By Michael Coughlin Jr.
The Independence at Charlestown Navy Yard — formerly known as the Helm on Third — a polarizing project that would bring affordable housing and permanent supportive housing (PSH) to the site of the old Constitution Inn, presented updated project plans at a public meeting hosted by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) last week.
Last week’s meeting comes off the heels of the project’s proponents filing a letter of intent and project notification form last month. Proponents of the project include the Planning Office For Urban Affairs, Archdiocese Of Boston and the St. Francis House, among others.
As mentioned, this project has been polarizing in that, for a while, residents have voiced concerns about aspects such as public safety, security, screening, the process itself, and more in relation to the project.
However, Dot Joyce of Dot Joyce Consulting and Joyce Strategies says, “We believe the Independence at Charlestown Navy Yard addresses these concerns and provides housing affordability and stability in a balance that is responsible for our community.”
Further, Joyce explained that the project rebranding and name change were not done without reason, mentioning that there was a feeling a name change was necessary to coincide with program changes.
These changes since a preliminary plan include reducing total units from 126 to 100 and increasing workforce affordable housing from 30 units at 50%-60% area median income (AMI) to 52 units at 30%-80% AMI.
Moreover, the updated plans eliminated recovery housing options and reduced the number of PSH units from 96 to 48 — 32 units for women and 16 for veterans. Also, there has been an increase in the amount of two-bedroom units offered from four to 22.
The updated project has also increased its staffing levels. Joyce says the increased staffing creates “the only supportive housing property with this level of staff-to-individual ratio.”
Finally, security management has been boosted with Kroll Security, which has its New England operation headed by former Superintendent-in-Chief of the Boston Police Department Daniel Linskey. Kroll will be working in tandem with Ware Security Consultants on this project.
In speaking about security with the project, Linskey said, “We’re not concerned as much with the ability to secure our building and our tenants. Our concern is, in addition to that, making sure that we’re going outside the four walls of our facility to ensure safety and security in the community.”
It should be noted that the changes presented at last week’s meeting and outlined above represent modifications from a preliminary plan. However, back in April, the proponents presented updated plans to the community at an in-person public meeting.
If you would also like to see how the proposal has changed since April, you can view a story from the Patriot-Bridge covering the aforementioned in-person meeting at https://charlestownbridge.com/2023/04/20/debate-about-the-helm-on-third-rages-on/.
As for who might be living at the Independence, if it were approved, 52 of the units would be for people earning between $30,000 and $83,000 or less a year.
The remaining 48 units — the PSH units — will only be available to women and veterans who would be screened through the city’s coordinated entry system or the Veterans Administration.
As part of the project’s programming, individuals in these units can receive services like personal counseling and other supports designed for each person’s unique needs.
Concerning the PSH aspect of the project, there will be 11 full-time staffers employed, including professional service providers, case workers, clinical social workers, and more.
Further, wellness staff will be on-site 24/7 and a 24/7 “secure and managed property with private security as concierge-style, in the lobby and also around the site,” according to Joyce.
Joyce also added that there will be full-time dedicated property management support from Maloney Properties, who will “maintain the site to the strictest standards.”
Later in the presentation, Joyce spoke about “proven models of success” in Boston, similar to what is being proposed in Charlestown.
For example, Joyce pointed to the YMCA on Huntington Avenue as a model but with the caveat that it has a lower threshold of entry into housing than what is being proposed in Charlestown.
Another example used was the Union on Boylston Street, which has the same model being proposed. However, a difference Joyce noted is that the Independence is not across from a homeless shelter.
Finally, she pointed to Upton Street in the South End, saying, “Their neighbors on that block would never know there are supportive housing residents living right next door.”
“There has been some talk about permanent supportive housing and whether it works. The planning office has seen the results first hand, and it’s working where it’s done well with the right staff and oversight,” said Joyce.
The proponents later showed a video from Jim O’Connell, President of Boston Health Care for the Homeless, who believed the proposal “has all of the supports” he thought were critical in helping people “live normal lives” after being on the street.
After Phil Renzi of The Architectural Team went through floor plans, it was time for the public to make their voices heard.
During the question and answer portion of the meeting, the reviews were mixed. While some folks were impressed with the changes made and voiced their support, others had several questions and expressed their vehement opposition.
To get an idea of the public testimony, some folks were happy that the project would help those unhoused or suffering from mental health or addiction problems, and some were not worried about their safety.
However, other folks, especially those close to the project, voiced fear for their safety and questioned drug use at and around the site. Other questions were also raised, such as the likelihood of the project working and what would happen if it failed, and many wanted a chance to talk about the proposal in an in-person setting.
It should be noted that in terms of opposition to the project, it has reached a point where a website focused on the project — https://charlestownvoice.com/ — outlines folk’s opposition. Moreover, a petition at https://www.change.org/p/helm-no has over 800 signatures opposing the project.
If you would like to view the recording of this meeting and the slideshow, you can visit https://www.bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/constitution-inn.
The comment period for the project is open until October 30, and written comments can be sent in through the website above or directly via email to [email protected].