Born out of urban renewal in the late 1960s, the Charlesview Apartments had helped to maintain affordability in Boston’s Allston-Brighton community for more than 40 years.
But as the 213-unit development began to age, Charlesview, Inc., a nonprofit originally formed by five neighborhood congregations and now consisting of three, began to weigh its options of how to continue to meet the residents’ needs.
Charlesview, Inc., brought in The Community Builders, Inc. (TCB), a Boston-based nonprofit affordable housing developer and owner, as a consultant. Through that process, it learned that Harvard University was interested in the site of Charlesview Apartments because of the close proximity to its business school.
“We had a piece of property that Harvard thought was very valuable, and they had a piece of property less valuable to them,” says Jo-Ann Barbour, executive director of Charlesview, Inc.
What resulted was a mutually beneficial land swap. Harvard exchanged a 9-acre parcel with a vacant shopping center for the 4.5-acre Charlesview Apartments site. The university has plans to build on the site at a later time.
On the new site, co-developers Charlesview, Inc. and TCB constructed the 240-unit Charlesview Residences, 20 affordable townhomes for sale, the Josephine A. Fiorentino Community Center, a 243-vehicle underground garage, and 14,000 square feet of commercial space, which includes two restaurants that will open at a later date and a Spanish immersion preschool.
In addition to that, the development team was able to transfer the project-based rental subsidies from the old development to the new community so those residents pay no more than 30 percent of their income for rent. Almost 200 households, including a few of the original residents, moved from Charlesview Apartments into the new homes in just 11 weeks during the summer of 2013.
“We have a really amazingly diverse community—culturally, racially, and age wise,” says Barbour, adding that residents speak about seven different languages.
The development was designed to LEED Silver standards with a focus on energy efficiency and water management. It includes a mix of unit sizes, from one to four bedrooms. Washers and dryers also are included in each unit.
The community center serves as a vital resource for the residents as well as the surrounding community.
“The community center was really conceived of as not just for the residents, but as an amenity for the entire Allston-Brighton neighborhood,” says Barbour.
It provides space for service providers in the community, fitness classes, a computer lab outfitted by Google, and space for neighborhood meetings. A Harvard group has been offering computer classes for residents who are job hunting and for seniors to get up to speed on technology. Other volunteers are teaching English as a Second Language classes.
“It has created the opportunity for our neighbors to get to know the Charlesview residents who moved over and for the residents to get to know what it is going on in the community,” adds Barbour.
The $141 million development, which included the demolition of half the shopping center, environmental cleanup, new roads, and infrastructure improvements, was financed with low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs) awarded by the Massachusetts Department of Housing & Community Development. Google invested $27.6 million in LIHTCs through AEGON USA Realty Advisors. Additional financing included a $46 million first mortgage through MassHousing and a $2 million Priority Development Fund second mortgage.
The proceeds from Harvard’s purchase of the original Charlesview Apartments site provided $65 million in funding and land. Construction financing was provided by MassHousing with an investment from the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust. At the time, the construction financing was MassHousing’s largest ever closing.
As part of the transaction with Harvard, there also will be a mix of affordable and market-rate homeownership opportunities. TCB just completed construction on the 20 affordable homeownership units, which were made available through a lottery. Beverly Bates, TCB senior vice president, says she expected the closings to start in January.
TCB also is looking for a market-rate developer to construct the 80 market-rate, for-sale condos. “We are going to be very involved with what gets built,” says Bates. “We have an obligation to the community.”