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JPNDC rehabilitates Lorenzo Pitts affordable housing units

Avery Bleichfeld
JPNDC rehabilitates Lorenzo Pitts affordable housing units
Boston Mayor Kim Janey cuts the ribbon on newly-renovated affordable units on Roxbury Street. PHOTO: AVERY BLEICHFELD

More than 200 units of income-restricted housing across Roxbury and parts of Dorchester will be kept affordable, according to the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC).

The units, comprising a portfolio of 21 buildings in Fort Hill, Nubian Square and Grove Hall, were owned by Lorenzo Pitts until his death in 2009. Pitts, a Roxbury-based housing owner and developer, left a mandate that the units be kept affordable.

But in 2016, about 150 of those units were at risk of being converted to market-rate housing, said Teronda Ellis, CEO of JPNDC, at a ribbon-cutting event Tuesday. Her organization, which works to develop affordable housing across the city, felt that it was important to keep the properties affordable.

“It wasn’t a question of whether, but of how we do that with our partners,” Ellis said.

What followed was a five-year process complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic on top of the challenges inherent to renovating units with residents living in them.

During the renovations, residents had to be temporarily moved out while construction teams could move in — typically for about three weeks, according to JPNDC.

But, despite the difficulties and the additional challenges the pandemic brought, the important piece of the work was making sure residents had safe and affordable housing, said Chrystal Kornegay, the executive director of MassHousing, a state-level agency that helps provide financing for affordable housing and was involved in the JPNDC Pitts Apartments project.

“At the end of the day, we understand that it’s about the people,” Kornegay said. “We’re not just doing pretty buildings or rehabs or complicated structures. We’re building homes for people; we’re keeping people’s homes nice, because the one thing that we may have known, but that the whole globe knows now, is how fundamental home is in every aspect of your life.”

According to a release from the City of Boston, of the 201 units, 14 are restricted to households earning up to 30% of the area median income (AMI), 161 are restricted to tenants at or below 60% AMI and 26 are restricted to at or below 80% of the AMI. 165 of the units are supported by Section 8 vouchers or other subsidies.

Phaedra Bruton-Paige, a local activist and resident of one of the buildings for more than 25 years, was grateful for the renovations. She said that keeping the community together allows for more positive change.

“To push us out of here does not make it better, it does not give us knowledge, it just makes us feel that we’re just thrown away,” Bruton-Paige said. “We don’t want anyone to feel like they’re thrown away, because Boston is the
place to be.”

Acting Mayor Kim Janey attended the ribbon-cutting. She described a personal history with affordable housing and being priced out of gentrifying neighborhoods in Boston. Citing increasing housing prices in the city, she said the JPNDC Pitts portfolio was an important step in making sure residents can stay in their neighborhoods.

“I think this is an important model for us to replicate as we do all we can to create the housing we need in the city of Boston,” Janey said. “We know there was a housing crisis long before COVID-19 and that COVID has made this worse.”

The same sentiment was expressed by Sheila Dillon, chief of Housing and director of Neighborhood Development for the City of Boston.

“We want to build, we want to build back better, we want to continue building affordable housing, but if we don’t hold onto what we have, families will be harmed and we won’t have net new affordable homes,” Dillon said.

At the event, both Dillon and Janey referred to actions the acting mayor has taken to support housing since taking office in March. For instance, Janey worked with the City Council to set aside $20 million in the 2022 budget for the Acquisition Opportunity Program, which the city uses to help investors buy occupied multi-family properties while creating protections for current tenants.

They said Janey has also called for federal COVID-19 relief money from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) to be used for affordable housing. According to the city’s 2022 budget, $30 million is set aside from the ARP to be used for emergency rental assistance relief and housing.

Despite the challenges of the process with the JPNDC Pitts apartments, Ellis said the completion of the project is an important step in supporting the residents in the 201 units and their communities.

“We have 201 safe, good-looking units and amazing families who can be sure that what’s going on behind the walls and at the roof level and at the windows … that they’re safe,” Ellis said. “And now, the work starts — now the work starts on rebuilding with the JPNDC; conversations will start on what’s next.”