Two proposals, one for affordable housing and the other for a community center, are battling it out for a city-owned parcel of land in Lower Roxbury. Both proponents want to serve the residents who currently live in a community that is rapidly changing with the South End right next door.
A public meeting was held on Tuesday, April 10, to have the two proponents who responded to the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s (BPDA) Request for Proposals (RFP) on 151 Lenox St., present their proposals to the community.
The Tenant’s Development Corporation (TDC) is proposing the community center while the Boston Real Estate Collaborative, LLC are proposing a residential building.
The BPDA-owned vacant parcel is located in the South End Urban Renewal Area of the Lower Roxbury neighborhood. The last meeting on this parcel was held in May of 2017.
A public comment period will end at the end of Friday, April 27. Once the BPDA evaluates the public comments received, the selection committee will make a recommendation to the BPDA board.
The new complex will go up next to the newly renovated 888 Tremont St. development. The property that was once home to a South End nightclub is now nine, high-end residential rental units. The proponent Boston Real Estate Collaborative, LLC control that property.
“The South End is changing and neighborhoods do change but there is still a large population of families who live in affordable housing,” said Arnesse Brown, corporate relations manager for the TDC. “We need more equity and balanced housing, and its not just impacting low-income people, it’s impacting everyone.”
But, Brown said she is also concerned about street safety and creating a safe haven for children who live in all the housing developments in the area.
The corner site on Tremont and Lenox Streets is located between several major housing developments including Roxse Homes, Historic South End Apartments, Boston Housing Authority’s Lenox and Camden developments, as well as a few of TDC’s sites. TDC owns 60 buildings in the South End.
Over the past couple of years, TDC has noticed there has been a decrease in space to provide services and programs for youth, family and individuals who live in the various housing organization.
“How do we continue to serve the community and build enrichment programs?” asked Brown. “I firmly believe that when we work together we get better outcomes and make beautiful connections.”
TDC is a property management and development organization located in Boston’s South End. It was established in 1968 as a tax-exempt public charitable organization. Since that time it has actively been involved in housing rehabilitation and management.
Secondly, the organization has been increasing its role in the community by building up their programs, events and services offered to TDC residents, neighbors and the community.
The goal, Brown said, is to bring back the programs that have had to be lost due to lack of funding from other community organizations. She envisions bringing ballet classes, music lessons, leading STEM-based college prep courses and hosting sports programs beyond just basketball for both boys and girls of the community.
Brown also would like to expand their senior program; especially since the United South End Settlements (USES) last year suspended their senior programming.
“We have an opportunity to create an innovative space,” said Brown. “This is a blighted corner, and this will create some light in Lenox with vibrant programming.”
The new community center will serve all ages, offering space for youth, working-age adults, and elderly local residents. Amenities will include a gym for youth pro- grams, a commercial kitchen for nutrition programs, and a computer lab for vocational training and employment searches.
In addition, there are a number of spaces that can be flexibly programmed and can be available for the use of groups and organizations in the neighborhood at large.
Right now, Brown said many of the organizations don’t have the space to provide the programming that they would like to, and this building will fill in that gap. “The club is for the neighborhood,” said Brown.
TDC is paying for the community center through their own funding and a capital campaign they hope to achieve during their 50th anniversary year.
“This is the most amazing neighborhood to grow up in because of its diversity – socially economic, life styles and race – we are a model neighborhood for the City of Boston. How do we continue that?” said Brown. “How Sever we can help, we will.”
TDC has gotten letters of sup- port from various community centers and elected officials including Lenox & Camden Residential Association, The Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston, Vine Street Community Center, At-large City Councilor Michelle Wu, and community activist Mel King.
The Boston Real Estate Collaborative is proposing to build a 28-unit, six-story residential building consisting of approximately 30,000 gross square feet.
Two-thirds of the residential units are below market rate, targeting both affordable and work- force households. One-third of the units will be at market rate, which will help underwrite and finance the below-market component as well as the other community benefits they are proposing.
The breakdown of units are: four at 70 percent AMI (Area Median Income), five units at 80 percent AMI, nine units at 100 – 125 percent AMI and the remaining 10 units at market rate.
There will be two parking spots at the site, one reserved for handicap and the other reserved for a car sharing service.
The development team made up of residents, business and property owners in Lower Roxbury said that after speaking with community organizations and residents they learned that the neighborhood needs more housing opportunities for low-and middle-income residents.
In the proposal, the development team argues that Lower Roxbury does not want or need a new community center.
There are a handful of existing community centers and organizations within Lower Roxbury who are desperately in need of resources to renovate their spaces and expand on and improve their programming. Boston Real Estate Collaborative, LLC argues that building a community center at this site would weaken the resources available to the other community centers in the neighborhood.
In a letter of support, Bill Singleton on behalf of the United Neighbors of Lower Roxbury (UNLR) board stated, “Building a new community center on the site at 151 Lenox would only serve to dilute the resources available to the existing organizations within Roxbury. Instead, we would like to see the land used for development that produces economic and community benefits for the existing organizations within Lower Roxbury.”
In another letter of support from the Cooper Community Center located at 1891 Washington St., the Executive Director Lillie Searcy agrees and stated, “I believe that any funds awarded under this RFP will be better utilized and produce a greater impact in terms of addressing community needs and sustainability, if, in addition to creation of affordable hosing and commercial opportunities, that those resources be invested in the infrastructure and capacity-building of the network of the community centers that historically and presently exist.”
The proposal requires no outside subsides in order to be financed. Boston Real Estate Collaborative, LLC also have the unique advantage of controlling the property directly abutting the site, which brings architectural benefits, cooperation and collaboration no other proponent will have. Both the general contractor and architect who built 888 Tremont St. are on the development team.
Boston Real Estate Collaborative, LLC originally pro- posed this when the BPDA issued an RFP in 2014, which they later pulled in October of that same year. The development team initially considered not re-submitting their proposal after attending multiple public meetings were some individuals expressed an interest in seeing a community center building on the site.
“However, after continuing their community outreach for over three years while the RFP sat dormant, it was realized that there is a deep desire not to have another community center built on the site,” states the proposal. “Affordable housing and localized community benefits are still the number one priority for the com- munity, even more so now more than ever.”
At the meeting, members of the Peoples Baptist Church also suggested that the site not be developed, but instead be preserved as parking for the church.
“We recognize that the BRA [the city] is moving to monetize many of its real estate holdings, and we are not against either economic development or municipal tax revenues,” wrote Pastor Wesley Roberts. “However, we feel strongly that those who will be most affected by the development of this parcel should be given a voice in deterring its use.”
Chester Square President Carol Blair in a letter stated that although she appreciates all the good work the church does, she believes there are other garages and open lots in the area that have excess capacity on Sundays, that churchgoers can use.
“There is a great need for resources to support the people who live here and to build community,” wrote Blair. “Personally, I believe the facility and programs offered by TDC are desperately needed to counter the many forces that divide us.”