Last Thursday, Mayor Martin Walsh joined Gov. Charlie Baker for a ‘virtual’ ribbon cutting to celebrate the completion of Phase II at the Orient Heights Public Housing redevelopment project.
Walsh and Baker were joined by members of the Boston Housing Authority (BHA), the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), and the development team of Trinity Financial and the East Boston Community Development Corporation.
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.
“The Orient Heights development is a great Boston story,” said Walsh. “We brought lots of partners together, we got creative sourcing funding, and we harnessed the economic strength of our city to create powerful opportunities for working families. I congratulate everyone involved in the financing, design and construction. I thank the tenants for their patience and input, and the BHA for working with them on relocation and return.”
Baker said he was pleased to celebrate the completion of Phase II of the Orient Heights development because it will preserve hundreds of affordable units for Boston residents.
“Thank you to Mayor Walsh, the Boston Housing Authority and all the partners that worked together with our administration to make this project possible,” said Baker last Thursday.
Last week the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) approved a Notice of Project Change for Phase III of the project.
Like Phases I and 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.
As part of the upcoming FY22 Capital Plan, Walsh is committing another $19 million for Phase III at Orient Heights.
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.
Phase II and 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 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, Vice President, Development with Trinity Financial Eva 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.
“This property is a critical part of the BHA’s portfolio in meeting the City of Boston’s affordable housing needs. It has been a privilege to be part of such a collaborative public-private partnership with our colleagues at the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the City of Boston, the Boston Housing Authority, East Boston CDC, the Orient Heights residents, and our colleagues in finance and development to see this second phase through to completion.” said Erlich, Vice. “We’re thrilled to be marking this milestone for Phase Two, and look forward to completing the full transformation with the third and final phase.”
BHA Administrator Kate Bennett said last week that Orient Heights has been a vital housing resource for low-income families in East Boston for almost 70 years and the newly completed units are building a future for our residents.
“The work we’re doing today will secure a vibrant, stable home for hundreds of families at Orient Heights for decades to come,” she said.