Affordable Housing is Coming to the Heart of Downtown Boston

By Beth Treffeisen

In a whirl of excitement, members of the community and elected officials gathered together in celebration of the groundbreaking ceremony of “The Union”, which will included 46 units of affordable housing at 48 Boylston Street last week.

“These units of affordable housing will provide stability and hope for the future,” said Lisa B. Alberghini, president of the Planning Office of Urban Affairs. “There is no excuse for this housing crisis. The only future worth building is the one that incorporates everyone.”

In April 2016, St. Francis House purchased, in partnership with the Planning Office of Urban Affairs, the former Boston Young Men’s Christian Union (BYMCU) building at 48 Boylston Street, located across the street on the edge of Chinatown and the Boston Common.

“One of the great things about this housing project is that it is complicated,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “Every housing project that I’ve been involved in… was complicated and that is part of what is so glorious and beautiful. We can’t wait to see this rolling and rocking along with the vitality that is going to come with this.”

This project will create affordable housing, employment training and new jobs for homeless individuals, and expanded social services for vulnerable populations.

Construction is expected to end by December. At that time, 46 people who are experiencing homelessness or poverty will be moving into their new, affordable homes. Soon afterwards, a much needed social enterprise will be part of this revitalized neighborhood offering training and employment opportunities to those who need it most.

“Five years ago St. Francis House and the Urban Planning Office embarked on a partnership that is truly remarkable,” said Karen LaFrazia, the president and CEO of St. Francis House. “I learned developing affordable housing is not for the faint of heart. It takes talent, determination and most of all an unwavering commitment to social justice.”

The St. Francis House will redevelop the property that will provide the much-needed affordable housing in the community.

The completed development will include units to serve people who have experienced homelessness, and others with very modest incomes. When construction is complete 26 of the units will be reserved for individuals earning less than 30 percent of the area median income.

In addition to the current 56 units available through the Next Step Housing program, this project will bring the total number of affordable housing units at St. Francis House to 102.

“It is not often one project can do so much,” said LaFrazia. “The redevelopment of this property into affordable housing is helping to build an inclusive neighborhood, bound in social economic diversity, were people of all means can live together.”

“When someone who was once called homeless will now be called neighbor. Nothing is more destabilizing to a community and a human life than homelessness and poverty. Nothing does more to build a life than ensuring that every person can have a home and live with dignity.”

Mayor Martin Walsh said that the City has housed 1,300 chronically homeless people in the City of Boston in the last four years and has committed to ending chronic homelessness with a housing first approach.

“Every single person in our city deserves a safe home,” said Walsh. “Everyone deserves compassion and support and that’s what you have here. I’ve seen first hand how much a home provides a strong impact for somebody. When those individuals give tours of their new homes you can see the pride in their faces.”

“A home symbolizes a new beginning, a new strength to be successful.”

A designated Boston Landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building was constructed in 1875 and was operated by the BYMCU for more than 150 years to provide a variety of social, recreational and service programs.

Through the renovation, St. Francis will be preserving the Victorian-gothic façade and they’re going to be keeping the marble fireplaces.

“There’s just something so special about that when I think about somebody who has been living in a shelter and the streets and when they come home here, they’re going to come home to a beautiful apartment with a marble fireplace in a downtown Boston apartment,” said LaFrazia.

In keeping with the building’s history, St. Francis will also be adding to the vitality of the neighborhood with a street-level business venture creating important employment opportunities for homeless individuals.

Additionally, the development will allow St. Francis to relocate its corporate offices from 39 Boylston Street to provide more robust support services on-site.

“This is a great example of saving history and lives,” said William Galvin the Secretary, Commonwealth of Massachusetts. “I think that sums it all up because we are saving history – not just the architectural but the history that goes beyond this building and I think that is very important.”

Galvin said that so often development and history are forgotten, especially during times of prosperity and stability – when everyone wants to knock things down. Galvin said it is particularly hard to re-use a historic building but that is being achieved here.

“This is such an important project,” said Galvin. “When you have a situation in Boston with great prosperity it brings a lot of talent and often wealthy people to the city. It also brings a lot of poor people, desperate people, and sick people to the city too – and we can’t forget them. We can’t clear them out. We must take care of them.”

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