BMC Outlines Conceptual Plan to Add 130 Units of Mixed-Use and Supportive Housing on Harrison Ave.

Boston Medical Center officials were on hand to discuss the hospital’s conceptual plans to covert two administrative buildings on Harrison Avenue into 130 units of mixed-use and supportive housing during the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association meeting held via Zoom on June 29.

As part of its Institutional Master Plan (IMP) for 2021-31, BMC intends to create 30 units of supportive housing for people with complex medical issues, such as kidney or heart disease, as well as an additional 100 units of market-rate housing, in the Collamore and Old Evans buildings at the corner of East Newton Street and Harrison Avenue. Housing would be located on the buildings’ third through seventh floors, while the first and second floors of both buildings would offer new retail and office opportunities.  The current office tenants are expected to vacate the buildings in the next 18 to 24 months, according to members of the project team, while the timeline to move the project forward is about five years.

The 30 units of supportive housing would not only be reserved for those with not only complex medical issues and give them immediate access to the medical facility, said Dr. Megan Sandel of BMC, but also for those with a history of housing instability. On-site wrap-around services would also be offered to those residents, she said, and all candidates for housing would be thoroughly vetted.

Contrary to some misconceptions, the supportive housing won’t be a treatment center, a homeless shelter, a sober house, or transitional housing, nor is it a Housing First initiative, which focuses on permanently housing homeless individuals as quickly as possible, while providing them with other supportive services afterwards, said Dr. Sandel, who described it as “in some ways, a pipeline to long-term supportive housing.”

Instead, the supportive housing units would be modeled after Support and Services at Home (SASH) – a national program that provides residents with a community health worker to check in on them regularly, as well as access to a nurse, she said.

Just the same, though, Dr. Sandel added that some patients would have a history of substance abuse, but this is something that BMC would “embrace.”

These patients would also be closely monitored, she said, to ensure that they “succeed at all levels.”

Income from the proposed housing would also provide BMC with a possible revenue stream for the prosed rehabilitation of the Shattuck campus, which, she said, is going to be a costly undertaking that won’t pay for itself.

(The Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM) board approved the Shattuck Hospital campus plan on Tuesday, said Desi Murphy, an IMP advisor member, as well as a vice president of the WSANA executive board. The next step, he said, would be to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP), since the Shattuck campus operations moving to the Newton Pavilion would free up the space in Jamaica Plain.)

BMC is also proposing a 15,000 square-foot “wrap-around” addition to the Yawkey building at 850 Harrison Ave., said Bob Biggio, BMC’s senior vice president of facilities and support services, as well as a “bump-out” to the lobby of the Menino building at 840 Harrison Ave.

Biggio described the Yawkey addition as “the only immediately project,” and said BMC would be seeking design review for it, as well as for the Menino building extension, even though neither project breaks the threshold for a large-scale project review by the city.

The controversial Building H – a 10-story administration/clinical building proposed next to the Newton Pavilion where the loading docks are today – has been removed from the IMP.

“This should make a lot of people happy,” said Biggio, who describes the Building H proposal as “a lighting rod for some in the community.”

Instead, computational research space originally slated for Building H will be built in a new building proposed for 10 Stoughton St.

Meanwhile, BMC, which would be the minority owner, is seeking a developer to take the lead in the proposed housing project, said Biggio, and the hospital is emphasizing that current zoning variances would need to stay in place in order for a developer to “make the project work.”

“In the long term, it’s a small part of picture of what needs to be done to alleviate problems along Mass/Cass so having community be somewhat supportive as we move to next part or process [would be helpful],” said Biggio, “and I think the [Boston Planning and Development Agency] feels that way as well.”

The pandemic caused the project team to essentially “pause for a year” and reconsider the IMP, said Biggio, especially with the introduction of telehealth, which is expected to drastically reduce the volume of patients who visit the hospital in person going forward.

But despite this trend, BMC remains at over 90 percent occupancy, even with COVID rates dwindling, he added, and this comes as the Department of Public Heath is now mandating that hospital rooms must be single occupancy.

Hospital are also requiring larger spaces with the advent of new technologies, said Biggio.

WSANA member Fernando Requena commended the project team on their presentation, which, he said, appeared “much clearer” and “more reasonable” than what they had previously proposed.

“Mixed use in the buildings is a good idea, and would be an asset to neighborhood,” said Requena, who added that the proposed market-rate units would also be necessary “to make the project work.”

In response to questions regarding the expected sizes of the housing units, Biggio said he “imagines a range of units sizes,” including some smaller studios that would likely appeal to grad students. But in the end, though, the developer would ultimately make this determination, he added.

The 441,482 square feet of new space is also expected to have a negligible impact on parking, and BMC has no plans to add additional parking, said Biggio, who added that parking is currently accommodated in 3,800 spaces across five garages and four surface lots. While 72 new parking spaces would be added at 10 Stoughton St., BMC is also expected to vacate a garage owned by the Department of Conservation and Recreation, so, he said, there we no net gain of new parking.

Biggio also said BMC is reached by patients and staff via public transportation more than any other hospital in the city, and that with the imminent implementation of the Newmarket Business District, new shuttle service would be offered to the area as well.

Additionally, BMC is also moving some departments off campus, which, Biggio added, would further reduce the need for more parking.

“We don’t really see parking as a need right now,” he said.

In other matters, Stephen Fox, leader of the South End Forum, said “Confess, Fletch,” a movie reboot of the 1985 hit comedy (and its 1989 sequel, “Fletch Lives”) with former star of TV’s “Mad Men,” John Hamm, replacing Chevy Chase as the titular private eye, was filming this week ay 161 West Newton St., as well as in Union Square.

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