JPNDC development projects move ahead

March 20, 2009
By

DAVID TABER

HYDE/JACKSON SQ.—The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) had a lot of balls in the air when the economy began its tumble last year.

Four of its projects—three of them at the former site of the Blessed Sacrament Church on Centre Street in Hyde Square—have experienced significant delays. But the non-profit developer is strongly positioned for pub-lic funding and has received backing from civic-minded private investors, JPNDC director Richard Thal told the Gazette.

All together, it is projected they will cost about $43.5 million

Work on one of them—the new construction of 10 condos priced for first-time homebuyers at the former site of the Blessed Sacrament Church in Hyde Square, is already underway, he said.

The other projects in the pipeline include an affordable rental development with ground-floor retail and a single-room-occupancy house for people transitioning from homelessness at the Blessed Sacrament site. The JPNDC plans to build another mixed-use rental project at 270 Centre St. in Jackson Square.

Thal described the projects as beyond shovel-ready. “Really they are rusty-shovel-ready,” he said.

“We have a lot of things coming on line at a crazy time,” he said. “In any other of the last 25 years, all of these projects would have started last spring and summer.”

He is hopeful that, by this “spring or early summer, it will be full speed ahead,” he said.

As it is, work at Blessed Sacrament technically began in the fall when the former church’s rectory building was moved from its foundation. That building was moved to its permanent location facing Creighton Street on March 16. The rectory will eventually house six more affordable condo units.

JPNDC’s partner, New Atlantic Development, has also been working on excavating the former basement of the rectory to turn it into a 46-car garage, Thal said.

The Blessed Sacrament site on the corner of Centre and Creighton streets will also see 36 units of afford-able rental housing with ground-floor retail; and a 29 unit single-room-occupancy house run by the Pine Street Inn, a social service organization for the homeless.

Additionally, the Blessed Sacrament site will see the creation of a park, and, in a later phase, the rede-velopment of the church building as mixed-income condos and community space.

The Hyde Square Task Force, a local non-profit, and the COMPASS School, a public school that serves stu-dents with special needs, are currently running programs in existing buildings on the site.

The JPNDC also plans to build 30 units of affordable rental housing with ground-floor retail at 270 Centre St. between Wise and Lamartine streets in Jackson Square.

The construction projects were delayed Thal said, because “the low-income housing tax credit market has cratered, so a standard financing strategy [for affordable housing projects] has evaporated.”

Affordable housing developers used to be able to sell the tax credits to investors in exchange for up-front equity investments. But with few investors making any money in development these days, the appeal of the tax credits has faded.

The affordable condo construction “is now going forward financed with a combination of loans and city and state money,” Thal said.

The private loans are coming from “a consortium of socially responsible lenders,” including the investment group Boston Community Capital, Thal said. “They amass funds from churches and other publicly-spirited inves-tors, offering a long term financial commitment at lower interest rates,” he said.

Money from the city and state is coming in the form of “soft loans” he said. The funding is written and presented as a loan, Thal said, but developers are only required to pay them back if they fail to follow through on their commitments to the public good.

“There are covenants on the project—that you develop what you said you would, and honor the public purpose [of the development], in this case long-term affordable housing—and decades later it ends up being a grant,” Thal said.

As for the other two Blessed Sacrament projects and the Centre-Wise-Lamartine project, Thal said the JPNDC is hopeful that funding will come from the federal stimulus bill, officially known as the American Relief and Recovery Act (ARRA).

For affordable housing development, the bill includes its own soft loan program and a program where the state could sell tax credits back to the federal government, Thal said.

“The city and state are waiting for guidelines from the feds,” Thal said. “When will the money be avail-able? What is the process for distributing it? We don’t know. But the city and state have made strong funding commitments. I am very confident,” he said.

Thal did not provide an itemized information about how much each of the four projects will cost or where the funding will come from. But of the overall $43.5 million projected costs for the lot of them, about $17 million will come from tax credits, $9.5 million from private investors, $9 million from the state and $8 mil-lion from the city, he said.

As the Gazette previously reported, Jackson Square Partners, a group of developers including the JPNDC that is planning a major neighborhood redevelopment in Jackson Square, is hoping for ARRA funding for streetscape and public infrastructure work in that neighborhood.

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