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HUD program brings funds to Grove Hall social services

Eliza Dewey | 3/12/2015, 6 a.m.

In the next few weeks the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development will begin accepting applications for federal funding for economic development projects in the Grove Hall area.

The process will begin when the DND releases its formal Request for Proposals (RFP), the letter the agency sends out to community groups as the first step in the development process to solicit applications for the projects. A total of $500,000 will be made available, with a maximum of $100,000 per project.

Money for the project comes from a federal funding stream known as the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, an offshoot of the HOPE VI federal funding program. HOPE VI was an initiative by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development started in the 1990s to revitalize failing public housing projects by converting them into mixed-income developments. It was the 1980s conversion of Dorchester’s Columbia Point Housing Projects into a mixed-income development — now called Harbor Point — that first inspired the national HOPE VI program. Choice Neighborhoods provides funding not just for assisted housing, but also the areas surrounding it.

Applications will be due 45 days from the date the RFP is issued. Projects must also be completed by August 2017. They must be based within the Quincy Corridor Target Area, which roughly covers the area just north of Four Corners over to Grove Hall and stretching up to Uphams Corner.

Ed Gaskin, Executive Director of Greater Grove Hall Main Streets, said that this would not be the first time the neighborhood received such funding. A string of store fronts along Blue Hill Avenue near the intersection with Warren Street — including a barber shop, a Chinese food place and a pizza shop — have undergone store-front renovations thanks to the same kind of grant awarded to the building’s owner last summer.

This time, Gaskin said, he hopes for a “shared work space” to cultivate business innovation, similar to the spacious innovation hubs that Mayor Martin Walsh has touted in the city’s “Innovation District” in the Seaport District.

Gaskin said the area would serve as an “incubator” to encourage collaboration among local entrepreneurs. He said such spaces cultivated “a community of people thinking the same way” and help to provide a role model for young people, showing them “what it would be like to be part of a start-up.”

When asked how he would ensure that a business lab would serve people of the community rather than being usurped by outside start-up companies hoping to take advantage of the area’s low rent prices, Gaskin said that he thought the benefit of having people who are starting businesses and could serve as role models would outweigh any such concerns.

Gaskin also described the innovation center as cost-effective, since the space would not require “a lot of build-out.” He said people in the neighborhood have longed for rebuilding in the area for a long time but that because “the world has changed a lot in the past 40 years,” it was not practical to focus entirely on adding another retail store front.

The RFP’s release date is still being finalized, but it will be issued in the last week of March or first week of April. It will be posted online at http://dnd.cityofboston.gov/#page/rfps.