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Ex-Dot crime spot now affordable housing site

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Ex-Dot crime spot now affordable housing site
(Photo: Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation)

The “south” phase of the Dudley Village Homes project, which city officials opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony last Saturday, adds 26 units to Dorchester’s affordable housing stock. The companion “north” phase adds 24 more, for a total of 50 new affordable housing units. (Photo courtesy of the Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation)

The new, 50-unit affordable housing complex at Dudley Village Homes in Dorchester will promote peace at what was once a hotbed of crime, city housing officials said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony held last Saturday.

That change will come not through increased police presence or open combat with criminals, they said, but by getting residents to reinvest in their community, fostering harmony by building neighborhood ownership.

The site of the Dudley Village development was once occupied by the Fundonzinho Lounge, a Dudley Street club formerly frequented by the city’s Cape Verdean population that had grown to be seen as a magnet for crime. Through the years, the lounge reportedly hosted criminal activities ranging from drug deals to shootings — it was the site of four murders between the 1990s and early 2000s.

The violence also bled over into the lives of the club’s neighbors, according to the nonprofit Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation (DBEDC), which led the redevelopment effort. William C.B. Lynch, a health inspector in the area during the 1980s and ’90s who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, remembered the violence and the impact it had on the community.

“Owners broke their hearts every day trying to keep their businesses running,” said Lynch, who credited local police for cleaning up crime in the area.

The ousting of the criminal element began in April 2003, when the DBEDC acquired the lot, bought the lounge’s liquor license and sold it to the Acapulco restaurant in Jamaica Plain. Then, in 2006, the development corporation had the lounge razed, opening the door for construction of the five buildings that make up the new Dudley Village. The project was broken up into two phases — Dudley Village North, which includes 24 units, and Dudley Village South, which has 26.

Housing officials said the development of the Dudley Street parcel marked the beginning of residents’ reinvestment into their community by providing safe, affordable homes.

“Making the area a beautiful place to live will help to drive out criminal elements by giving the residents something to preserve in an affordable living area,” said Kerry O’Brien, deputy director of public relations for the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development (DND).

At last Saturday’s ribbon-cutting, one teen working as a landscaper with Dudley Neighbors Inc., the business arm of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), slapped hands with a fellow worker, saying his job was to make the neighborhood beautiful.

“This is the point,” said O’Brien. “These kids now have a safe place to live.”

The majority of the $20 million in redevelopment costs was covered by contributions from 23 investor groups, including the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. Only $2 million of the funding came from the City of Boston directly, along with $1.5 million from the state, according to a statement released by the Mayor’s Office.

The city and state funds came in the form of grants, which O’Brien later confirmed function as loans to be paid back over time.

The money lent by the city will be paid back throughout the course of 15 years, as long as the property remains affordable housing, explained DND Director Evelyn Friedman. If the DBEDC increases the prices of the units to market-rate, the repayment costs on the loan will increase, she said.

According to O’Brien, there is no federal stimulus money involved in the project, because it began before the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was passed.

So, what makes the housing affordable? The prices of the units are custom tailored to the Dudley area. By pricing the units based on the area median income (AMI) — the middle point of the earnings of neighborhood residents — the DBEDC can make the houses available to residents based closely on what prospective occupants can actually afford. Data from the 2000 Census placed the median household income for the census tract surrounding the Dudley Village development at $27,153.

According to the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, 43 of the Dudley Village units will be available at a price no higher than 60 percent of the median income level. Five will be priced below 30 percent of AMI, and two below 50 percent. The actual costs of the units was not yet available.

The development also features green building technology. Photovoltaic and solar panels located on the roof of the Dudley Village North structure convert the sun’s rays into energy that powers all of the village’s common areas. This design touch earned the development both Energy Star Standard certification and Silver Standard certification in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, Green Building Rating System.

Behind the units, a playground built by KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit organization focused on the construction of community playgrounds, sits atop a parcel of green space protected from traffic.

District 7 City Council candidate Carlos Henriquez said developments like Dudley Village and the nearby Kroc Community Center, a $115 million project that broke ground last month, will provide local youths with activities that will help develop community spirit and prevent crime resurgence in the area.

“Really and truly, this neighborhood needed this kind of shot in the arm,” said former health inspector Lynch. “This could be a great one-two punch to get the criminal element out of that area.”