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Dorchester affordable housing project underway

Morgan C. Mullings
Staff reporter covering state and local politics. Report for America Corps Member. VIEW BIO
Dorchester affordable housing project underway
Nearly half of the 80 units planned for the Indigo Block, under construction on East Cottage Street in Dorchester, will be affordable. COURTESY PHOTO

A new mixed-income housing project is underway in Dorchester, set for completion in summer 2021. The Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation (DBEDC) broke ground in December after five years of gathering resources for the 80-unit, mixed-use space.

The city-owned land now known as Indigo Block, located at 65 East Cottage Street, was awarded to DBEDC in 2015. Associate Director of Real Estate Development Leah Whiteside told the Banner, “It’s just an extraordinary number of funding sources that need to be assembled, and that is why the project is taking so long. The project went in three different competitive rounds for state funding before it prevailed. Not because it wasn’t worthy of funding, but because it’s so competitive.”

The $45 million project received about $5.8 million from the state and $4 million from the city, and additional funds from 20 other sources, a diversity of funds Whiteside calls “extraordinary.”

The residential unit prices will be based on the area median income (AMI) – $119,000 for a four-person household and about $83,000 for one person, 28 of the rental units are priced for households at 60% of the AMI. The majority will be two-bedroom units, and adjacent to that will be three homes with three condominiums each. The project also includes eight units for those at 50% of the AMI and eight for those at 30%.

“We had a lot of back and forth with the community through a very extended and positive community process,” Whiteside said.

DBEDC held meetings with an impact advisory group made up of abutters to the property, the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative and Uphams Corner Main Streets.

“Because we are grounded in community input, in all of our real estate projects we went above and beyond what the minimum required number of meetings were,” Whiteside said.

Among the main requests that came up in these meetings were job creation, keeping jobs in Boston, and allowing renters of mixed incomes. As a result, there will be 20,000 square feet of light industrial space on the property, perfect for a small food manufacturer or storage for a business. It’s coupled with office space on the second floor.

“Our real goal with the project,” said Whiteside, “is to produce jobs and to help local businesses stay local. We really want to focus our [commercial] leasing on users that are going to provide high quality jobs … willing to pay living wages, and that are going to commit to our mission of local hiring.”

This is a goal for all DBEDC commercial projects: that at least 50% of jobs on-site are filled by residents of Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan.

“We all love Boston, but it can be a very stressful place to live and work,” said Beth O’Donnell, director of DBEDC real estate. “It’s a very expensive place to live. When we’re able to do a project like this, we hope that … it’s providing the kind of stability people need.”

In addition to providing easy access to the orange line, the development will reconnect parts of the community once divided, Whiteside said. The land itself is currently cut off from the rest of the neighborhood, but the new layout includes a road through the property that delivers it “back into the fabric of the community,” she said.

The commercial side of the project is projected to be completed May 2021, and the residential side three months later. Currently, Escazú Development is working on the condominium units, Boston Capital Real Estate is coordinating the rental units, and Newmarket Community Partners lends expertise in industrial and commercial spaces to the project.

“There’s always demand for affordable housing, COVID aside,” said Whiteside. “We’ve discovered from our previous work that a dynamic community has to include safe, stable, quality affordable housing and good jobs.”

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