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Work to start later this year on long-delayed homeless housing, medical facility in Jamaica Plain

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  June 21, 2013 03:52 PM

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461walnutave.jpg

(Courtesy: JPNDC)

From Nov. 2010, a design sketch for the planned conversion of 461 Walnut Ave.

Construction is expected to start later this year on a long-delayed project to convert a vacant Jamaica Plain building into a respite care and housing facility for medically vulnerable and disabled homeless people, officials announced this week.

The state approved $3.8 million in funding this week for the Walnut Avenue Apartments redevelopment project that was put on hold for about two years while it was contested by a group of neighborhood residents who filed a lawsuit against the developers and the city's redevelopment authority. The lawsuit was dismissed late last year.

The nonprofit Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation in partnership with the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program announced the new state funding allocation this week and said construction should begin in late 2013 and be completed in late 2014 with full occupancy in early 2015.

“We’re grateful for this tremendous support from the Commonwealth, and the vote of confidence we received from Mayor [Thomas M.] Menino and Governor [Deval] Patrick as well as countless neighbors while the project was on hold,” said a statement from Robert Taube, director of BHCHP. “Every day in our work with homeless men and women, we see that a safe home is really their top health care need.”

The plans call for the building at 461 Walnut Ave. to be substantially renovated to provide and operate a 20-bed respite care facility for homeless people on the first floor, officials said.

That facility will be owned and operated by a subsidiary of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation. Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program will be a commercial tenant under a long-term lease. Pine Street Inn, another local agency that aids homeless individuals, will also provide services.

Approximately 30 studio rental units intended for medically vulnerable and disabled formerly homeless individuals and a one-bedroom manager's unit will be built on the second and third floors.

“We’re thrilled that 30 new homes will now become reality for people who desperately need them,” said a statement from JPNDC director Richard Thal. “We’re also proud to be sharing with BHCHP in the creation of a new model for bringing homes and health care under one roof.”

The developers received approval for the project from the Boston Redevelopment Authority in Nov. 2010.

But, one month later, 11 residents who live nearby sued, contending the redevelopment plan would decrease their property values, increase traffic, noise, artificial light, vehicle emissions and improper disposal of medical waste, and reduce on-street parking spaces, court documents show.

In January 2012, a Suffolk Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the developer and redevelopment authority, calling the residents’ allegations “insufficient” and that the city agency’s decision to approve the project was legally sound and based on “substantial evidence.” In October, a panel of Massachusetts Appeals Court judges affirmed the judge’s decision.

The following month the state’s Supreme Judicial Court denied the neighbor’s request for appellate review, clearing the way for the developers to move forward with their plans, including resubmitting funding applications, officials said.

The project is expected to cost between $10 and $11 million. Other funding will include $1.75 million from the city and about $5 million in low-income housing tax credits and private investment.

Originally built as a nursing home in the 1960s, the existing building at 461 Walnut Ave. most recently housed the health care for the homeless nonprofit’s inpatient medical respite program, the Barbara McInnis House. After 15 years, the program moved from Jamaica Plain in summer 2008 to an expanded, state-of-the-art headquarters at Jean Yawkey Place in the South End.

E-mail Matt Rocheleau at mjrochele@gmail.com.
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