came after she had expressed non-support as long as five affordable buildings were in the plan.
“I want to thank you because the two buildings of low-income, all-affordable and the elderly handicapped building are much more palatable,” she said. “Thank you for that.”
BHA Director Kate Bennett said they are also happy with the progress.
“I really appreciate what they’ve done collapsing the five into three,” she said. “They’ve come a long way and done a lot of hard work to get there. I don’t think our work is done. There’s any mix of strategies we’re going to try to make sure that third building isn’t done.”
The new plan does keep the first all-affordable building – Building M – that is in the first phase of the development. However, most are comfortable with that building being all-affordable due to the fact it will help more existing residents not have to relocate outside of Charlestown during the construction process. The new second all-affordable building would be a 170-unit Senior Citizen and handicapped building in Phase 3 facing Bunker Hill Street. The final all-affordable building would be a 128-unit all-affordable family building coming in Phase 5 or later and located at the corner of Medford and Monument Streets. That last building, however, is hoped to be eliminated over time as the 10-year buildout progresses.
The first approach to getting to three buildings is to increase the percentage of affordable units in mixed-income buildings over time. That would entail putting 28 percent, instead of 22 percent, of affordable units in buildings from Phase 4 on. That gives more mixed-income buildings, going from 11 to 13, and also preserves $85 million in state affordable housing resources. However, a downfall is there is economic uncertainty about the plan, and it is driven by market conditions and not planning.
The second alternative to get there would be to include in later phases two mixed-income buildings with about 80 percent all-affordable and 20 percent market rate. That would bring two new mixed-income buildings to the table, but it increases the usage of state affordable housing dollars, and could potentially slow down the timeframe of the project.
The next planned meeting will be on Nov. 18, as the Nov. 11 meeting falls on the Veterans Day holiday.