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Local benefit unclear in Pine Street Inn’s plan for new Bowdoin-Geneva homeless housing

Jule Pattison-Gordon
Local benefit unclear in Pine Street Inn’s plan for new Bowdoin-Geneva homeless housing
Street view of proposed building (Photo: Photo: Rendering courtesy Trinity Green)

The Pine Street Inn is proposing to build permanent housing for chronically or formerly homeless seniors in Dorchester’s Bowdoin-Geneva area.

Developers would raze an old warehouse to construct new units at 123 Hamilton Street, a few blocks away from Pine Street Inn’s apartment complex at 307 Bowdoin Street.

While developers say the current site demonstrates the kind of good management with which Pine Street would run the Hamilton housing, some residents are concerned about locating yet another homeless facility in a poor neighborhood where several already exist. They also say that the proposed community benefits — largely, turning a vacant warehouse into a well-kept building and bringing local businesses new potential customers — fall short of offering meaningful value to the neighborhood.

123 Hamilton

Plans currently are under review at the Boston Redevelopment Authority — recently renamed the Boston Planning and Development Agency. Community meetings have been held, although Anh Nguyen, executive director of Bowdoin-Geneva Main Streets, noted that with meeting announcements distributed by email and the meeting itself conducted in English, many may have missed the notice in the largely Cape Verdean community with a strong digital divide.

The housing complex would be a 28,500 square foot, three-story development with an elevator and 52 new studio rental units, all affordable. Eight parking spaces are included. The project will serve men and women ages 56 and above, drawn, at least initially, from other Pine Street Inn facilities that are less adapted to older tenants’ needs.

“There’s a big population of people age 55 and older in scattered sites in three-story buildings without elevators. This [planned building] is a perfect fit for them,” Thomas Broderick, president of developer Trinity Green, told the Banner. “It’s a group we feel has been somewhat ignored. There was a need that needs to be addressed.”

Sex offenders will not be allowed as tenants and background checks will be conducted on all potential residents.

Trinity Green will master lease the property to Pine Street Inn for a time period yet to be determined, Broderick said. He anticipated a development cost of $8.5 million, all of which will be underwritten through private financing. Pine Street Inn, in turn, will get subsidies to help fund the rent it pays to Trinity Green, while tenants will also pay a portion. Broderick said there would be 70 construction jobs, and that while this kind of project is not subject to the city’s local and minority hiring requirements, his company usually seeks to comply.

Another homeless development

In the view of some residents, such as Linda Barros of Hamilton Street, the area already is saturated with homeless facilities. While Barros, a community health worker, says she understands the need, she questions why the same neighborhood is chosen again and again to serve it.

And, Barros said, too often, drug addicts end up in these facilities, when they should still be in detox programs.

“Being homeless is one thing, but not being clean from drugs is another thing,” she told the Banner.

It is a hard battle to raise children and preserve their sense of hope when surrounded by so much suffering, she said.

“When I have to go out with my nine-year-old daughter, she has to walk around and see people that are so far gone,” Barros said. “I have to keep that innocence and explain why people are cursing at top of their lungs and fighting on the street.”

Meanwhile, Trinity Green’s Broderick said the property managed by Pine Street is not one of the problematic sites, and that Pine Street has a proven track record of safe, non-disruptive homeless housing complexes. The 307 Bowdoin Street property has been incident-free for all three years it has been running and exemplifies good management, he said.

The Bowdoin-Geneva Main Streets has no official stance on the project, pending a board meeting. But Executive Director Nguyen told the Banner in a phone interview that one thing that should be considered is the impact of bringing more poor people into an area where the poverty rate already is high. As poverty rate reaches 20 percent, crime tends to increase due to lack of opportunities, Nguyen said, adding that Bowdoin-Geneva already is at 35 percent poverty rate.

Discussion, she said, must focus on “How can we serve the current stock of impoverished people and if we can absorb more people in poverty in this neighborhood.”

Local needs

While Pine Street Inn does valuable work for the city, thus far it has not made the case that the Hamilton Street project would provide much benefit to the local community, Nguyen said.

Residents’ primary needs include pathways to economic advancement, stabilization of current residents at risk of displacement and preservation of the family nature of the community as gentrification pressures loom, Nguyen said. In particular, she spoke of the need for a culturally-competent workforce and English language training for the neighborhoods’ large population of immigrant families, and measures to ensure that the current stock of family housing is not converted to smaller units when inhabitants leave. If space for families is lost, the neighborhood’s culture could go with it, she said.

Pine Street Inn could address some of these issues by including among its offerings job training for residents and focusing on bringing in Cape Verdean tenants who would share in the predominant surrounding culture, Nguyen said.

Community benefits

Pine Street and Trinity Green say the community benefits for 123 Hamilton Street include an onsite community room that local residents may use. Their representatives also emphasized that the project beautifies what is now an eyesore, gives the site useful purpose and, by bringing in tenants, would generate greater patronage of local businesses.

“We’re taking a dilapidated warehouse, tearing it down and increasing green open space on that site by about 6,000 square feet. Instead of looking at concrete warehouse, they’re looking at professionally maintained and landscaped building,” Broderick said.

“Our tenants by far spend locally,” Jan Griffin, Pine Street’s director of program planning, told the Banner.

Nguyen, who was not aware of any alternate proposals for developing the site, said the Bowdoin Street complex offered little past beautification and more customers. She did not see these as particularly impactful to the community.

“There’s no community benefit [from that site, other than] the building looks nice and maybe some residents frequent businesses in our neighborhood,” she said.

The Hamilton project’s single-occupant sized units would not target local residents, but draw tenants from among senior Pine Street Inn residents who need more accessible buildings. Should anyone vacate, the units will be filled off the city’s list of chronically homeless people, Griffin said. There are no specific plans for local hiring, but that more than 20 percent of Pine Street staff currently live in Dorchester, and more employees would be needed to run the new property, she said. No workforce training programs are planned for the complex.

Resident Linda Barros said she would prefer see on a library or other project located there that gives local children a vision of something positive and hopeful.