The biggest project ever built to house homeless people in Boston is moving forward after the Pine Street Inn and its codevelopers reached a settlement with a neighbor who sued to stop the apartment building, saying it didn’t have enough parking.
But the nearly yearlong delay could prove costly.
Pine Street and its partner, Community Builders, plan to break ground by fall on a 202-unit building on Washington Street in Jamaica Plain. The project will include 140 units for the homeless, with a suite of social services onsite, making it the largest such permanent housing facility with support programs in the city.
“We’re really happy that this litigation has been settled,” said Pine Street’s chief executive, Lyndia Downie. “This is literally a groundbreaking project for us.”
When approved by the Boston Planning & Development Agency, plans for the building called for just 38 parking spaces, and that drew the opposition of Jamaica Plain landlord Montgomery Gold, who owns a building across the street that houses Turtle Swamp Brewing. A shortage of onsite parking would lead tenants to use scarce on-street spots, Gold argued, and leave would-be brewpub customers with nowhere to park. So he sued, challenging the parking-rules variance the Zoning Board of Appeals had granted.
Since then, as the two sides negotiated a settlement, construction costs have soared. Lumber, in particular, has exploded in price, with one key indicator, futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, trading for more than triple what they did at this time last year, mostly because of supply chain disruptions during the pandemic. And a five-story apartment building requires a lot of wood.
It’s not yet clear what the higher prices for materials might mean for the project.
Community Builders’ CEO, Bart Mitchell, said it left some wiggle room in the development’s $96 million budget, in case of cost increases. The company will find out soon if that was enough; construction bids are due in coming days from several general contractors.
“We’re confident we can build the building at the scale and with all the features we have designed,” Mitchell said. “But the extra time has had an impact, and that will mean resources that will get used here maybe we could’ve used elsewhere.”
The project, which includes 62 units of more traditional affordable housing, has drawn a variety of state and local subsidies. Downie said she was thankful officials kept those awards in place through the delays from the lawsuit. Pine Street has also raised $10 million in donations — including from some of the biggest corporate names in Boston — to fund long-term services for residents.
“The people we’re targeting for this are the people who have been homeless the longest and have the hardest situations,” Downie said. “The support services are the glue that helps folks acquire and stay in the housing they need.”
But to settle with Gold and start on the housing, Pine Street and Community Builders had to add parking spaces.
Terms of a settlement filed last month in Suffolk County Land Court detail plans to lease 30 parking spaces at a nearby church, to be used by construction workers while the building is underway, and then 15 spaces for staff for as long as Gold owns the building across the street.
The developers will also contribute to a city transportation study on the ever-busier stretch of Washington Street between Egleston Square and Forest Hills and fund a grant program for neighboring small businesses that may be affected by the construction work.
They also agreed not to oppose Gold should he seek to redevelop the building now occupied by Turtle Swamp.
An attorney for Gold did not respond to messages seeking comment.
The dispute sparked loud debate in Jamaica Plain last summer, with some in the neighborhood urging a boycott of Turtle Swamp (which as a tenant made clear that it was not a party to Gold’s lawsuit). It also prompted some City Council members to push for smoother zoning for fully affordable housing developments like this one, which would make them harder to challenge in court.
Still, debate over where and how to house people who are trying to avoid homelessness — and where they might park their cars — rages on. In April, the Zoning Board of Appeals rejected plans for a 23-unit building on Wales Street in Dorchester that would have housed homeless families, amid neighbors’ concerns that it would be too big and have too few parking spaces.
But on Washington Street in Jamaica Plain, that debate is over. Construction will move forward soon, and if all goes according to plan, the building will open in about two years.