BPDA Board Scheduled To Vote on Constitution Inn Project Today

Michael Coughlin Jr.

The Independence at the Charlestown Navy Yard (previously known as the Helm on Third), a polarizing project that would bring permanent supportive and affordable housing to the site of the old Constitution Inn, is set to go before the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s  (BPDA) Board later today.

The project, proposed by the Planning Office for Urban Affairs and St. Francis House, would comprise 100 units — 48 of which are permanent supportive housing (PSH) units to be leased to those earning no more than 30% of area median income (AMI).

The remaining 52 units will be leased to those earning no more than 80% AMI, resulting in an all-affordable housing project. Regarding the unit mix, there are plans for 64 studios, 14 one-bedrooms, and 22 two-bedrooms.

A BPDA memorandum concerning the project expands upon the PSH model, saying it “combines providing deeply affordable, permanent, leased housing for individuals experiencing homelessness with tailored individualized services to assist people with disabilities to live successfully in the community long term.”

Moreover, concerning the PSH units and the programming proposed, there are plans for 11 full-time staffers, such as professional service providers, case workers, clinical social workers, and more.

While some folks have voiced their support for the proposal, which has iterations dating back to last year, it has drawn the discontentment of other Charlestown residents.

There is an online petition at https://www.change.org/p/helm-no with over 800 signatures opposing the project and a website — https://charlestownvoice.com/  — dedicated to the proposal, which outlines some resident’s concerns.

Concerns about the project have been voiced as recently as a BPDA-hosted meeting regarding the proposal in October.

The Patriot-Bridge covered the October meeting, which displayed residents’ reactions to the project and described changes made from preliminary plans. The story can be viewed at https://charlestownbridge.com/2023/10/26/the-helm-rebrands-to-the-independence-amid-bpda-filing/.

At this October meeting, several residents raised concerns about public safety and potential drug use at the site, as well as questioned the likelihood of the project working.

The project team addressed some of the issues mentioned above a month after the public comment period closed on November 30th in a “Response to Public Comments” document on the project’s webpage on the BPDA’s website.

Regarding the theme of public safety and security, the aforementioned document mentions a “robust, belt-and-suspenders approach to the care, comfort and safety of our residents, staff and larger community,” pointing to the partnership with Kroll Security, headed by Daniel Linskey former Superintendent-in-Chief of the Boston Police Department. 

Additionally, the document identifies that of the 48 PSH units, 32 are for women, and 16 are for veterans who will be subject to CORI and SORI checks, in-person interviews and will need to be “certified persons on the City’s Coordinated Entry System for housing or the Veterans Administration list for housing.”

Finally, there are plans for “24/7 private concierge style security” and on-site wellness staff.

Moreover, in response to concerns about there not being a sobriety requirement to live at the site, leading to potential illegal drug use, the aforementioned “Response to Public Comments” document states, “All residents at The Independence, including the residents in the PSH units, will sign a one-year lease and their occupancy will be subject to compliance with the lease and the property’s rules and regulations.”

It also states, “The Independence will not allow illegal drug activity.”

With all of this being said, concerns remain. While the project has undergone Article 80 Review, the evaluation process lacked one aspect  — an Impact Advisory Group (IAG).

This is not the first time there has been frustration surrounding the evaluation process for this project, as the proponents initially moved to waive Large Project Review in October 2022 but changed course weeks later after some pushback.

The omission of an IAG in the process has drawn commentary from City Councilors Gabriela Coletta and Erin Murphy, who have both called for a full development review process, including the creation of an IAG in letters published in the Patriot-Bridge.

As for why an IAG was not created in the review of this project, a BPDA Spokesperson indicated that it was waived by both the agency and the Mayor’s Office to “align with the Mayor’s Executive Order related to Speeding the Production of Affordable Housing.”

They also indicated that IAGs are now being waived for affordable housing projects “with 60 percent or more of units at or below 100 percent AMI.”

The Spokesperson expanded on the decision to waive the creation of an IAG, stating, “We also waived the IAG because IAGs are responsible for determining necessary mitigation and community benefits, which are not relevant in this project.”

“Constitution Inn is an interior retrofit to accommodate a change of use from hotel to housing units, so the project would not generate significant impacts to the built environment, wind, shadow or traffic, and therefore would not require mitigation, and the community benefit from the project is predetermined as affordable housing,” they added.

In response to a question asking if the BPDA planned to take its time evaluating the project and look at it more closely, considering what some say is a majority of residents in opposition, the Spokesperson said, “At the most recent public meeting held by the BPDA, roughly an equal number of residents spoke in support and in opposition to this proposal.”

Later, adding, “We recognize concerns from community members who are opposed to the project, and have a responsibility to weigh those comments along with a number of other factors.”

The factors cited by the Spokesperson were “the City’s critical need for more permanent supportive housing units, the robust amount of support that we have received from residents, stakeholders, and community organizations, and the proponents diligent work over the course of many months engaging with the community, understanding the concerns or feedback from neighbors, abutters, and residents, and altering their proposal significantly to address the input they received.”

In the end, whether you are for or against the proposal, one fact remains: it’s scheduled to be voted on by the BPDA Board today.

While the project is not open for public testimony, you can still watch the proceedings at https://www.boston.gov/departments/broadband-and-cable/watch-boston-city-tv. The Board meeting is slated to begin at 3:30 P.M.

To learn more about the project, view the October Meeting and its presentation materials, and view the “Response to Public Comments” document, you can visit https://www.bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/constitution-inn.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.