The Fenway Community Development Corporation (CDC) is proposing to build a six story, 100 percent affordable rental building with 27 units on the vacant land at 72 Burbank St. in the Fenway, just down the street from its own office. The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) held a public meeting o December 21 for the team to present the proposal, as well as provide an opportunity for neighbors to make comments and ask questions.
Dana Whiteside of the BPDA said that this project is currently in Small Project Review under Article 80, and the comment period ends on January 3. Suneeth John, Director of Real Estate at the Fenway CCDC, said that the parcel is currently under agreement, and will be the CDC’s “first ground-up development in decades.”
A 32-unit project at this site was already approved by the BPDA in February 2019 under developer Forest Properties, and John said that this proposal would amend that approval to make “all units affordable in perpetuity,” as well as increasing the number of two bedroom units and reducing the total unit count to 27. Both proposals follow the BPDA’s compact living pilot, he said, but a big piece of the change is the affordability aspect and take away all market rate units. Fenway CDC will be the property managers of the building. John said that other community benefits include an “updated unit mix” with a “greater range of household sizes and types.” Additionally, there will be no parking onsite, which “encourages residents to use public transportation,” according to the presentation.
Residents will also receive free access to the BlueBikes system for at least five years, but that could be extended, John said. The project proposal calls for eight studio units, seven one bedroom units, and 12 two bedroom units. Seven of the units will be at 30 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) or below, five will be at 50 percent AMI or below, and 15 will be at 60 percent AMI or below, according to the presentation. Rob Del Savio of Embarc Studio, the architects for the project, went through the urban context for the area where the building will be, as well as explained each floor of the proposed building.
He said that there will be bicycle storage at the garden level, and the team hopes to be able to put an indoor trash room here as well. The laundry room is also located on this floor. State Rep. Jay Livingstone said that he likes the to 100-percent affordability aspect of this building, and he is “really pleased with what Fenway CDC has done with this project.” Several other neighbors voiced their support for the affordability aspect of the project, saying that affordable housing is needed in the neighborhood. John Bookston, a board member of the Fenway Civic Association, said he was concerned about large families who are in need of affordable housing, and wondered if some of the studios could be made into larger apartments with more bedrooms.
“We are working within a project that’s already approved,” John said. “We are amending the particulars of the project to the extend that it is still economically feasible.” He said a market study was done to see what the demand was, and it was determined that there is a demand for both one bedroom units and studios at deeply affordable levels. Bookston also asked who wants the smaller units, but John said he does not have specific information about that, but said that they “do have the demand to justify…” the number of smaller units proposed.
Whiteside added “from the city’s perspective” that this mix of units works because of the subsidies from the city and state and “all units will be subject” to fair housing requirements. Bookston worried that undergraduate students would quality for the affordable units, but Fenway CDC Executive Director Leah Camhi said that “we do not rent to college students all across our portfolio,” as the CDC is working to push students out of housing in the Fenway and back onto college campuses. Another resident said she was “opposed to studios,” as she does not think they are “comfortable.” She said that there should be “more single bedrooms than studios,” as it could potentially generate more income if more than one person were to live in the unit.
“You should be living like a human being where you can at least say, ‘I have a bedroom,’” she said, adding that some of the studios she has seen in the city are extremely small and do not eve have closets. “There is demand for studios,” John said. “Studios have a place in this world.” He said that if a studio “is up to code” and has proper light coming in, then it should not be an issue for someone who wants to live in a studio unit.
City Councilor Kenzie Bok said that when she was campaigning last year and knocking doors in the Fenway, she “consistently heard from people” that they wanted to see more affordable units in the neighborhood, as well as “more units of a larger size for families,” both of which she said this project includes. “I’m sympathetic to the back and forth about studios,” she added, and if they’re able to be made into one bedrooms that would be a positive thing. “For me, I want to see a lot more affordability in the district,” Bok said, and said that she’s “really excited about this…” as “kind of a case study” about how more buildings like these can be built across the district and across the city.
Bok added that she is also in favor of the “deep affordability” of the units, with many of them being about the city’s Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP) requirements. Whiteside said that this project does not have to go back before the Zoning Board, as the previous approval still stands. The BPDA project page, which can be found at bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/burbank-terrace, has more information about the project, including the presentation from this meeting. Public comments can also be made on this page, and the public comment period ends on January 3.