Roslindale Neighbors: Washington Beech will move forward, with or without HOPE

October 19, 2007
By

DAVID TABER

Right now they are working toward an early November application deadline, but the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) will push forward with plans to rebuild Washington Beech regardless of whether it receives a $20 million federal grant.

“If we come back to you in January with bad news, we will be completely bummed out but not defeated. We will continue to work with you to figure out how we can move forward with the redevelopment without these funds,” Deborah Morse, BHA director of real estate development, told the audience at a crowded community meeting of over 60 Washington Beech residents Oct. 9.

Redesigning, razing and redeveloping the 265-unit development is projected to cost about $90 million, said BHA Washington Beech project manager Joe Bamberg. The BHA is hoping to receive the $20 million, about $15 million of which will go directly toward development costs, from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Hope VI grant program.

The remainder will go toward relocation services, covering BHA overhead and “providing targeted assistance to individuals actually living in the housing development,” possibly including English language, GED and employment training classes, Bamberg said.

Funds will also likely be allocated to set up and operate a computer lab at the new site, Bamberg said.

The BHA is hoping to secure the rest of the financing the redevelopment will require through a variety of sources, including the municipally owned Winthrop Street garage. It also hopes to entice private investors through a federally subsidized and state-administered tax credit program.

“The BHA and the developer, knowing that the tax credit will be available in the future, enter into agreements with investors who pay up front,” is how Bamberg described the program.

And the program works well, Bamberg said, because it “brings savvy investors into the mix—a group of people whose investment depends on the long-term vitality of the project.”

Less is More

In collaboration with the Washington Beech community and Tise Architects of Newton, the BHA has developed a design for the site that will replace the 265 existing units with 185 rental units and 15 ownership units. The new units will, on average, be about 30 percent bigger than the existing units, Steve Tise of Tise Architects, said.

Bamberg said, however, that the guidelines for the Hope VI grant require a plan that produces 125 percent of the existing number of units, so the BHA will be looking to develop at least another 66 units at another location.

He said he assumes the off-site units will be built in Roslindale, but a separate request for proposals will be put out for them.

They will likely be project-based Section 8 federally subsidized housing, he said, built by a private developer on privately owned land, but maintained as Section 8 housing under contract with the BHA. Project-based Section 8 contracts usually run for 10-year periods, Bamberg said.

The design work being done for the Washington Beech site is running concurrently with a review of private developers’ proposals for that project.

The developer selected will take over management of the site, and, while the BHA will hold the deed to the property, the developer will have a 99-year ground lease and retain ownership of the buildings, Bamberg said.

The BHA will be granted first right of refusal if the developer ever decides to sell out, and deed restriction will require that, whatever happens, the Washington Beech units will remain affordable, he said.

Preliminary Designs
While the designs Tise Architects is developing will be used in the grant application, and will provide a framework for the finished product, the developer awarded the project will be ultimately responsible for the design and development of the new Washington Beech.

The eventual developer’s design will be subject to its own community design review, Bamberg said, but the two months of work that have gone into the current design process will not go to waste. “We have gotten a lot of valuable input. A lot of things won’t change,” Bamberg said.

For example, community input into the design of open space, as well as height concerns about what was originally slated to be a five-story apartment building on the Washington Street side of the site, will probably be honored in the final design, Bamberg said.

The number, size and character of the new units, which will be a mix of townhouses and apartments, will likely remain the same as well, he said.

Unlike the current residential buildings on the site, the majority of which open onto yards, the preliminary designs call for all units to open onto the street. New streets will be added tothe site to make sure that possible. “Its traditional and it works,” said Tom Smith of Tise Arcitects said.

Meena Carr, chair of the Washington Beech tenants group Family, Friends United Neighbors (FFUN), said residents are enthusiastic about the amount of green space the plans call for, particularly the possibility of having back yards and green roof-tops.

Overall, “The plan we see could work,” Carr said.

Many of the residents’ questions at the Oct. 9 meeting, including whether the units would be carpeted and how trash will be disposed of, were deferred to later meetings with the developers.

“These are things you should talk about when you start doing this for real,” Smith said.

Smith’s description of floor plans in the new units that will allow for bigger bedrooms and space for dining tables met with cheers from the audience.

If the BTD secures the grant, it will select a developer and start the “real” development process in January, Bamberg said.

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