Wu Announces Funding To Support Small Businesses

Special to the Times

Mayor Michelle Wu and the Mayor’s Office of Housing (MOH) last week announced that the City of Boston awarded the first grants from the previously announced Affordable Commercial Assistance Fund (ACAF) to make commercial rents more accessible to small businesses in Boston impacted by the pandemic. The first awards will subsidize rent for Jean Appolon Expressions, a Haitian dance company in Roxbury, and for Words as Worlds Bookstore in Dorchester. 

In August 2022, the Mayor’s Office of Housing announced a request for proposals (RFP) for the Affordable Commercial Assistance Fund. The ACAF made $1 million available to help sustain local businesses and community-based nonprofits operating in affordable housing buildings. ACAF funding awards enable property developers to lower their commercial rents and support the growth of businesses investing in local neighborhoods. The funding is available to owners of buildings with City-supported affordable housing, including rental and homeownership properties, that include commercial space. The City anticipates that this new fund will ensure the affordability of approximately 35,000 square feet of commercial space for local small businesses and nonprofits that would otherwise be unable to afford market rents.

“When Boston small businesses prosper, everyone benefits—anchoring our economy and community,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “We will continue to support these drivers of innovation and connection throughout our neighborhoods.”

“Providing affordable commercial space in our neighborhoods strengthens our local business districts, supports entrepreneurship, and creates a pipeline to Boston’s economic engine,” said Councilor Brian Worrell, Chair of the Boston City Council’s Committee on Small Business & Professional Licensure. “I am excited to see local small business owners utilize this program to enhance our communities and expand Boston’s small business ecosystem.”

“We are thrilled to see the Affordable Commercial Assistance Fund supporting small businesses and nonprofits, particularly those that are providing essential services and cultural assets to our neighborhoods,” said Sheila Dillon, Chief of Housing. “The Jean Appolon Expressions dance company and Words as Worlds Bookstore are great examples of how we can invest in the economic vitality and cultural richness of our communities through this new program. The ACAF is an important tool for creating economic opportunities and supporting our city’s diversity and vibrancy.”

The development team for 2147 Washington Street has been awarded a $225,000 Affordable Commercial Assistance Fund grant for their 74-unit mixed-use development in Roxbury. The grant will support Jean Appolon Expressions, a dance company focused on contemporary Haitian-rooted dance, by subsidizing their rent for 2,846 square feet of first-floor retail space. With the assistance, their rent will be reduced to almost half the area’s average market rate per square foot. The construction of 2147 Washington Street is expected to be completed in the spring of 2024.

“We are thrilled to be moving into the 2147 Washington Street building in Nubian Square and are excited to partner with other artists and area businesses to expand our impact in Boston’s growing arts ecosystem,” said Jean Appolon, Founder and Artistic Director of Jean Appolon Expressions (JAE). “This ACAF award from the City of Boston is making it possible for JAE to partner with the New Atlantic Development team and enter our first dance studio home, at a lower rent level, allowing us to continue offering our arts programming at a very accessible level for our diverse community members.”

“On behalf of the entire development team for the 2147 Washington project, we are extremely grateful to Mayor Wu and the Mayor’s Office of Housing for providing this ACAF award.  Without it, we would never have been able to bring Jean Appolon Expressions into our building,” said Bill Madsen Hardy, Owner of New Atlantic Development. “As a nonprofit, community-oriented, and community-serving creative business with deep ties to Boston, they are an ideal tenant for this prominent commercial space.  Most importantly, their long-term presence in Nubian Square will further the goals of the Roxbury Cultural District and the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan.”

The development team for 1463 Dorchester Avenue, Tlee Development LLC, has been awarded a $150,000 Affordable Commercial Assistance Grant to support their Dot Crossing Apartments project. This transit-oriented development features a five-story building with 29 mixed-income units, along with a residential lobby and a retail space that will be occupied by the Words as Worlds Bookstore. The project includes rent restrictions for the next five years, reducing the rent by 40 percent and ensuring that the bookstore’s rent does not increase by more than 2% annually. The anticipated completion date for the Dot Crossing Apartments is June 2023.

“We at Words as Worlds are incredibly grateful for this rent relief support through the Affordable Commercial Space Assistance funding, which makes our model for a community bookstore and gathering space so much more sustainable over the next ten years,” said Bing Broderick, Community Organizer for Words as Worlds. “We appreciate this support and vote of confidence. We know that this will facilitate collaboration and partnership in the years ahead. 

“We look forward to being a community staple in Boston,” said Travis Lee, President of TLee Development LLC. “Words as Worlds will provide a curated and culturally relevant book selection to residents of the Dorchester neighborhood, as well as a small space for spoken word performances. The community has expressed overwhelming support for this new addition to the neighborhood, and we all look forward to its opening this fall.”

“This investment in affordable commercial space for Jean Appolon Expressions and Words as Worlds is so important, because it allows for these organizations to provide programming that is accessible to community members in a way that is sustainable over the long-term,” said Kara Elliott-Ortega, Chief of Arts and Culture. “Investing in cultural spaces and housing goes hand in hand with creating healthy communities, and we’re so excited to see the opportunities these organizations will be able to provide for community gathering, cultural celebration, and creative expression in the Dorchester and Roxbury neighborhoods as a result of this funding.

“The Affordable Commercial Assistance Fund is an exciting opportunity to support the local, small, diverse businesses that are so integral to Boston’s economy,” said Segun Idowu, Chief of Economic Opportunity and Inclusion. “This program is an important step in supporting our small business community and addressing the need for affordable commercial spaces in the City.” 

The Mayor’s Office of Housing (MOH) currently prioritizes applications for commercial spaces that are either on the first floor or contribute to an active street space and proposals that can demonstrate significant community and neighborhood ties for the proposed tenants. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until June 30, 2023.

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