Chelsea Housing to Look at Public-Private Redevelopment

By Seth Daniel

The Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) has put out a Request for Proposals in hopes of partnering with a private developer to completely redevelop the Central Avenue and Walnut Street (Union Park Apartments) housing developments.

The move is very preliminary, CHA said, and still requires a key approval by the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), but the RFPs have gone out and developers will be taking a site tour this Friday, April 8. Submissions are due on April 29 and a developer is slated to be selected by June 3.

Central Avenue redevelopment includes all 96 units in eight buildings and the Union Park development includes 40 of the 56 units of elderly housing.

“We are working with a consultant to find a developer that might want to work with the housing authority to redevelop,” said CHA Director Al Ewing. “We have a few Silver Line stops near these two developments so we’re looking to see if that piques any interest to do a mixed-income type of development at that location…What we’re hoping to do is develop one or the other or both and see what response we get from this RFP. We’ll review them and go with what’s in the best interest of the residents and the Housing Authority.”

Already, the CHA has a grant from the state to do a feasibility study, which is what has prompted the RFP. That consultant has been involved in helping housing authorities such as Boston redevelop mixed-income developments such as Columbia Point in Dorchester. Such developments rebuild completely the housing stock, keeping all of the affordable units and adding market rate units and/or some retail to the properties.

CHA Deputy Director Diane Cohen said no units would be lost.

“That’s a requirement to the program that there are no affordable units lost,” she said. “The developer would have to add the additional units on top of the existing numbers of low-income units.”

Board Chair Tom Standish said this is the kind of thing that needs to be done more often in public housing.

“It’s really the wave of the future,” he said. “We need this for our units. It’s also what will make this society work – people living with each other. We have to have that.”

Last November, the DHCD issued a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) to all housing authorities announcing that money is available for mixed-income redevelopment of state-aided public housing. The money awarded comes through a competitive process, and the CHA might be a long shot to get such an award – as the program actually prefers new developments built on vacant land. The CHA project would be the redevelopment of an existing development on occupied land.

Ewing said partnering with a private developer is the only way they can bring the existing units up to a better standard for the residents.

“One of the problems is we need more than new bathrooms or cabinets,” he said. “We need to rebuilt and neither the CHA or the state have the resources or money. To do it, it’s necessary to partner with a private developer to get the resources to bring the development up to today’s standards. When we would get the nod from DHCD, we don’t know. There are other housing authorities that will be applying of these funds too.”

The deadline to submit the proposal by the CHA and any developer they would pick is June 29.

Cohen said it could be a long shot, but they hope the feasibility proposal is seen positively.

“Residents don’t have to worry about what is going to happen,” she said. “It’s a long shot and could take time. We’re hoping we can get a plan funded and in place, but these things take time.”

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