Mayor Thomas Menino, numerous elected officials, private sector representatives and residents of the Washington Beech housing development packed its community center today for a celebration of the completion of a two-year process of rebuilding the development.
Menino said this [development] is what happens when the government agencies work together. “Collaboration is a word we need to use more,” he said. “What a very special day this is.”
One after another, local, state and federal representatives got up to speak, including the United States Housing and Urban Development Assistant Secretary Sandra Henriquez, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Greg Bialecki, and Boston Housing Authority Administrator William McGonagle, but the person who got the most applause was Meena Carr, the resident leader of the development.
“Miss Meena,” as she is called, said, “I’d like to say to the elected officials, let this not be the only time you come here. We want to see you.” To the residents, she said, “Let’s keep this as beautiful as it is today. This is our home. We have to take care of it and we have to respect it.”
Not only did the project get finished ahead of schedule---it was slated to be done in July 2012--- it was named a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) GOLD site by the US Green Building Council, the first affordable housing development in Massachusetts to receive that designation.
The $100 million redevelopment project was funded through a public/private partnership using federal HOPE VI and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding. The entire original development, which was built in 1952 and had 266 units in institutional-like buildings, was demolished in two phases. Today, there are 206 new rental units in a variety of styles, from garden apartments, duplexes over flats, and townhouses. A park now takes center place with grass and a playground. Residents who were displaced had the option of returning to the development, receiving Section 8 housing vouchers, or moving to another housing development.
Erlene Hayman, who has lived at Washington Beech for 45 years, said she was thrilled with what she called her new “high rise” apartment on the fifth floor, though she said in the beginning she was a little sad about leaving her old apartment.
“I raised five children over there,” Hayman said, pointing to her former home. But the new perks outweigh any sadness. “There are so many activities here now,” she said. “They have classes like how to eat healthy.” Hayman added that new security is wonderful. Her daughter Gwendolyn agreed. “There’s no more crime,” she said.
Boston Police Captain James Hasson from District E5, present for the ceremony, said that he is impressed with the impact the new construction and design has had.
“It’s made a world of difference,” Hasson said. “We’ve only had minor issues. This went from my biggest trouble spot to this transformation.” He added that the new layout of the development helps a lot. “It’s well thought out.
"There are no places to hide. The roads are better.”
Hasson said he was also very happy with the dedication of a revitalized community crime watch group which numbers more than 30 members.