"This neighborhood deserves nothing but the best," said Mayor Marty Walsh at the opening ceremony Wednesday for Jackson Commons, a 37-unit residence at 1542 Columbus Ave. directly opposite the Jackson Square MBTA station.
"Jackson Commons is 37 new homes," said Walsh. "OK, that's [only] 37 new homes. But that's 37 new homes we didn't have six months ago. Together with 75 Amory Avenue, now under construction, that's another 39 new homes."
Designed by Prellwitz-Chillinski Architects, Jackson Commons is the second in a $250 million, 11-acre planned development for the revitalization of Jackson Square, which was obliterated a half-century ago for I-95. The Commons is a $21 million, four-story mixed-income residence that also includes the reuse of the former FW Webb manufacturing building built in 1906. Eight of the units are for formally homeless individuals, and 21 units are for those earning up to 60 percent of area median income.
"People used to drive through here just to get somewhere else. Now people are staying here just like we see at the Seaport," said Walsh.
Walsh spoke about the many people involved for years in the Jackson Square Advisory Group. "The result was a $250-million master plan for 400 units of housing. That's what we modeled the Imagine Boston 2030 after."
Richard Thal, executive director of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC), said Jackson Commons, "...was [part of] the vision of a lot of people over a long period of time to knit back this community after I-95."
Thal praised the work of the Hyde Square Task Force, Urban Edge, JPNDC and The Community Builders.
Citizens Bank contributed $8.4 million in construction funds. Quincy Miller, president of Citizens Bank in Massachusetts saidm "This really has to warm your heart." He added that in 2013 Citizens Bank committed $1 billion in housing funds in the 11 states in which the bank does business. "It was a five-year program. In two years we almost reached that commitment."
Chyrstal Kornegay, formerly the CEO of Urban Edge, now the undersecretary of the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development said, "I cannot do anything without you: State partners, community partners, funders. All of us together are learning how to grow our city... I want to welcome all 37 families to Jackson Commons!"
At today's celebration the EPA's Nancy Bermakian announced more help: a $200,000 Brownfields grant to Urban Edge to clean up the adjacent garage site that Urban Edge plans to build a recreation center. Bermakian also announced another $200,000 will go to the Elizabeth Stone House to clean up the old garage site at 3012 Washington St. and 13 Westminster Ave., which will be made into new housing for its women clients. "These grants are for the clean up of blighted properties in urban neighborhoods," said Bermakian.
No one in the crowd of elected officials, bankers, funders, agency heads and senior development staff had more to celebrate than Mairelys Villilo, who moved into Jackson Square on May 22.
Sometimes in tears and sometimes with a triumphant smile Villilo told her story: "I'm from the Dominican Republic. I came here four years ago. I have a degree in communications (and) in journalism. Before moving to Jackson Commons I was in a shelter for nine months with my son (now one-year old)."
Through a lottery she was accepted to live in Jackson Commons.
"I go back to work. I work part time. I'm going to go to (Roxbury Community College)," she said. "Here at Jackson Commons is like royalty."
Then Villilo stood next to Mayor Walsh and cut the blue ribbon to her home.