Fenway CDC Working to Aid Community, Preserve Affordable Housing in midst of Pandemic

The Fenway Community Development Corporation (CDC) recently shared the news that, along with the Schochet Companies, they have closed on a $53 million Tax Credit Equity and construction financing for the Newcastle Saranac Apartments in the South End/Lower Roxbury.

The CDC purchased the property last year in hopes of preserving the 97 units of affordable housing.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Richard Giordano, Director of Policy and Community Planning for the Fenway CDC.

“Constructed in the late 1890s and rehabilitated into Section 13A family housing in the 1970s, the Newcastle Saranac Apartments had recently reached the maturity of the Section 13A mortgage,” a press release from the Fenway CDC states. “The expiration of these affordability restrictions put the building at risk of being converted to market rate units and threatened to displace many families who have called this property their home for generations.”

Giordano pointed out that these units are about a block away from Northeastern University, so the Fenway CDC was worried that “either the school or some investor would want to school that up.”

Some of the families who live in the units have done so for decades, and many of the units offer multiple bedrooms to accommodate families, so the Fenway CDC felt it was extremely important to preserve these units.

“It look a whole year to put the multi-facet funding together,” Giordano explained, with funds coming from multiple sources as well as low income housing tax credits from investors.

Now that the construction financing has been secured, the rehabilitation of the units will commence. Giordano said that some of the apartments have not been updated in 20 or 30 years, so now is the time to make investments in these properties to give people the best quality of life. 

There are currently some vacant units, which Giordano said is a plus—at least for right now—so families can be moved into those units while their apartment is being renovated with a new kitchen, new bathrooms, and ADA compliance.

“It’s going to be a big deal,” Giordano said. “This is disruptive, but at the end of the day it will be fantastic when it’s done.”

Over the past few months, the Fenway CDC has been “plugging along” in its efforts to acquire more buildings to preserve affordable housing, as well as make sure residents and businesses in the Fenway neighborhood are supported during the COVID-19 crisis, Giordano said.

“We’re all Zooming away,” he said, referring to the videoconferencing platform, “running all over the Fenway trying to keep tabs on properties for sale, opportunities to partner with people.” 

“We just hired a new real estate project manager,” Giordano said, and “we’re continuing to talk to big developers, everybody all around to see if there’s ways to partner on things.”

He also spoke of a new City program to help CDCs make offers on properties like Newcastle Saranac to ensure that as much affordable housing is preserved as possible.

“The need for affordable housing is just getting bigger and bigger,” he said. “We’re trying to do everything remotely.” He said the switch from in-person meetings to virtual ones has been a challenge, as issues like people talking over one another can make it harder than an in-person meeting.

He also said that the Fenway CDC is making a “big effort” to work with its management company to help people get their incomes adjusted if their income has gone down or if they’ve lost a job due to the pandemic. For those living in subsidized homes, they are still only supposed to pay a specific percentage of their income each month.

“We have to help them put in the paperwork to adjust their incomes,” Giordano said. “Our management company’s been working to do that like crazy.”

The Fenway CDC has also been working with coalitions on budgets and legislation, including trying to include the City’s Inclusionary Development Policy in the zoning code.

With the Fenway CDC’s annual gala and the Taste of the Fenway cancelled, Giordano said that the organization has still been working with its usual sponsors to get donations despite the cancellation of these events, which he said has been going well.

Giordano added that the Fenway CDC has also been helping local businesses who would have participated in the Taste of the Fenway by giving them information, pointing them in the direction of city and state programs, and asking if they need any help.

Fenway Fair Foods is also back up and running after having to stop due to health concerns. “Now more than ever we need that,” Giordano said of the program.

He added that the Fenway CDC is also continuing to work with Fenway Cares on the Fresh Truck and Katsiroubas Bros. program that was started by City Councilor Kenzie Bok. He said that while Fenway Fair Foods offers excess food for a low cost, the Fresh Truck program also includes dry goods and costs more, which will be subsidized with a recent grant from the Mission Hill Fenway Trust.

Additionally, the Fenway CDC is helping to get people to respond to the US Census by distributing fliers in food bags, buildings, and on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

“We’re making headway with getting stuff done,” Giordano said. He said that more people have been working on issues like budgeting, legislation, and social services than before COVID-19. Though the technology has its challenges, he said it’s also been able to bring organizations, the government, and residents together to work towards a common cause in a way that has not been really seen before.

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