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Plan calls for apartments, storefronts in Four Corners

Martin Desmarais
Plan calls for apartments, storefronts in Four Corners
The Vietnamese American Initiative for Development has proposed a $14.5 million new development in Four Corners that includes two buildings with both housing and commercial space. The project has 35 units of affordable housing.

Vietnamese American Initiative for Development is slated to start construction this fall on a $14.5 million housing and commercial development project in Dorchester’s Four Corners neighborhood that proponents are hoping will kick start revitalization of the area.

Viet-AID, as the 20-year-old community development corporation is known, was one of 16 projects in the state that received funding from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development this year for projects to address demand for affordable housing as well as strengthen opportunities for local businesses.

The plans include one three-story building and one four-story building along Washington Street in Four Corners. Both buildings will have first floor commercial and community space, with rental units on the upper floors. The finished project is slated to have 35 new, affordable housing units. It includes nine city lots for which Viet-AID has been designated as the developer by the City of Boston and one private lot that Viet-AID purchased earlier this year.

“We are excited to see underutilized land in the Fairmount Corridor converted into sustainable, affordable housing,” Mayor Martin Walsh said in a statement about the project.

Backing Viet-AID on the project are the Greater Four Corners Action Coalition, Four Corners Main Street, and the members of the Fairmount Collaborative.

According to Nam Pham, executive director of Viet-AID, in addition to state funding, the project will be funded by loans, private investment and investment from Viet-AID. Backers include Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston and Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation.

The $14.5 million price tag is the expected total cost of the project and funding secured so far has Nam expecting construction to start in late October or earlier November with work completed in late 2015 or early 2016.

Viet-AID will begin accepting bids for work on the project in the next couple of months.

Situated along the MBTA’s Fairmont Line and in proximity to new commuter rail stop Four Corners/Geneva Avenue, the project can be lumped with some of the new development targeted in what is commonly referred to as the Fairmont Corridor, which the city is hoping will help boost local neighborhoods and businesses.

Nam views the project as one that can start to fulfill the promise his organization sees in Four Corners, with the addition of the new commuter rail stop as a catalyst for success. The organization has already completed half-a-dozen housing projects and the Vietnamese American community Center in Dorchester.

“For us, who have lived and worked here for 20 years, we believe there are many opportunities in Four Corners and along the Fairmont corridor for housing and for jobs,” Nam said. “It is a very, very good area.

“We look for any opportunities to improve the neighborhood,” he added.

Dynell Andrews-Blake, executive director of Four Corners Main Street, believes this project will do just that.

“This project is definitely going to stimulate that whole intersection,” Andrews-Blake said.

According to Andrews-Blake, Four Corners Main Street has spent a lot of time working with area businesses to establish a vision for the neighborhood and find a way to create a whole business district there. The consensus is that the Viet-AID project is a perfect complement to these ongoing efforts.

“This process is just a gateway to continue the development and revitalization of that whole district,” she said.

She added that there is a great sense of excitement to see what Viet-AID can do with its project and the impact it will have. “It will definitely be a good thing for the businesses to have more residential housing in that area and having more foot traffic in that area to revitalize the businesses. I know they are excited about that also.”

Since the new Fairmont line MBTA stops have gone in, a wider eye has been cast to neighborhoods in the region and development to capitalize on the increased public transportation options into the city, but long-time residents have been quick to voice fears about gentrification.

Andrews-Blake believes Viet-AID has shown with past projects that it can quell these fears and produce needed affordable housing and bring in the right business tenants.

“We have to make sure that people in the neighborhood have a voice about things that come in the neighborhood and things that happen in the neighborhood so that things like gentrification don’t happen,” she said.

Viet-AID is already two years into working with the community and partners in developing the project. Nam points out that this project was not planned first and then presented to the community to be altered based on input — it was developed from the start based on the wants and needs of the community.

“We engaged with them every step of the way. We are very proud to say we have established a very close working relationship with all the stakeholders in the area,” Nam said. “The foundation of the success of any project that we have done is a good partnership with the community and the only way to have good partnership with the community is you have to engage the community from Day One.”

This is reflected in the design of each building to include affordable housing, retail space and a community room. “This is exactly what the community wanted,” Nam said.

“We always have high hopes for every project, but I think for this one having worked with the community with this project we have been able to establish very good partnerships,” he added. “We are excited we can leverage these wonderful relationships to create more opportunities for the neighborhood.”

Marvin Martin, executive director of the Greater Four Corners Action Coalition, confirms Viet-AID’s efforts to engage the community on the project and led the process through which residents could look at housing space, commercial development opportunities and examine concerns such as increased traffic and lack of affordable housing.

Martin pointed out the parcels on which the project is slated were specifically identified by residents as a good place for mixed housing and commercial development.

“Viet-AID came to meetings. … They heard what people were looking for,” Martin said. “They came back with a project that had what the community was looking for so we supported them on that.

“At this point everyone is very supportive of this project. We think it is going to make a difference particularly at that intersection,” he added.