In an astounding and unprecedented move, apparently precipitated by President Donald Trump unwillingness, Mayor Martin Walsh and Boston Housing Authority (BHA) Director Bill McGonagle announced Tuesday afternoon that the City would invest $30 million in the One Charlestown public-private development project from its four-year Capital Plan – a unique investment that has never been made by the City in its history.
While other parts of the plan were revealed last week – such as the much-needed $3 million commitment for a new turf field at the High School – the investment in the public-private redevelopment of Bunker Hill Housing was quite unexpected and not discussed prior to the citywide community event on the development’s basketball court Tuesday.
“We need a national and federal partner on this project, but we don’t have a national partner right now,” he said, alluding to the Trump Administration. “We’re investing $30 million in the capital budget for infrastructure on this project. We will once again begin the process of preserving deeply affordable housing here. What this means is that this project is happening. We’re not talking about it happening or that it might happen. It’s happening. I’m happy because this is the first time the City of Boston has invested bond dollars into BHA developments.”
That elicited major applause from the audience, most of whom were residents of Bunker Hill. It was a round of applause that had been waiting to come out for two years as the project has languished and experienced stops and starts since being rolled out in 2014. More than a year has passed now since a new partner, Leggat McCall, was brought on to join Corcoran Development and the BHA. Residents of the development and the greater community.
“Thank you Lord!” called out Betty Carrington, the former president of the Tenants Task Force, when the announcement was made.
“We need to continue to understand that affordable housing is the bellwether of a strong community,” he said. “The people in affordable housing are from the neighborhood. People in the last 20 years have been pushed out of neighborhoods…We can’t wait for the current president. We can’t wait for an election two years from now. We have to act now. This $30 million is a step. It’s not just a $30 million investment; it’s a new way of investing in affordable housing. We can take what we do here in Charlestown and transfer it to the other parts of the City.
State Rep. Dan Ryan, who wasn’t able to attend due to State Budget hearings this week, said he thought the move was generous.
“I want to thank Mayor Walsh for the extremely generous commitment to the Bunker Hill Housing Development,” he said. “I’m still not up on the details, but hopefully will be briefed on the project in the near future. I’m encouraged to see that the Administration, Councilor Edwards, Boston Housing Authority, BPDA and the developer are making progress on these much needed housing improvements for our residents. I look forward to being invited into the conversation.”
McGonagle said it was an historic day for the BHA, and especially for the Bunker Hill development – which is one of the oldest public housing developments in the nation. The development was built via land takings from the old “Point” neighborhood after World War II, and not much has been done for it since that time – leaving it in great disrepair at the moment.
“As the mayor said, this $30 million capital grant will in fact get the long-planned renovation of this community up and running,” he said. “We look forward to taking our plans and our proposals in more specificity out to the broader neighborhood as early as next month. We’ll be meeting next month with the stakeholders in this neighborhood and working with BPDA to get this thing up and running and finally get it into the ground. It will create deeply affordable housing with market-rate housing to establish a wonderful mixed-income community here in Charlestown.”
Charlestown Resident Alliance (CRA) President Nancy Martinez said the tenants of Bunker Hill were ecstatic to see the investment, and to know they had a seat at the table in the process.
“The CRA has been a partner in this all along and has had a seat at the table,” she said. “The residents will be involved and participate in a full process…Let’s do get things together. Let’s stick together and make this thing happen.”
Councilor Lydia Edwards, who has had a big stake in the development since she first ran for office three years ago, said she was glad to see the City investing in this project.
“This is an exciting day,” she said. “I look forward to hearing from Leggat McCall, who continues to be a good partner and is going to be sharing designs soon with the folks in the development and all of Charlestown. We hope to get the community together when final designs are a little more finalized…This is setting a precedent because we are leading the City in this kind of development. How this development goes in Charlestown will be how the rest of Boston goes.”
The overall $2.78 billion, four-year plan included many other items citywide and in the Town – including a planned revamp of City Hall Plaza to eliminate some of the bricks and bring more green space there.
One of the other things highlighted for Charlestown was the commitment to replace the turf field.
Reed Catlin of Charlestown Lacrosse and Learning Center spoke for all the youth sports in saying a big thank you for that commitment.
“I’m here to represent Charlestown Lacrosse and every other sports leagues for the money we are getting to improve our fields,” he said. “These fields at the high school are by far the most used in the city. Every day during the week, Monday to Sunday, we have more than 400 city youth down there playing. That doesn’t include the high school programs that also play there.”
The field first became an item of high need last fall when Catlin and other youth sports directors began to notice holes in the turf and bunching in the carpet sections – making a very dangerous playing surface.
Within the next four years, however, that will change as the City will replace the turf with the $3 million commitment.
Other investments in Charlestown with the Capital Plan include:
•$1 million for design work that will lead to major upgrades at Ryan Playground, including work to the ball fields, playground, basketball area, HarborWalk, lighting and green infrastructure.
•$1.4 million for construction renovations to the Edwards/Eden/McCarthy playground.
•$2.8 million to rehabilitate the Cambridge Street Bridge.