By Cary Shuman
While Jay Ash was city manager and leading the community to national All-America City award recognition, he initiated an idea for a new housing partnership to modernize the Innes Apartments on the corner of Central Avenue and Willow Street.
When he became the secretary of housing and economic development in the Gov. Charlie Baker administration, Ash brought his exciting concept to the Governor.
Yesterday, the two men, the 6-feet-6-inch Governor of the Commonwealth and the 6-feet-7-inch Cabinet Secretary stood side by side and joined Undersecretary of Housing and Community Development Chrystal Kornegay in announcing the new partnership to support modernization and new construction of housing units at the corner of Central Avenue and Willow Street, a block from the Jordan Boys and Girls Club.
The area, known warmly here as the “Central Avenue Projects” – where Chelsea kids like Elliot Katzman and Richard Band lived before going on to college and becoming successful in their careers – will in the next few years welcome a brand new development consisting of 320 new units of housing, 96 of which will serve a low-income demographic. Joseph Corcoran of Joseph J. Corcoran Company in Boston will lead the development team.
“This is actually a brainchild of Secretary Ash’s,” Korengay told the assemblage of city officials and other guests. “One of the first things he said was that he was trying to do this for years in Chelsea. So this is his baby.”
Baker, who enjoyed a warm reception from Chelsea officials, credited Ash for his vision of the project.
“One of the reasons it was important to us to find people who work in our administration who could bring feet-on-the-ground, local community knowledge to their jobs and responsibilities associated with state government is because they’re [local government and state government] not far apart,” said Baker.
Baker said he wanted people in his administration who could “build on some of the thoughts and ideas they had when they served in local government,” such as Ash who transformed the city and guided its resurgence during his universally hailed 17-year tenure as city manager.
According to Baker, the state’s goal with the new development in Chelsea is “to try to take advantage of both creative opportunities on the development side and an interest in our part in continuing to develop housing and work with Housing Authorities to help them renovate, upgrade, and replace some of their existing housing.”
Baker introduced Ash as “the guy who came up with this idea.”
“I may have had the idea but the idea wouldn’t be possible without the great leadership we have with the Governor, who takes great ideas and makes them happen,” said Ash.
The Clark University scholar-athlete said he was pleased to be working again on a local project with the Chelsea City Council and his successor, City Manager Thomas Ambrosino.
Ash said the new project is another positive step for the Chelsea Housing Authority. “We’re in a place now where the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is pleased to stand in front of everybody that wants to listen and say, ‘we have faith and confidence in what’s happening in the Chelsea Housing Authority.’’’ “We’re so pleased with the leadership that [CHA Executive Director] Al Ewing continues to provide and the board continues to offer.”
State Reps. Roselee Vincent and Dan Ryan thanked the team of Baker, Ash, and Kornegay for the state’s continued commitment to providing housing opportunities for gateway cities such as Chelsea.
Ambrosino told the assemblage that Chelsea “is really very excited” about the potential development.
“Talking with Al Ewing, we both feel that this could be a signature model for public/private partnerships between Housing Authorities and the private sector,” said Ambrosino. “This is going to bring 224 market-rate units which will not only substantially enhance this area but help to alleviate the housing crunch in this region.”
Corcoran said his company will be partnering with SunCal of Irvine, California in the development of the housing units. Corcoran said the current Innes Apartments will be torn down and an entirely new development will rise on the site.
“All the current residents have a right to come back to it,” said Corcoran, adding that there is a planning grant to study the plan’s logistics with the Chelsea Housing Authority.
“I expect in a month we’ll have a rough timetable of what we have to do to think it through and communicate with the residents,” said Corcoran. “We will communicate a lot with the residents and then out to the greater community. A good goal would be to start construction in 18 months.”