By Seth Daniel
As adults talked and listened to the potentially big plans for redevelopment of the Innes Housing Development on Central Avenue, off in the corner little children were also dreaming.
Coloring beautiful new homes with rainbows and swimming pools, the children were as excited as the adults – who had gathered at the Boys & Girls Club on Tuesday night, Dec. 6, for the first resident working group meeting looking at the potential mixed-income redevelopment at the old development.
“Seriously, I’m very excited,” said Ricardo Figueroa, who was participating in a visioning exercise that had residents list their greatest hopes for any new development. “I have lived in this city for 43 years, so I am allowing myself to dream a bit. I have said I would like an indoor pool. I like to have PlayStations and a clubhouse for the kids. I’d also like handicap accessibility. I think that’s really important.”
Figueroa was one of about 50 residents who turned out for the visioning meeting – a meeting where potential developer Corcoran/SunCal brought representatives and architects to listen and assist residents in their dreams for the new development.
Some simply wanted a safe and clean place to live; others had grander dreams like washing machines in their units, granite countertops, computer rooms and better parking configurations.
A previous organizing meeting was held in October, and more meetings will continue throughout the winter and spring.
Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) Director Al Ewing said nothing is set in stone, and there are a lot of hoops to jump through before any kind of development would happen. Right now, he said, the CHA is working off of a $300,000 planning grant it received – rather surprisingly – last September during a competitive grant process within the Department of Housing and Community Development.
“We have a lot of hurdles to go through,” he qualified. “This is a process and not an event. This is a feasibility study right now. We’re still trying to see if this can work. We’re still not at the point where the project is a definite go. We’re still trying to get there, but it is exciting to be at this point.”
Ewing and the CHA Board decided last year to go after state funding to rebuild the Innes Development – which is in dire need of huge capital expenditures that the CHA does not have and will not have. The competitive grant process was highly sought after, and Chelsea was lucky enough to win.
In August, to facilitate that planning process and to perhaps develop the project, Corcoran/SunCal – a partnership based in Dorchester that is currently trying to redevelop the Bunker Hill Housing Development in Charlestown in similar fashion – was brought on board.
Corcoran has proposed a $100 million development of the Innes, most of which would be privately funded.
They would put a total of 318 units of mixed income housing, and would retain all 96 public housing units that currently exist – and they would be in their current configurations (42 two-bedrooms, 48 three-bedrooms, and 6 four-bedrooms) but would be brand new units in the overall development. The public housing units would be mixed in with the market rate units and now separated out.
There would be 222 market rate units.
The housing units would be situated in four, six-story buildings – all new construction – with surface and below-grade parking, a community clubhouse, a fitness center and retail space.
Corcoran said it would privately fund 80 percent of the project with private equity and mortgage debt. The $4.8 million DHCD funding and a $3 million MassWorks grant would supplement that.
Ewing has said he would negotiate a 99-year ground lease to preserve the public housing if the state funds the CHA proposals. He said if the project is funded, residents would be relocated temporarily and would have the ability to return to the new units.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Jen Corcoran, of the development team, they will likely have another meeting in January to continue the work. In the spring, if all goes well, they will reach out to the greater Chelsea community and to neighbors to begin talking in greater detail about the potential project.
The potential timeline, she said, would include two phases of development.
Relocation efforts of tenants would begin in early 2018 by Housing Opportunities Unlimited – the group’s professional relocation team.
“What I want everyone to take home tonight from this meeting is we’re here to help you every step of the process,” said Damian Clark. “We will come into your home and work with you and make sure you are satisfied with your relocation. That’s what we do.”
The relocation does include all expenses, he said, including boxes, movers, and supplies.
Corcoran said that any resident in the development that is relocated during construction would absolutely be able to return.
“All residents in good standing have a right to return to the development of Innes aft a temporary relocation,” she said. “When they return they will pay no more rent and related occupancy costs, like heat and hot water, than they currently pay. They will also retain all their rights as public housing tenants once back.”
She said that by the summer of 2019, they expected to have the first phase open and occupied.
Gerry McCue of the Chelsea Public Schools said they had been working with the CHA and Corcoran to ensure that children would not have their education disrupted during the relocation.
Ewing said they are working to identify vacant units in Chelsea and other places in Chelsea – as well as utilizing the two-phase construction schedule – to prevent anyone from being sent outside of the city to places like Revere or Everett.
“We have vacancies in other of our developments we believe we can put people in so they don’t have to move out of the city,” Ewing said. “We’re trying to make sure there are a few disruptions as possible to the residents.”
The next resident working group is expected some time around Jan. 17.