The City Council Committee on Government Operations held a hearing on August 16 regarding a home rule petition relating to the Mildred C. Hailey housing development.
The docket was sponsored by Acting Mayor Kim Janey and the chair of the committee is Councilor Lydia Edwards.
“This home rule petition would authorize Boston Housing Authority (BHA) to participate in a redevelopment and revitalization of the Mildred Hailey Housing Development using federal funds,” Edwards said.
Additionally, it would permit “certain exemptions…to the state’s contract procurement and award laws. Chapter 149 requires a structured filed sub bid process that has separate requirements for general contractor and subcontractor selection.”
Edwards said that the Mildred Hailey development “is severely distressed,” and similar legislation has been approved by the city for such developments as Whittier St., Mission Main, Old Colony, Orient Heights, and many more.
“So this is a typical home rule petition that we’ve often done for other neighborhoods,” Edwards said.
City Councilor Matt O’Malley said that “this is obviously easy….what we’re talking about today is going to really help facilitate something that will be life changing not only for the neighborhood of Jamaica Plain, but for the City of Boston as we talk about an incredible partnership with JPNDC, with Urban Edge, with TCB, and of course with BHA.”
Joel Wool, Chief of Staff at the Boston Housing Authority, was on hand to explain a little bit about the proposed project at Mildred Hailey.
BHA is seeking to move forward with Phase One of the Mildred Hailey Redevelopment Project,” he said. “This would cause for the creation of 673 homes and a new Anna Mae Cole Community Center.”
He continued, “this project is exciting for a number of reasons.” Wool said that 253 of the existing units will be replaced one-for one, “as is the BHA’s protocol to do one-to-one replacement of the units that are affordable at 30 percent of the income.”
Additionally, the project includes 420 additional units, some of which are “middle income units” to cater to a variety of incomes.
The first phase of this project does not include the entirety of the housing development, and Wool said that the BHA and others “will have a continued conversation about what will happen with the rest of the units.”
The new Anna Mae Cole Center will be approximately 6,800 square feet, he added.
“The project itself is a partnership of multiple entities—Centre St. Partners—that includes three Boston-based nonprofits: JPNDC, The Community Builders, [and] Urban Edge,” Wool said.
He then talked about the “legislative relief” from state law that is required to move forward with this project. He said that Chapter 149 includes “somewhat antiquated provisions that really restrict the ability to move forward in the manner that is best suitable in this process,” adding that it “often restricts the BHA from moving forward.”
Johanna Hynes, a Charlestown resident, spoke during the public comment period about her concerns for the removal of trees as part of this project, though she said she does support the additional housing it will create.
“Can’t we do better?” she asked. “I mean, the BHA alone is responsible for the decimation of thousands of mature trees from its properties.” She said she wants to have more conversations on how trees can be saved.
“A one for one replacement of mature trees is not sufficient, especially when those trees are saplings.”
Councilor O’Malley responded by saying that “the folks that live there deserve better housing than what they have…the plan that we’re going to do here is absolutely going to be life-changing.” He added that the “work on the tree canopy is not in conflict with also providing individuals safe housing…wonderful and energy-efficient housing. I appreciate the feedback, but I think it’s being misdirected to be completely candid.”
Councilor Edwards said that she and Hynes “agree that trees should be centered,” and said that “how we develop has been one of the biggest reasons that we have emissions issues and climate change in Boston.”
Hynes had said that it is “not housing or trees,” and Edwards said she agrees. “And it shouldn’t be,” she said. “This is about the process and making sure that it can continue.”
Sarah Freeman, a JP resident and climate activist, thanked the council “in advance for taking Johanna’s and others’ comments into heart.” She also expressed concern for planting new small trees, saying they are going to take 60 years or more to grow to the height of the existing ones. “We’re talking generations,” she said.
“I think we’re all on the same page here,” O’Malley said. “I think we know that we need more, better housing and deeply affordable and certainly looking at the guiding principles of environmentalism is something that I know Sarah and I have worked very closely on and we will continue to do that.”
At the end of the hearing, Edwards explained that if this home rule petition passes the City Council, it must be approved by the Mayor, after which it will move on to the State House “for further consideration.”