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Veterans housing wins city bid for old police station

Posted by Cara Bayles  January 18, 2011 05:45 PM

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City-owned property on D Street that's currently home to the old South Boston Police Station will be converted into 24 rental units of affordable housing for veterans called Patriot Homes. The decision from the Public Facilities Commission comes after months of anticipation from the two proposals vying for the land.

"From our perspective, the need for this housing for veterans is only going to increase in the coming years, and we really wanted to be able to address that need here in South Boston, where we've historically had so many veterans living in the community," said Donna Brown, executive director of the South Boston Development Corporation, which proposed the Patriot Homes project.

That plan won out over another bid to build an arts and community center in the spot. The rival proposals made for a contentious community meeting in October, where 200 Southie residents packed into Condon Elementary School to debate which project the neighborhood needed more.

Daniel McCole, president of the South Boston Arts Association, the nonprofit that formed around the arts center proposal, said he felt the city's decision was a foregone conclusion.

"It seemed set in stone two years ago, when we went to a meeting and they had plans for this development all set," he said. "To come out and just say 'this is for housing,' without determining if there was a better use for it, went against what a lot of us thought was fair."

That 2009 meeting was the impetus for the alternate proposal. McCole said the art center proponents went to every neighborhood association in Southie to get approval for his project, and that it would maintain the integrity of the original building, which was designed in 1914 by James McLaughlin, the architect behind Boston Latin School and Fenway Park. McCole adds that South Boston is already home to much of the city's low-income housing, with the Old Colony complex and the Mary Ellen McCormack, and that residents want a meeting place for the neighborhood's various artist groups. At October's meeting, the majority of residents voted by a show of hands for the community center.

But Lucy Warsh, spokeswoman for the Department of Neighborhood Development, said that the veteran's housing boasted more community support, with a total of 371 letters of support, compared to 235 for the veteran's center. The corporation's past experience running low-income housing, like Costello Homes on West Second Street, also contributed to the city's decision, Warsh said.

Some arts center proponents have also raised complaints about the price disparity for the two projects. Had the arts center won the land, the city would have sold it to them for 80 percent of the appraised value, or $1,308,000. Patriot Homes will spend $300 on the property.

Warsh says that unlike the community center, Patriot Homes' proposal indicated the project would apply for a city subsidy.

"HUD does not want us to charge for property for an affordable housing development for which we'll be providing funds - they see it as the city paying itself with federal dollars. Therefore our acquisition price is kept low—$100 per parcel, so in this case, $300," she said.

Patriot Homes will spend the next year applying for funding from neighborhood development, state funding, low-income housing tax credits, and assistance from the Veterans Administration, but Brown said she wasn't yet sure of the breakdown of how much funding they'd ask for. The estimated cost of the project, which will break ground in the spring of 2012, is $10 million.

The rent—which will range in affordability from 30 to 60 percent below median income—will cover operating expenses, but not construction costs.

The South Boston Arts and Cultural Center's board meets tonight to decide its next move, though McCole says that it formed around the plan for this specific site, and has no alternatives lined up.


E-mail Cara Bayles at carabayles@gmail.com.

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