YW Boston Building Could Provide Housing for Back Bay’s Homeless, Pending Extensive Background Check

With the proposed redevelopment of the building now owned by YW Boston (formerly YWCA Boston) at the corner of Clarendon and Stuart streets, some people living on the streets of Back Bay today could likely end up in one of 111 units intended specifically for people now experiencing homelessness, but first, according to members of the project’s development team, they would have to pass an extensive background check.                

“Our hope is that people who are homeless living in Back Bay now will be candidates to move into this building,” said Jan Griffin, vice president of housing development for the Pine Street Inn, on Tuesday, Feb. 9, during the second public meeting on the proposal sponsored by the Boston Planning and Development Agency.

The Pine Street Inn, the leading provider of shelter and other services to the homeless in New England, is partnering with real estate developer Beacon Communities to covert 50,000 square feet of space now comprising the existing 66-room Hotel 140, as well as 118 apartments, into 210 affordable-rate rental units, with priority for 111 of them given to homeless individuals. The site’s three largest existing commercial-tenants, the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, a nonprofit performing arts center; the Snowden International School; and YW Boston itself, would remain as part of the redevelopment plan, while the Pine Street Inn and on-site management would also have offices in the building. No exterior changes are planned for the historic 13-story building, and construction on the project is expected to commence this August, and to take around 20 months to complete.

All prospective tenants would be referred to management by the Boston Housing Authority, said Ben Phillips of Beacon Communities, and undergo an extensive background checks by both the BHA and management, which would automatically exclude Level 3 sex offenders and “lifetime registrants” from eligibility for any of the units.

“We drew that as a hardline, but those aren’t the only reasons why we can deny access to housing,” said Phillips, who added that the criminal background, citizenship status and a past pattern of behavior that could adversely impact other tenants could also be grounds for refusal of housing.

Furthermore, Phillips said, “The BHA takes a hardline on drug offenses and previous evictions.”

Homeless individuals referred by the Pine Street Inn would occupy the fourth through eight-floors of the redeveloped building, which would provide them with immediate access to their on-site case managers, said Darcy Jameson, vice president of Beacon Communities, while the upper floors would be home to “conventional apartments.” (Living units designated for homeless individuals, unlike those on the upper floors, would also be equipped with various additional features.)

The management team is also now interviewing the building’s existing tenants, said Jameson, to find a new unit for them in the redeveloped building if they opt to stay, or to find them housing elsewhere if they choose to leave instead.

Longwood Security, which has been contracted by the management team, will provide two security guards, who will be on the premises around the clock, said Jameson, and who are already “patrolling” the neighborhood in effort to get to know the area better.

Despite concerns raised over potentially dangerous tenants moving into the building, Nancy Armstrong, director of operations for the Women’s Lunch Place, commented that she believes the building’s security and screening process would instead make the neighborhood a safer place.

“I think it’s wonderful project,” Armstrong said, “and this type of affordable housing is sorely needed.”

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