Two teams compete to develop Roxbury parcel
Housing, lab space, museums in both proposals
Two proposals to transform the vacant lot in Roxbury known as Parcel P3 have hit the desk of the city’s planning and development agency, each promising new affordable housing and economic development in the area.
The 7.7-acre parcel has stood mostly vacant for almost 60 years, with an uncompleted highway project and failed attempts at redevelopment leaving the lot in limbo.
One proposal is from HYM and Our City at Peace, a joint venture between Boston-based HYM Investment Group and the real estate company Our City at Peace formed by Rev. Jeffrey Brown. Their plan includes a five-building complex with affordable and market-rate rental and home-ownership units, lab and retail space, and green space for the community.
Brown, in a conversation with the Banner, said the affordable housing is really the star of the proposal — bringing an important resource to Roxbury.
“What I’ve been doing in Boston and in other cities is reducing violence and working with the community,” he said. “Seeing the repeat violence that happens within the city, the cyclical nature of it, and realizing that part of the reason is not because we don’t have great programs that could deal with the issue of violence, but because there are structural issues that barricade a breakthrough … one of those big barriers is housing.”
The HYM/Our City at Peace proposal includes two buildings for lab and retail space, one high-rise with 164 affordable rental units and 118 market-rate rentals, and two buildings with 144 income-restricted condos for sale and an additional 40 condos available at market rate.
In the process of creating its request for proposals, the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee, organized by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), heard community feedback and incorporated the ideas as non-negotiables for developers.
These included affordable housing, opportunities for employment for Roxbury residents, diversity in team’s stakeholders, and promotion of Roxbury’s existing cultural and retail ventures.
“The RFP called for jobs, and permanent jobs for residents in Roxbury,” said Lorraine Payne Wheeler, an oversight committee member. “And we’ve talked about that before. Those guidelines were for all of the parcels in Nubian square. But somehow, other than retail jobs, there really hasn’t been a lot of that type of wealth-building for residents.”
HYM and Our City at Peace boast that their project will create new jobs in the life sciences industry with lab space in close proximity to affordable living.
“These are really good jobs that pay very well, but don’t often require the extreme highest levels of education,” said Tom O’Brien, a former Boston Redevelopment Authority director who is managing partner at HYM.
He said the team has been coordinating with educational institutions such as Roxbury Community College, Madison Park High School and the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology to ensure the proper job training is available to take advantage of the new available positions.
“Those institutions have curriculums that can be drawn together and hopefully benefit particularly young people,” O’Brien added.
Moreover, satisfying the diversity piece, HYM and Our City at Peace have come together with development groups such as the DREAM Collaborative and the Onyx Group to include minority-owned businesses in the project. Once the project is completed, they also have set aside room for the non-profit King Boston, to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King and Black advancement in the city.
The other proposal for P3 is from Tishman Speyer and Ruggles Progressive Partners, whose plan also includes a combination of rental units, homeownership and lab space.
The team, which is a combination of the New York-based real estate investment company Tishman Speyer and a group of Black Boston real estate professionals calling themselves the Ruggles Progressive Partners, has proposed three high-rise buildings and a series of townhouses to meet the needs of Roxbury residents.
The 498 rental units included in the project are 100% income-restricted, while 15 of the 62 homeownership units will have income restrictions.
To balance out the benefit for existing low-income residents in the area, the team also said they plan to set aside $50,000 for a housing fund to support Roxbury homeowners struggling with increased tax payments or deferred home maintenance.
“Our team came up with the idea of an anti-displacement fund,” said Ruggles partner Richard Taylor. “And we plan to seed that and raise money annually to go in there … and then establish a community-based board to respond to applicants.”
Taylor, along with another well-known Black Boston developer on the project, Herby Duverne, went on to tout their coordination with the Franklin Institute to ensure proper job training is available for positions stemming from the allotted lab space.
Additionally, they said, they have made agreements with Roxbury retailers like Frugal Bookstore, Boston While Black, and The Collier Connection to include them in the space.
The team also plans to work with the Museum of African American History to create a Roxbury Museum at the former Whittier Street Health Center building, which would be torn down as part of HYM’s plan.
Taylor said all these elements make the Speyer and Ruggles proposal the right choice for the space.
“This is the last largest public piece of property in greater Roxbury,” he said. “And we responded to the community’s overwhelming requests for significant affordable housing, as well as an anti-displacement fund, as well as the participation of large numbers of minority-based enterprises locally based, and we selected a joint venture partner that has significant experience, financial strength, and a prior commitment to diversity equity and inclusion.”
The next step in determining the future for Parcel P3 will be the BPDA receiving nominations for members to the Project Review Committee. According to a BPDA spokesperson, the timeline for that is still to be determined.