Four years after kicking off the three-phase redevelopment of the Orient Heights Public Housing development Trinity Financial began construction on Phase III of the project in January.
Like Phase I and Phase II, Phase III will tear down the old post World War II-era brick housing on Vallar Road and portions of Faywood Avenue and be replaced with 81 units of new public housing.
During a public ZOOM meeting updating residents on the progress of the project, Eva Erlich the vice president of development for Trinity Financial and Boston Housing Authority’s Joe Bamberg said an additional 42 units would be modernized as part of Phase III.
Phase III will also include the construction of a centrally located park for residents, the demolition of the existing community center and the expansion of open space.
Elrich said the entire process to replace the aging public housing development has been moving along rather swiftly considering the need to cobble together funding from a variety of different sources.
During the meeting, Elrich reported that the $51. 6 million Phase II portion of the project wrapped up over the summer on Vallar Road where crews demolished 87 old units in four buildings and constructed 88 replacement state-funded public housing units in two townhouse buildings and one mid rise building. Phase II also included improvements to the existing infrastructure and open spaces. Phase II leveraged $10 million in proceeds from the sale of the Winthrop Square Garage, as well as $1.83 million in Inclusionary Development Policy Funds, secured from the Davis Companies’ 99 Sumner Street development in East Boston.
Phase III is part of the larger effort to transform the 331-unit of BHA owned public housing development that was originally built in 1951. Trinity completed Phase I of the project in 2018 where 90 units of public housing were replaced with 120 units of public housing both in townhouse and apartment-style buildings.
In January 2015, the BHA selected the development team of Trinity Financial and East Boston Community Development Corp. to work with BHA and Department of Housing and Community Development (DCHD) and finalize a redevelopment strategy for the site. This development team secured financing to implement the redevelopment, and will own and manage the buildings post-redevelopment.
There were some concerns expressed at community meetings and on social media regarding the project. Some suggested the project had undergone drastic changes to the original design, and will soon run out of money.
In response to some of the disinformation circulating around the neighborhood, Erlich said while some minor tweaks were made to the project they were done in response to residents’ concerns at previous meetings.
Trinity eliminated the 42 units of non-public market rate housing that was part of the original plan, but this was done after concerns were raised about increasing density after the planned second road connecting Vallar Road and Waldemar Avenue were dropped.
When the project started the cost of connecting Vallar Road with Waldemar Avenue below justified intersecting the two streets. With an original price tag of $3 million the cost soared to nearly $10 million after the road was studied and the soil tested. After meeting with engineers and looking at the cost so the road can meet city standards it became very expensive to make that connection from street to street.
The community expressed concern that replacing 331 units of public housing and then adding an additional 42 units of market rate housing could lead to congestion without the two roads connecting. So in response to these concerns Trinity decided to focus on replacing the 331 units over the same land area and eliminate the market rate component.
Erlich said these changes allowed Trinity to add more housing units on Waldemar during Phase I, as well as, freeing up some space as part of Phase II to add new open space for the community as well as refurbishing the basketball courts and community room.
Erlich pointed out that the brand new park planned for where Vallar Road meets Faywood Avenue, that is part of Phase III, as an example of increasing the project’s open space by cutting the 42 additional units.