It took three years of planning and the resolution of a contentious lawsuit, but construction has finally begun on Boston’s largest permanent supportive housing development.
The Community Builders and the Pine Street Inn this month launched work on a building at 3368 Washington St. in Jamaica Plain that will feature 140 housing units — and a full suite of in-building support services — for formerly homeless people, as well as 62 units of more traditional affordable housing. The first-of-its-kind project could be a model, its developers say, for a sustainable approach to tackling a homelessness crisis that has erupted in Boston in recent years.
“This just gives us goosebumps,” said Bart Mitchell, CEO of The Community Builders, a Boston-based housing nonprofit that’s managing the project. “It’s completely beautiful housing, and a phenomenal partnership that’s not just about housing but also connections to health and jobs and opportunity.”
The roughly $105 million development, years in the making, is being built on the site of a Pine Street Inn-owned warehouse and financed with an array of public subsidies. It also had to overcome a lawsuit from a neighboring property owner — longtime Jamaica Plain landlord Monty Gold — who challenged the city’s decision to reduce parking requirements on the site. That lawsuit was settled, but during the nearly yearlong delay, Mitchell said, costs ballooned by roughly 10 percent.
The project was also planned well before the COVID-19 pandemic, and before the homeless and addiction crises centered around the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard spiraled into a high-profile emergency. Those problems, said Pine Street Inn president Lyndia Downie, highlight Boston’s need for exactly this sort of housing — a place where people can not just get off the street, but are able to start to build a better life.
“There’s so much research on supportive housing and how it ends homelessness,” she said. “Does it end every person’s struggles? No. But it’s a start.”
To pay for the support services, which Pine Street will run out of an office in the building, the nonprofit raised $10 million in private donations through Boston’s Way Home Fund, with the support of former mayor Martin J. Walsh. Construction is launching under Mayor Michelle Wu, who says she sees this sort of housing as key to addressing homelessness in the city.
“This project, with units for individuals moving out of homelessness, and wrap-around support services, is a significant step towards ending homelessness in the city,” Wu said in a statement. “Once complete, these apartments will represent the largest supportive housing development in the city, delivering stable, affordable homes to those who require it most.”
Whether more projects like it can be built remains to be seen. Downie acknowledged a lot went right for this one, including — lawsuit aside — widespread neighborhood support.
But, she noted, the city has a large pot of American Rescue Plan money it can devote toward housing now. She and Mitchell both said they hope this large-scale example of supportive housing — which Pine Street operates in 34 smaller buildings scattered around Boston and Brookline — helps people realize it blends into existing neighborhoods.
“At every community meeting we had on this, person after person came and I said ‘I live next door to one of Pine Street’s permanent supportive buildings and it’s good,’” Mitchell said. “That whole question of where this housing can go? It can go anywhere.”