WSANA Hears from Affordable Housing Developer on East Springfield

The Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA) held its second online community meeting on Tuesday night, and heard from an affordable housing developer who has won the right to develop a five-unit building on East Springfield – a building that is owned by the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) and has been dilapidated for 10 or more years.

BHA Director Kate Bennett announced last month that MPZ Development had won the bid on the property at 34 E. Springfield over the South End’s New Boston Ventures. On Tuesday, Matheiu Zahler of MPZ appeared at the online meeting to talk about his plans for the property.

For the most part, neighbors are very excited the developer has taken on the project as the vacant property has been an eyesore and trouble spot for many years. Boston Housing was never able to renovate it, and attempts to find a developer in the past fell flat. This time, however, they had two good bids.

Zahler said he worked previously for the affordable housing developer Trinity Financial, which does everything from public housing to market rate condos. Two years ago he formed his own business and has specialized in affordable projects.

“I think East Springfield is a beautiful street and I think 34 East Springfield was a beautiful building at one time,” he said. “I see potential there and I saw in the RFP they wanted to keep it affordable. That’s what I do. So I decided to put in a bid to re-develop that building.”

Zahler said he plans to develop five, one-bedroom units that will be affordable for 80 percent of the Average Median Income (AMI) – which is essentially workforce housing levels. It will be a full gut renovation and he will use state and federal tax credits in part to finance the project.

“I am committed to this project and look forward to working on it,” he said. “We’ll get into the due diligence in the next couple of weeks. We have NarrowGate working with us. Ultimately, it will be my building and I’ll be a good resource for the community – hopefully a good neighbor.”

He did say he plans to self-manage the building, and some neighbors were concerned about that as Zahler lives in Milton and not close by.

“It’s important to have someone very local because things happen fast here,” said Fernando Requena. “I’m a little skeptical of that.”

Zahler said he doesn’t yet own the building, and that this will be a difficult project to complete. He said he would like to return to the next month’s meeting to talk about details of the project as they come forward.

•Police Presence Appreciated

After some comments by some neighbors at last month’s WSANA meeting regarding police presence in the neighborhoods, a group of neighbors fired back saying they are very pleased with the presence of the officers in the alleys.

That came as D-4 Capt. Steven Sweeney was on the meeting and talking safety with the neighbors – particularly in the wake of last month’s comments and the police-involved shootout on Massachusetts Avenue two weekends ago.

Vice President Desi Murphy said he has taken some data on the presence and noted that there were at least six cars in the alley each day, and as many as 15 a day.

“We are definitely noticing D-4’s presence in WSANA,” he said.

Sweeney said he understood that some neighbors are frustrated to see that public hygiene and some drug activity might be happening when police happen not to be there, but he said they spend a great deal of resources in Worcester Square.

“I know it can be disheartening for the neighbors, but we spend a lot of police resources in Worcester Square,” he said.

Sweeney has been telling many neighborhood groups about the loop patrols he has instituted at the D-4 station. He told WSANA as well, noting that when officers return from a call in the Back Bay or Fenway, he asks them to take a loop through the alleys in WSANA, then loop around Blackstone and Franklin Squares, and then finally arrive at the Harrison Avenue station.

He said he has also uncovered some issues at some addresses on Mass Avenue while driving the beat – especially at 698 Mass Avenue where he and Sgt. Paul DeLeo uncovered a very unsanitary rooming house that isn’t following any social distancing restrictions and letting people congregate.

Like Commissioner Willie Gross often says lately, Sweeney also said – in that they are frustrated with the courts and the inability to hold prisoners.

“The word on the street is if you say you have COVID you can’t get arrested,” he said. “I don’t want that to be a get out of jail free card. We pick our spots. We want to keep the station well…Unfortunately when we do arrest them a lot end up right back out. Sometimes my officers are still doing the paperwork and the person is back on Mass Ave. That’s frustrating. But that’s not a police issue.”

•Hygiene and Bathroom Use

Steve Fox of Rutland Square was at the online meeting and told WSANA neighbors the Mass/Cass 2.0 Task Force has been working with the City to create an enhanced protocol for responding to issues where someone has urinated or defecated on private property.

“The one thing we wanted to acknowledge was all the public and private bathrooms previously available to the folks on the streets of the South End were closed,” he said. “We needed to recognize something fundamental has changed in the ability of people to find a place to use.”

That came during a discussion where neighbors felt that needles and trash were not quite as serious as they usually are due to the pandemic. However, public bathroom use on private property has gone up all over the South End.

Fox said they have talked with the City to form a sort of clean-up crew like the Graffiti Busters – who clean up graffiti on private property if called. Fox said neighbors should call 3-1-1 to report such things and there is to be a new protocol and response for such problems.

“No hygiene issue in the South End should be unresolved,” Fox said.

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