The Seaport often gets knocked for its lack of affordable housing, no surprise considering the forest of shiny glass towers that have sprung up there in the past two decades. But the Massachusetts Port Authority is hoping to buck this trend, by recruiting developers to build a mixed-income apartment tower on a sliver of land that it owns along D Street.
Massport issued a request for qualifications on Thursday to start the development process for this 27,000-square-foot parcel, now primarily used as a parking deck for an adjacent garage. Officials with the port authority said the site could accommodate a tower with as many as 18 stories and 200 apartments.
Several higher-end apartment complexes have been built on Massport land on the South Boston waterfront over the years: Park Lane, Waterside Place, Ora Seaport, and Gables Seaport. Together, they amount to nearly 1,300 units but fewer than 100 are set at income-restricted rents.
Massport chief executive Lisa Wieland said she hopes to see a significantly different ratio take shape at the D Street parcel. Rather than reaping a profit for Massport, Wieland said the driving force behind this project is to build affordable housing.
“We hope to play a role in helping to address the critical need for housing, especially for affordable housing, that we’ve heard Governor [Charlie] Baker and Mayor [Michelle] Wu identify as vital for the economic advancement of the Commonwealth and the city of Boston,” Wieland said. “When we started to think about this really critical need for housing and affordable housing, we started to take a look at this site. ... Our goal is to have as many affordable units as possible.”
To pull that off, Massport is altering its usual criteria for evaluating bids for a long-term development lease. Typically, the potential financial return to the port authority represents 25 percent of the scoring. Instead, in this case, the promised level of affordability will count for 25 percent. Other criteria — the developer’s ability to complete the project, its design and potential public realm improvements, and the diversity of the project team — will remain the same.
“Think about the growth of industries in the South Boston Waterfront,” Wieland said. “With this project, we’re hoping it provides some opportunity for people who couldn’t otherwise afford to live in the area.”
This property has long been considered part of Massport’s “air rights garage” parcel. But after the port authority finally built a 1,500-car garage there in 2018, there was some room left over to accommodate this housing development. (It is deemed an air rights parcel because it sits atop a highway tunnel.)
Developers won’t need to include parking in their proposals, said Massport chief development officer Andrew Hargens, because the D Street site can be connected to the garage, removing one potential expense from the mix. The property also is essentially next door to the World Trade Center station on the Silver Line.
Boston’s development rules typically require 13 percent of units in larger residential projects be set aside at affordable prices, or that developers help fund affordable housing elsewhere. But Massport officials hope to far exceed that number and offer deed-restricted affordable housing for a range of incomes — everything from 30 percent, to 120 percent of the area’s median income (almost $145,000 for a family of four). The city has only a few other recent examples of income-restricted housing with a middle-income tier, including the 145-unit Mosaic on the Riverway in the Longwood Medical Area and the 239-unit Beverly in the Bulfinch Triangle, near the TD Garden. Developers often rely on tax credits to help defray the costs of building these kinds of projects.
This first stage of the development process on D Street involves identifying qualified development teams. Massport’s goal is to start accepting bids in the spring and to pick a winner later in 2022.
State Senator Nick Collins said he and other elected officials have pushed Massport to build more affordable housing in the Seaport. He said that while linkage funds from Massport’s upscale apartment projects have supported affordable housing construction in other parts of the city, only a minimal number of income-restricted units have been built in the Seaport so far.
“Too many families are priced out of the city of Boston,” said Collins, a South Boston Democrat. “This is a distinct effort by Massport to try to contribute some badly needed affordable units [in the Seaport]. The location is perfect for connecting people to jobs.”