Bunker Hill Housing Development Could be in Line for Private Rehab

The City of Boston has sent out Requests for Proposals regarding the redevelopment of the Bunker Hill Housing Development. The city and the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) are trying to get some ideas of what a developer can do to transform the aging public housing development into a better place to live and raise a family for Charlestown residents.

As the oldest public housing development in the state, the Bunker Hill Development is in need of millions of dollars for renovations–money the cash strapped BHA does not have.

“Due to ongoing federal budget cuts and encouragement from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Boston Housing Authority and other housing authorities across the country, are exploring new ways to preserve and redevelop public housing,” said BHA’s Lydia Agro. “Therefore, the BHA recently released an RFQ to explore the possibility of public/private partnerships for some of our older federally subsidized public housing developments. We expect that we will see some interest or responses for the Bunker Hill public housing development in Charlestown.”

Agro said that before any decisions are made however, the BHA will engage in an extensive community process, first and foremost with our public housing residents, and with the broader Charlestown community as well.

“Over the years there has been a band aid approach,” said City Councilor Sal LaMattina. “There has been money here and there to fix problems but the development really needs a complete overhaul. What the BHA is hoping is that a developer can come in and transform the projects into quality, mixed income housing.”

Years ago programs like the federal Hope VI program was able to transform housing development built in the 1940s and 1950s into more attractive housing with low income residents living side by side with middle and upper income residents.

However, Hope VI funds have dried up so LaMattina said the city is turning to private developers.

“It’s very encouraging because there has been a lot of interest,” said LaMattina. “We have a real opportunity here to do something for the residents of the Bunker Hill development to make where they live more attractive for not only themselves but for the entire neighborhood. I think we can do something on the same scope and scale as we did in East Boston with Maverick Landing.”

In East Boston, also part of LaMattina’s district, Hope VI money was able to transform the World War II-era housing development into a mixed-income development. The redevelopment there has been hailed a success.

Maverick Landing has been recognized nationally for what was accomplished in a few short years. The development won the 2009 I. Donald Terner Prize, which recognizes successful and innovative affordable housing projects and their leadership teams.The project restored historic street patterns and reconnects residents with the surrounding community. Aside from knocking down the old tenement style brick housing and replacing those with attractive architecturally pleasing buildings, the site also offers public open spaces including a park at one corner of the development, a crescent shape of townhouses that invites the public waterfront park into the development and broad walkways that link a community center with housing on all sides.

“The same can be said of what was done at Columbia Point,” said LaMattina. “In the 1970s and 1980s it was one of the worst public housing developments in the city. With private investment it was transformed into Harbor Point with mixed-income housing. That become the model for Hope VI federally and could be the model here in Charlestown.”

Betty Carrington, President of the Bunker Hill Tenants Task said

“As resident representatives, we would be open to discuss any proposal that preserves and improves our homes.”

John Lynds can be reached at [email protected]

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