In its early days, Bromley-Heath housing development was a terrible place. Garbage flowed. Crime raged. Even milkmen and furniture delivery crews refused to set foot there. Bromley-Heath became known as one of the worst developments in the city.
And few cared.
But then Mildred C. Hailey and other residents united to transform their grim reality. It wasn’t easy. The problems didn’t all go away. But Hailey helped resuscitate Bromley-Heath, making it the country’s first development managed by tenants and elevating it to a national model.
On Wednesday, six months after Hailey died at age 82 of heart failure, housing and city officials returned to the development to give the Bromley-Heath matriarch one last tribute — renaming the red-brick buildings the Mildred C. Hailey Apartments.
“It’s such a fitting tribute for such a strong champion and advocate,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said. “She dedicated her life here.”
The name change will appear on four signs scattered across the Jamaica Plain development and on all Boston Housing Authority documents and its website, officials said.
“She will always be connected to this place,” said Robert Peele, a 52-year-old carpenter. Peele remembered how Hailey got him help for his drug addiction as a young man, linked him to an addiction sponsor, and steered him into carpentry. He never forgot her help, he said.
Bromley-Heath, cobbled together in three separate developments over a 20-year span, once was isolated from Roxbury and ignored by most of Jamaica Plain. People of color who began moving in during the 1950s were neglected. Mail and trash were not picked up. No one fixed the roofs or the peeling paint on the walls. Police hardly patrolled.
Neither the Boston Housing Authority nor city officials had the political will to effectively deal with the problems, said Bill McGonagle, the current housing authority administrator who feted Hailey on Wednesday.
Hailey was among a core group of residents who formed the Bromley-Heath Tenant Management Corp. and fought for improvements. Because the officials were failing, the residents were determined to take control. In the early 1970s, the housing authority turned over day-to-day management of Bromley-Heath to the residents, with Hailey at the helm.
“The BHA was totally incapable of managing the development at the time,” McGonagle said.
McGonagle said when Hailey took over daily management of Bromley-Heath, the development had 4,000 broken windows.
“That’s a stark example of the kind of neglect and the poor conditions,” McGonagle said. “She did a remarkable job with returning this place to a decent, safe place to live in.”
Through the years, Hailey helped launch a series of health care, anticrime, and quality of life initiatives. Today, life at the development is a far cry from what it once was, officials said.
‘She did a remarkable job with returning this place to a decent, safe place to live.’Bill McGonagle,
McGonagle said the idea to rename Bromley-Heath for the woman key to its turnaround came to him at Hailey’s funeral last fall. With Hailey in repose at Morning Star Baptist Church , McGonagle approached the mayor about the name change.
Walsh agreed, and McGonagle said he made an announcement that day in front of mourners.
On Wednesday, yellow and green balloons bobbed in the wind. After a ceremony, McGonagle and others lifted a covering to reveal a green-and-gold sign that bears Hailey’s name.
Hailey’s longtime assistant said the woman who helped revive Bromley-Heath would have been humbled by the honor.
“Mildred had a heart of gold,” said the assistant, Susan Thorpe.Meghan E. Irons can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.