Mayor pitches affordable housing for West Newton armory
NEWTON — Amidst a building boom that could bring hundreds of market-rate units to the city, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller is proposing to convert a historic armory into new affordable housing in West Newton.
The proposal calls for the city to buy the West Newton Armory and lease it to a developer, which would convert and manage the property as affordable housing, Fuller said. Technically, the city would buy the property for $1.
If the plan receives local and state legislative approval, the move would help the city’s housing and historic preservation efforts, she said.
Several developments are underway in the area, including housing complexes under construction on Washington and Austin streets. Elsewhere, larger projects with hundreds of units also have been proposed on Needham Street and at the Riverside MBTA station.
Fuller’s proposal for the armory would give the city control over the property’s future, she said.
“It’s the combination of us being the decision-maker, the ability to provide housing to people with a range of incomes, and protecting a very special building [that] is what is so exciting about this project,” Fuller said.
The West Newton armory building is about 30,000 square feet and is located on a roughly three-quarter-acre lot at 1135 Washington St.
The structure, built in 1910, was designed in the Medieval Revival style by the architectural firm Mulcahy and McLaughlin, according to Massachusetts Historical Commission records.
The state Army National Guard no longer uses the facility, and the state’s Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance is working to sell the property to the city if it agrees to convert the building to affordable housing, according to Fuller.
In the past, Fuller has discussed the need for a new police station and a senior center for Newton, but the armory would be too small for either use, she said.
And if the city tried to buy the armory for another public use beyond housing, Newton would have to pay the state 25 percent of the building’s $4.3 million assessed value — about $1 million, Fuller said.
The state would sell the property on the open market if the city doesn’t buy it, she said.
Fuller said the proposal is similar to a project in Lynn, where officials seek to convert an armory into housing.
In that city, a $22.3 million project will convert the Lynn Armory on South Common Street into affordable housing for veterans, according to Jeff Weeden, manager of planning and development for Lynn Housing Authority & Neighborhood Development.
Neighborhood Development Associates, which serves as the development arm of Lynn’s housing authority, will be the developer on the project, and is working with a construction company, he said.
The project will include 43 apartments, which will be a mix of two- and three-bedroom units, as well as smaller one-bedroom “micro-units,” Weeden said.
“This seemed like a home run,” Weeden said, “for an armory to be repurposed as veterans housing.”
In Newton, Fuller has proposed legislation that seeks approval from the state Legislature for the sale.
That legislation has not been filed, but the concept of converting the armory into affordable housing is supported by state Senator Cynthia Stone Creem and state Representative Kay Khan.
Creem said the location would be great for affordable housing, and a chance for preservation.
“I do feel it’s great to preserve some of these historic buildings, I think that’s an opportunity we shouldn’t overlook,” Creem said.
The proposal will be reviewed by several city committees, including the City Council’s Public Facilities and Finance committees, before legislation is submitted to the state Legislature.
Deborah Crossley, who leads the Public Facilities Committee and is a Ward 5 councilor at large, said the city must do an assessment of the proposal to understand what the options are for the property.
“It’s an opportunity that we should not dismiss,” Crossley said. “We should look into it, and look into it carefully, and see what we can do.”
Leonard Gentile, the head of the Finance Committee and a Ward 4 councilor at large, said the city must determine what obligations the city would have if it acquired the armory for housing purposes.
“I don’t think anyone is ready to lock themselves into that option without exploring all potential uses for the site,” Gentile said.
Not everyone in West Newton wants more housing. Antonio Desantis, 75, said he is concerned about how housing in the armory would impact the city.
“They are building houses in any open space that we have, without the infrastructure to accommodate these new people coming in,” Desantis said. “I don’t know how many more people Newton can take.”