West

In Brookline, a public housing breakthrough

Brookline Housing Authority resident leaders (from left) Catherine Harris, Angela Sherrod, Sharon Drayton, Vera Sharma, Agnes Rogers, Rita McNally, and Jaymmy Colon take part in Tuesday's ceremony.

Leise Jones Photography

Brookline Housing Authority resident leaders (from left) Catherine Harris, Angela Sherrod, Sharon Drayton, Vera Sharma, Agnes Rogers, Rita McNally, and Jaymmy Colon take part in Tuesday's ceremony.

BROOKLINE — In the game of word association, no one who utters “public” or “affordable” housing thinks of Brookline, a town of great public schools and expensive homes, and with good reason: It has been 35 years since such housing was constructed here.

But that drought ended Tuesday morning with a groundbreaking ceremony at 86 Dummer St. for a $16.3 million, 32-unit apartment development offering below-market rents that will range from $840 to $1,300 a month.

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The development, aptly named 86 Dummer Street, just a few blocks from Coolidge Corner, has been in the works for about five years, and will offer six one-bedroom apartments, 22 two-bedrooms, and four three-bedroom units. The entire site and adjoining courtyard (with playground and basketball half-court) will be wheelchair accessible, as will three of the apartments. The 86 Dummer Street building will also form the fourth “wall” of a quadrangle with the Brookline Housing Authority’s Trustman Apartments affordable-housing complex.

Construction starts next month and is expected to conclude next summer, giving the new residents time to get their kids registered for the fall semester of school.

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During the ceremony, Kenneth Goldstein, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, praised the 86 Dummer Street project as being necessary to maintain Brookline’s progressiveness, and its push to be the state’s most welcoming municipality.

“Maya Angelou said, ‘In diversity there is beauty and there is strength,’ ” Goldstein said, and noted that Brookline has added to its racial diversity, with its nonwhite population increasing from just under 20 percent in 2000 to about 25 percent in 2010.

But in the same period, the percentage of Brookline residents below the poverty line has risen from 9 percent to 13 percent. Further, average rents in town increased over the same decade from around $1,200 per month to more than $1,700, and 50 percent of residents pay more than 30 percent of their monthly incomes in rent, Goldstein said.

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Prospective tenants for the new units will have to qualify based on their household income. The eligibility ceiling for the complex is 60 percent of the area’s median income; for a family of four in Brookline, that translates to a maximum of $56,600. The threshold is set lower for more than half of the development; 10 of the units will rent to people at 50 percent or less of the income figure, or $47,200 for a family of four, and another 10 will be for households at or below 30 percent of the median figure, or $28,300 for a family of four. Two of the 30 percent units will go to disabled tenants.

David Trietsch, chairman of the Brookline Housing Authority, said the statistics Goldstein shared were proof that “affordable housing was needed.” And for critics who might say that Brookline can help low-income families without wooing them to live in town, Trietsch said, “When all is said and done, we’re doing this for the right reasons. We’re on the right side of history here. And it only makes Brookline stronger to make it easier for families to live here who want to participate, and want the opportunity to live better and improve their lot.”

Patrick Dober, the authority’s executive director, pointed to the state-of-the-art nature of the complex.

86 Dummer will be built as a “green” construction project, with energy-efficient windows, underground parking, gas-fired heat and hot water, Energy Star appliances, native landscaping, and low-emission paints and materials, among other features. But Dober was referring to the complex’s services for residents.

“Most affordable-housing buildings are just that: buildings,” he said. “Residents of 86 Drummer will have access . . . to a wide range of services, including our Steps to Success program, which provides mentoring and support for Brookline public school students, our Next Steps career development program, which provides career services, training, and mentoring and is open to all residents, and even the Brookline Early Education program.

“One of our bigger programs is our open referral to the Brookline Community Mental Health Center. So, for example, a property manager who encounters a resident who is in need can immediately get them into the mental health center for care,” Dober said.

A rendering of 86 Dummer Street, an affordable-housing complex in Brookline slated to open next year.

A rendering of 86 Dummer Street, an affordable-housing complex in Brookline slated to open next year.

Kenneth Willis, a vice president at the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston and director of its housing and community development department, said that while 86 Drummer Street is not unique in the sense that his team finances numerous public housing developments in Massachusetts each year, it offers a great example of multiple-source financing for major construction projects working properly.

‘Maya Angelou said, “In diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” ’

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“This is the 31st project we’ve done, for example, with Boston Private Bank,” Willis said. “And our investment included, at the beginning, a $300,000 construction cost offset grant. Plus you had the involvement of Bank of America, the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development, and more.”

And for skeptics who question the soundness of investing in low-income housing, Willis said, he always tells people that good housing is a great investment, whether low-income or “regular,” because every million dollars invested in quality housing generates up to $26 million more in related or residual community investment.

Meanwhile, Jaymmy Colon, president of the Brookline Housing Authority’s Town-Wide Resident Association, Tuesday praised 86 Drummer as being “another sign that Brookline wants to help pull people up by giving them an opportunity to live safely, and in good health and with access to good schools and other services — the kinds of services that will allow people to grow.

“Because when they grow, they contribute to the community and give back themselves,” Colon said.

James H. Burnett III can be reached at james.burnett@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesBurnett.
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