The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) and the Back of the Hill (BOTH) Community Development Corporation are collaborating to build a four-story, 47-unit apartment complex at General Heath Square, where Heath, Wensley and Parker streets converge opposite Bromley Heath.
Details of the development were shared during the Article 80 Large Project Review hearing Thursday, Nov. 5. The hearing was held, appropriately enough, in the community room of the Julia Martin House at 90 Bickford St., a senior housing building built in 2005 by JPNDC in collaboration with the Boston Housing Authority.
Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) project manager Phil Cohen welcomed the full-house audience and introduced JPNDC project manager Matt Henzy. Henzy explained that the proposed General Health Square Apartments will be built on a vacant city-owned lot opposite Bromley Heath, adjacent to 51 Heath St. (a recently renovated brick apartment house with ground-floor commercial space) and opposite the satellite parking lot for New England Baptist Hospital. The four-story, three-sided building is folded around the site facing Heath Square.
Henzy said the JPNDC/BOTH team was selected in May to oversee the development, following a series of public meetings that began in the summer of 2014. The General Heath Square Apartments continue the collaboration of the two social housing organizations, which began in 2001 when they built 22 homes in the immediate neighborhood on Heath, Bickford and Wensley streets and Fisher Hill Avenue.
Sixteen of the apartments in the development will be reserved for those earning 30 percent of the area median income (AMI), using project-based Section 8 vouchers or certificates from the Mass Rental Vouchers program, and 22 units will be served for those making 60 percent AMI. Henzy detailed the sources of funding for which the team has applied to keep the $16.4 million development affordable to these households, including city and state funding, and low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC), which have been used since 1986 to raise equity for new housing. Using LIHTC, the rent for a three-bedroom apartment would be $1,287 for a household earning a maximum income of $51,000.
Henzy noted some of the development costs are reduced because the city-owned land cost only $1,000. He said the team anticipates city funding in the first half of 2016 and state funding the following year. If development proceeds as scheduled, full building occupancy is anticipated in 2019.
General Heath Square Apartments aligns with three main themes that emerged during the Plan JP/Rox Washington Street initiative at workshops in September and November:
- Encourage housing to be built by social housing organizations. The loss of affordable housing starts from the speculative market.
- Leverage publicly owned land by selling at below market rates to lower the cost of construction.
- Utilize and maximize all public and private subsidies available to keep rents at the 30 percent to 60 percent AMI levels.
Mark Eclipse, a principal at the architectural firm Prellwitz Chilinski Associates (also the architects behind the recently opened Jackson Commons on Columbus Avenue), said the building as designed would fill out the entire 28,00o-square-foot block. "It's a vertical building created with setbacks, porches, changes of wall planes and cornices to duplicate the rhythm of the three-family, wood-frame houses facing the square" on Heath and Wensley streets, he said, adding that the use of wood and metal panels would also enhance its appearance from the street.
The building would wrap around an interior courtyard that faces Bromley Street and would be used for parking and community space. "We want to maximize the feeling of community with a community room and adjacent outdoor terrace," he said. Some of the parking would be tucked under the New Heath Street wing of the building, which would be made possible by the change in grade.
Eclipse emphasized the openness of the building, with multiple entrances and many windows. He also noted that the curved Heath Square edge would have raised, planted terraces at entrances. The landscaping, designed by Catherine Oranchuck, will also include shade trees and border plantings around the Bromley Street courtyard and parking area.
Henzy said that, in addition to an on-site management office, there is 865 square feet of ground-floor commercial/retail space. However, "we can revert that to a residential unit if we cant find a commercial tenant," he said.
The breakdown of the apartments, Henzy said, are 11 one-bedrooms, 22 two-bedrooms and 14 three-bedrooms. Two of the units will be a group home for five clients in the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services program. "We will have a specific special-needs provider for these residents," he said.
There was unanimous support at the meeting for the development. JPNDC senior community organizer Giovanny Valencia said there were 15 letters in support, including two from the Bromley Heath Tenant Task Force. Valencia added that JPNDC/BOTH are in discussions with Family Service of Greater Boston, an organization that supports families in need and is located across the Bromley Street parking area.
Potential traffic volume and noise around the General Heath roundabout was a point of discussion. A Bromley Heath task force board member spoke in favor of the project, but expressed concern about traffic on Heath Street. Overall, attendees were not especially concerned with the minimal traffic the new apartments would be expected to bring, but rather with existing traffic noise. One resident suggested the apartments be soundproofed, while another urged that the traffic direction on the side streets ought to be changed.
"I support this project but I have questions: What about emergency vehicles getting through the traffic?" said Ricardo Montes of Heath Street. "This affects the security of the people living in the development. I request the mayor's help on this. His office needs to push the traffic department to find solutions." Another audience member submitted a map on which he had drawn his suggestion for revised traffic flow around the development, and asked that it be shared with the mayor.
Henzy closed out the presentation by underscoring that "the big plus of the development is that it's 100 percent affordable" for low- and moderate-income families and includes strong resident services."
Cohen of the BRA said that comments are welcome and due by Nov 20 at email@example.com.