By John Lynds
For nearly two decades, city and state officials have been trying to figure out the best way to rehab and improve the aging Orient Heights Public Housing development.
Last Wednesday the long-awaited project to overhaul East Boston’s largest public housing development is one step closer to reality.
The Boston Housing Authority, East Boston Community Development Corporation and Trinity Financial, broke ground on Phase One of the $186 million Orient Heights development project.
The project involves the construction of two five story buildings and a combination of town homes and mid-rises. Today, Orient Heights is comprised of 331 units of state-funded public housing terraced into a steep hillside built in 1951 and in great need of maintenance and modernization.
A total of approximately 373 housing units are proposed, replacing obsolete 1940s-era public housing units on a one-to-one basis with the addition of a small market-rate housing component to create a revitalized mixed-income community. A combination of off-street and on-street parking spaces will be provided.
Phase One will result in the demolition of four existing buildings containing 90 dwelling units and the central boiler plant and the new construction of 120 affordable housing units in a series of clustered townhouses and a mid rise building along Waldemar Avenue.
“I am grateful to join with our state and community partners as we celebrate the beginning of a new era for the Orient Heights housing development,” said Mayor Martin Walsh. “This public housing facility has been the home of many families for decades, and I am proud that with the support of our state and federal partners we are revitalizing current facilities, while creating new living spaces for future residents.”
The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), Boston Housing Authority (BHA), East Boston Community Development Corporation (CDC) development team, ICON Architecture (ICON) and Trinity Financial are working together to transform the site into a modern community made up of contemporary, code-compliant, and energy-efficient units modeled on the successful transformations of the BHA’s Federal HOPE VI site.
“Across the Commonwealth, we are making significant investments and working creatively to update and preserve state-funded housing units,” said DHCD Undersecretary Chrystal Kornegay. “Our administration is proud to support projects like this that ensure affordability, and create communities that are inclusive, vibrant and strengthen their surrounding neighborhoods.”
Phase One of Orient Heights seeks to create a mix of energy-efficient, code-compliant units to meet the current needs of the BHA and DHCD and allow for adequate open space and parking for the community. This development intends to foster a community that is integrated with surrounding neighbors and will be constructed to encourage potential additional non-public housing units in later stages of redevelopment.
According to plans approved by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) the existing 331 public housing units will be demolished and completely reconstructed in three phases.
The first phase is expected to cost approximately $52 million.
However, funding is still being sought for phases two and three, but Trinity Financial and the BHA hope to begin construction of those phases in 2018 and 2020, respectively.
A fourth and final phase would create 42 units of market rate housing to round out the project, but construction is not expected to begin until at least 2023 on this component.
According to Trinity the goal of the project will be to construct a development to high sustainability and energy efficiency standards with a target of LEED Silver certificate at a minimum.
“We are looking forward to working with our development partners Trinity Financial to revitalize the community as we successfully did together at the Maverick development in Eastie several years ago,” stated Bill McGonagle, BHA administrator.