First Blessed Sacrament project completed

December 4, 2009
By

David Taber

Despite weak market, affordable ownership units are selling

HYDE SQ.—The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) and New Atlantic Development this month officially completed the first project in its long-anticipated redevelopment of the former Blessed Sacrament Church site in Hyde Square—a 16-unit affordable condominium development on Creighton Street.

Years in the making, Creighton Commons—the JPNDC’s first-ever affordable condominium project—combines new construction with the rehabilitation of the rectory building on the site. The rectory originally sat on the corner of Creighton and Centre streets, but was moved further down Creighton to make room for a mixed-use development at the front of the lot.

The new condo units came on-line during what city officials and developers have described as rough times for the affordable home-ownership market.

Tight credit markets have reduced the pool of potential affordable homebuyers, and many potential buyers are being lured away from subsidized affordable options because they are finding foreclosed properties in their price range.

But the JPNDC has seen fairly brisk sales for its units. An August city-sponsored lottery for the 16 units attracted 10 qualified buyers, and four more potential buyers are in the pipeline, Bill Madsen Hardy of New Atlantic told the Gazette.

Maria Mulkeen of the JPNDC credited federal efforts to encourage home-buying with helping to stimulate interest in the units. “We are really excited about the existence of the first time homebuyers tax credit,” she said.

Madsen Hardy said the team convinced the city to allow them to put a little more money into the units than is normally allowed for affordable condos. The resulting hardwood floors, aluminum fixtures and air conditioning units, as well as an underground garage with a parking space for each unit and a great location, have made selling the units much easier, he said.

A lot of the affordable units that are going unsold are in “less desirable neighborhoods,” he said. “I am not concerned at all about selling out.”

For at least a few of the owners, location played a big role in their decision. JP has been largely spared the worst of the foreclosure crisis, and for two long-time neighborhood residents the Gazette spoke to, a local affordable option was too good to pass up.

Ben Jacobs, a 29-year-old paraprofessional—a teaching assistant—in the Boston Public Schools, told the Gazette he has been saving to buy a home for years. Before he applied for a condo at Creighton, the only JP option he had seen in his price range was an 800-square-foot basement unit for $172,000, he said.

“There are units in Roxbury I could have afforded, but I wanted to stay in JP,” Jacobs, a nine-year JP resident, said.

He is working toward earning his undergraduate degree at Wheelock College and plans to get his teaching license. He said he used a state matching fund to save for the purchase and received a $1,000 grant from the city to put toward his downpayment on the $168,000 condo.

Jacobs said he has only spent one night in his new home so far. He is currently renting in Forest Hills and plans to get most of his moving done when the semester ends, he said.

But owning a home in the neighborhood has changed his perspective on JP, he said. “I have an ownership stake,” he said. “After nine years, I wanted nothing more than to stay, but I had a hard time being able to stay. To be able to put down roots [in JP] brings a great deal of joy to my life…I would love to be a lifelong JP resident,” he said.

Desiree Artu, a 37-year-old single mother who has lived on Heath Street for 11 years, said staying in JP was a strong motivator for her, as well. “I love JP…It is so new and diverse…I couldn’t live anywhere else,” she said.

Like Jacobs, Artu, who works as a hairdresser in Brookline, said she probably would not have been able to afford a home in JP if not for the JPNDC project.

She said she has a son in college and a daughter in high school. Both her children have participated in programs run by her new neighbor, the Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF), she said.

HSTF runs youth programs, including its Ritmo en Acción dance troupe, out of the Cheverus building on the Sunnyside Street side of the Blessed Sacrament campus. Artu said her son was a dance troupe member and last year traveled to Washington, DC to perform at the White House.

Artu said the proximity of her new home to the HSTF space would be convenient for her daughter. “Now [she] can just walk there,” she said.

The JPNDC and New Atlantic this month began work on the next project in the Blessed Sacrament redevelopment, a 36-unit rental co-op with ground-floor retail on the corner of Creighton and Centre streets. Residents who rent units in the co-op rent their units but also buy ownership shares in the development and oversee its management.

This winter, the developers plan to begin work with the Pine Street Inn on redeveloping a former convent on the site into single-room-occupancy housing for the formerly homeless.

The Blessed Sacrament redevelopment project also includes plans to redevelop the church building into condos. No timeline has been set for that phase of the work.

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