Scale it down, pump it up – State’s recovery plan will boost Maverick Street project

A slightly scaled down version of the East Boston Community Development Corporation’s (CDC) affordable rental project at 170 Maverick Street has gotten a boost from the Patrick-Murray Administration’s Massachusetts Recovery Plan. Governor Deval Patrick and Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray were in New Bedford to announce that the state will invest $153.9 million in resources leveraged from various affordable housing programs, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, and private investment to support The East Boston project and 25 other projects in 17 communities across the state. When completed, those projects will create or preserve 1,305 rental homes, 1,147 of which will be affordable to low-and moderate-income working families and individuals, including 144 units set aside for families transitioning to permanent housing from homelessness.

“This is a great example of government and the private sector coming together to help get people back to work — here in New Bedford and around the Commonwealth,” said Patrick. “With the indispensable help of the entire congressional delegation, we are creating jobs today and building affordable communities for working people tomorrow.”

The CDC will use $1,000,000 in Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) subsidies and $714,642 in federal tax credits to produce 27 affordable units–three will be set aside for residents earning 30 percent or below of area median income.

“This funding is crucial to Boston’s ability to provide much-needed affordable housing for low and moderate income individuals, as well as housing and supportive services for the homelessness,” said Thomas Menino. “We’re grateful to our partners at the state and federal levels for helping to secure this funding for another year and we look forward to additional financial support for new programs in 2010.”

The project was approved by Boston’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) in October. The project was given a green light by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) last year and all that is left to do, according to CDC Consultant John Vitagliano, is meet with the Boston Parks Department regarding landscaping details.

The CDC’s original plan was to construct a 30 unit, five story building on the half acre site but after several community meetings decided to reduce the number of units to 27 and the height of the building to three stories.

Both the ZBA and BRA voted unanimously in support of the project because it will add more affordability for Eastie residents during these tough economic times.

Back in October 2008, the Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association (JPNA) held the first in a series of meetings concerning the project, its size and the impacts it might have on neighbors.

While the plans were in its infancy, many in attendance felt the share size and scope of the project was a little too much on a parcel that borders residences and the Greenway park.

However, some were confused at some of the photographs presented by the CDC, which showed a yellow outline of the property. Some thought the building would encompass the entire half-acre parcel.

In fact, the scaled down version of the building accepted by the BRA takes up only about half of the 23,000 sq. ft. footprint shown in area photos. The rest, explained Vitagliano, will be tree plantings and other landscaping.

Vitagliano and CDC head, Al Caldarelli, believe the project will have a positive impact on the neighborhood by taking a parcel of land that is reminiscent of 1970s urban decay and turning it into an attractively landscaped building.

“Right now that stretch of the Greenway is desolate and this building will bring some activity to the area,” said Vitagliano. “One good thing is that it will provide a measure of indirect light to the Greenway during the night hours–providing an additional level of safety and security to a dark section of the park.”

Another concern at the initial meeting units would be affordable housing units.

While the CDC has been praised for its work at Maverick Gardens and the former Barnes School, which the CDC turned into affordable elderly housing, members of the JPNA were a little weary of putting more affordable housing in a neighborhood that some feel is already overburdened with affordability. Currently, about 16 percent of Eastie is affordable housing or four percent higher than the city average of 12 percent.

Caldarelli took some flak for insinuating that the units would be for ‘East Boston families and their children who want to stay in the neighborhood’. Under fair housing laws, if the project was accepted and built as affordable rental housing, the CDC, by law, would have to hold a lottery for the units and would be unable to guarantee that the families would be Eastie based families.

However, the local demand is so great Caldarelli believes that the number of people applying from East Boston would almost guarantee that a majority of the apartments would be occupied by residents in need of affordable housing.

CDC run properties in East Boston have had the tendency to follow this trend. Currently 90 percent of CDC run units are occupied by longtime residents.

“We are a community that has a long history of helping one another,” said Caldarelli. “Is this a project that everyone is going to immediately agree with? No. But we are trying to build something that meets the needs of many families looking for more affordable housing.”

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