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Whittier Street, Roxbury get $30m revitalization grant

Grant to revitalize the area may be among last HUD aid

Jule Pattison-Gordon
Whittier Street, Roxbury get $30m revitalization grant
HUD Deputy Secretary Nani Coloretti announced a $30 million federal grant to Roxbury.

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Deputy Secretary Nani Coloretti was in Boston this week to make a big announcement: $30 million is coming to Roxbury.

Speaking to a packed audience on the Whittier Street public housing complex lawn, Coloretti said the Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant aims to revitalize the Whittier Street community and its surrounding Lower Roxbury neighborhood.

Author: Photo: Courtesy POAHThis rendering shows the proposed new Whittier Street development (lower left) abutting the Tremont Crossing project to the left and the Madison Park housing development to the right.

Receipt of the funds means a local development team can move forward on plans to redevelop, upgrade and expand the 210-unit housing complex.

About $21 million of the grant will be designated to housing purposes, while $4.5 million each can be directed to neighborhood activities and initiatives to support youth educational outcomes and intergenerational mobility, Kate Bennett, Boston Housing Authority deputy administrator for planning and sustainability, told the Banner.

Financial support also will go to a variety of initiatives aimed at bolstering educational and economic opportunities in the community as well as health and safety. Under the plan, a further $260 million in public and private funds will be invested in local commercial and residential development and public facilities.

Tail end of federal aid?

U.S. Rep. Mike Capuano, who represents the 7th Congressional District, said the project represents taxpayer money used to uplift citizens.

“This is your tax dollars coming home to do the kind of thing you wanted them to do,” Capuano said. “This is your money being reinvested in your community to make your lives better.”

Mayor Martin Walsh celebrated the grant as part of President Barack Obama’s legacy and said that in housing and other areas, Boston strives to continue Obama’s good work.

“We’re going to continue to build on his legacy,” Walsh said. “No matter what they [the next administration] take apart of what he created, we’re going to continue to build in the city of Boston.”

The Choice Neighborhoods award represents a significant federal investment at a time when HUD financing has been on the decline and predictions are dim for federal public housing support under the incoming presidential administration.

Capuano warned that important investments in infrastructure, housing and environmental projects require tax revenue. Tax cuts President-elect Donald Trump favors for the wealthy will particularly challenge future revenue generation.

Capuano called upon attendees to make their voices heard and to be politically active for the rest of their lives if and when important programs are threatened.

“I don’t want this to be the last celebration we’re at,” he said.

The Whittier Street plans

The Boston Housing Authority and a joint venture between Madison Park Community Development Corporation and Preservation of Affordable Housing Inc (POAH) will use their share of the HUD grant to redevelop and expand the 200-unit Whittier complex.

The result will be 472 mixed-income townhouses and apartments, with 316 units at the original Whittier site and 156 located on nearby parcels. In addition, the redevelopment will create outdoor spaces, new connecting through-streets and 14,225 square feet of commercial space.

All 210 current public housing units will be rebuilt and will remain affordable to current residents, who earn an average of $14,000 annually. Residents will be relocated during construction and will be guaranteed the right to move back in.

Also to be created: 80 market-rate units, 82 units targeted at those making 60 percent to 120 percent of Area Median Income and 99 units for those making up to 60 percent AMI, according to Jeanne Pinado, executive director of Madison Park CDC. The latter units reflect a moderate income in the surrounding neighborhood, Pinado said.

“Those are workforce units for Roxbury,” Pinado told the Banner. “Roxbury’s median income is around that.”

POAH’s Charlie Dirac told the Banner that the site’s commercial space has not been allocated yet, although the development team aims to provide it to local businesses as much as possible.

With the project’s funding now in place, 2017 will be given over to preparing all documents and other details, and the first of two phases of construction will start in 2018.

While the second stage is too far off to have the financing completely locked in, the city and state have incorporated phase two into their pipelines, and the HUD commitment makes financing for it as good as guaranteed, BHA’s Kate Bennett told the Banner.

“With this kind of seed grant, it really means the whole project will ultimately be funded,” Bennett said. “Everyone knows that with $30 million from HUD, everyone will come through with that commitment.”

Whittier Street President Stephanie Thomas told attendees that while initially wary of the changes, she now fully embraces the project.

“I lived here since 1954. I’m a very old old-timer,” she said. “It was bothering me that they were going to tear us down, but I came to realize and understand that we do need a change, and I’m so glad in my heart that now we’re going to break the barrier. Things are going forward.”

Neighborhood improvement

The HUD grant is landing in a place where businesses and homes were demolished decades ago to clear land for an intended I-95 highway extension through the city.

Sophia Transtamar, project manager at Madison Park, told the Banner that investments in the area also will help blend the Whittier community with the nearby Madison Park Village Community. Much of the public housing had been constructed in a way that isolated them, with features such as streets that dead-ended into to complexes, Madison Park’s Pinado said. New designs knit neighbors together via elements such as mixed-income residencies and improvements to make Ruggles Street safe, more inviting and more bike-friendly, she said.

Transtamar also noted the value of a community center to be built at the corner of DeWitt and Ruggles streets, providing health and wellness programming and youth after-school services.

“[The investments] will create a sense of a whole community, as opposed to a compartmentalized Whittier Community and Madison Park Village Community,” Transtamar said. “The creation of a community center a stone’s throw away from all the communities in this area will really be a centerpiece.”

While the Choice grant does not go fund the development, the community center comes as part of the neighborhood plan, Pinado said.

The HUD grant also will help connect current residents to opportunities and resources.

The Boston nonprofit Economic Mobility Pathways will receive $3.1 million over five years to provide support services to all households currently living at Whittier to assist residents with relocation transitions and in attaining greater economic mobility.

Under the Whittier Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, residents will be further connected to programs to improve health, education and economic standing. This includes expanding Building Pathways, a training program that brings low-income people of color and women into construction trades, to students at the nearby Madison Park Technical Vocational High School; supporting health and wellness programming at Whittier Street Health Center; and providing further job training programs.

Other dollars will bring significant expansion to the city’s income-eligible first-time homebuyer assistance programs, Pinado said.

Walsh praised the investment as one that will keep low-income residents from being pushed out of the neighborhood, facilitate wealth-building in the community and be another step toward drawing attention to Roxbury as a business destination.

“Roxbury deserves $30 million,” Walsh said. “We need to continue to push for good development for Roxbury. …. We need to continue to make sure that your kids who grow up in this neighborhood can live in this neighborhood and want to live in this neighborhood.”

The Whittier community is among five grant winners nationally, out of a pool of 34 applicants, Coloretti said. This victory follows upon a failed 2014 bid for the grant, and is the second such grant award in Boston history.