City seeks private partner to rebuild former Bromley-Heath complex
The roofs leak, the elevators malfunction, and the heating system is old. Tenants of the Mildred C. Hailey Apartments complain about people sleeping in the hallways or doing drugs, and sometimes they find used needles scattered about.
But there is no federal money to repair or rebuild the Jamaica Plain housing development’s 804 units of federally subsidized public housing, Boston Housing Authority officials say. So on Wednesday, the authority announced it is seeking proposals from private developers to tear down and rebuild a portion of the complex: six dilapidated buildings on Centre Street, Parker Street, and Lamartine Street.
The residents of the 232 subsidized units in those buildings would get apartments in the new buildings — without rent hikes. But they would also get new neighbors: In exchange for razing the tired old buildings, the developer would be allowed to build units that could be rented by anyone at the prevailing market rate.
The announcement marked another turning point for the Hailey Apartments, long known as Bromley-Heath and once regarded as among the city’s most neglected, notorious developments — until tenants took it upon themselves to lead a revival.
“What would happen, if we don’t do something bold like this, is those buildings . . . would continue to deteriorate,” said Boston Housing Authority administrator Bill McGonagle. “They would slowly but surely end up vacant and boarded up, and we would lose the 232 units of affordable housing — perhaps forever.”
The request for proposals sent out Wednesday is the first phase of a years-long project that housing officials hope will result in the redevelopment of the entire apartment complex. A similar project is underway at the Bunker Hill Housing Development in Charlestown, and another request for proposals is expected to go out next week for the Mary Ellen McCormack developments in South Boston.
If the approach proves successful, McGonagle said, it will mean about $1 billion of private investment to maintain about 2,300 to 2,400 affordable housing units.
Citywide, the housing authority oversees 12,000 units, and its capital needs are about $500 million to $750 million, officials said. But federal funding for the authority has held steady at just about $17 million a year since fiscal year 2012, less than half of what it was in fiscal 1994, according to figures provided by the authority.
“I don’t anticipate with this administration that it’s going to get any better,” McGonagle said, referring to the administration of President Trump. “It could get worse.”
In the 1970s, a group of tenants, led by Mildred Hailey, took over day-to-day management of the Jamaica Plain complex and turned it around, launching health care, anti-crime, and quality of life initiatives. The problems didn’t vanish, but life greatly improved. The complex was renamed in her honor last year.
Now, her namesake complex is poised for another new life. The first phase of redevelopment at the property is years from breaking ground, but McGonagle said there is enough open space on the 6-acre plot that the developer should be able to build housing, move some residents in, tear down their buildings, build more housing on that cleared spot before moving more residents in, and so on. That way, he said, residents will not have to move off-site during construction.
About twice as many market rate apartments as subsidized apartments are planned for the complex, though that number could change based on the developer’s proposal, McGonagle said.
Residents of the apartment buildings said Wednesday that while they have not heard details of the proposal, they were looking forward to the changes.
“They should, one at a time, wipe them all out and start over,” said Kyiesha Menzie, a 28-year-old mother of three, who was walking home with her children.
Menzie, who has lived in her apartment for nearly six years, said there are desperately needed changes, including new sets of cabinets and a modernized elevator, which she said is rusty and works only sporadically.
Wendy Polanco, secretary of the complex’s tenant association, said the development sounded good to her so far. The housing authority’s assurances that current residents would have apartments in the new buildings, at the same price, had set her at ease, though she said she was still trying to learn more.
Some, however, said they were concerned the market-rate renters would be treated better than the affordable renters.
“They’ll basically get first dibs on whatever the community has to offer, because they’re paying the more expensive rate,” said 25-year-old Corey McMillen, who has spent his whole life in the complex. “Satisfy your money first, and take care of everybody else after.”
McMillen said that he agreed that the apartments should be fixed up, but that he resented that it couldn’t be done when it was just lower-income people living there.
“I don’t want to see new people come into my community, and all of a sudden it’s a ‘good’ community, it’s a ‘better’ community, we start having resources we didn’t have in the beginning,” he said.
Some residents said they simply didn’t want to move.
Jose Lopez, 29, said he’s lived in his Centre Street apartment his whole life.
“They’re going to move everybody to different places,” Lopez said. “Then you have to start new.”
But whether they liked the housing authority’s plan or not, most tenants agreed the development needs serious help. Nineteen-year-old Steven German said he hoped the redevelopment would change the way people think of the apartment complex.
“You can easily label something like this as ‘ghetto’ or ‘projects,’ rather than regular apartments,” he said. “Make it look more like homey apartments than raggedy homes.”