With the finish line in sight on the Innes Apartments (Central Avenue) redevelopment project, both leaders of the development team at Corcoran Companies and the Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) are touting the concept behind the public-private housing approach.
After more than three years working to create a mixed-income approach to redeveloping the public housing alongside market-rate units, the team recently cleared the last hurdle with the approval of a key tax agreement with the City in a 9-0 vote of the Council Dec. 23. More than just a development, leaders on both sides said it is a concept that will be proven possible in Chelsea.
“The most important thing here in Chelsea is it represents a proof of concept more than anything,” said Joe Corcoran of the Corcoran Companies. “There is always the question about whether market-rate people will live with low-income people next door. It’s always in the backs of people’s minds. The fact they will has been proven before, but you have to go out and educate people every time. Today, we can say we have proof of this concept in Chelsea.
“We can tell you with a straight face we can do this,” he continued. “We’re developing it here. It’s a model, though, that can be replicated anywhere. It’s the marriage of private capital with public finance. Public-private finance here is key.”
CHA Director Al Ewing said this was a challenging project, and one that many housing authorities weren’t willing to undertake. Many weren’t sure if it could be successful, but Ewing said they are paving the path in Chelsea.
When the program opened up three years ago from the state, Ewing jumped at the opportunity for the agency – which was coming out of state receivership following the tumultuous ending of the previous director’s tenure. He felt there would be several competitors for the funding, but as it turned out, only three (including Chelsea) were brave enough to give it a try.
He said success on the project was built on everyone being on the same page to get the project done.
“We all had the same goal, but different interests,” he said. “The key was everyone coming together and being at the table from the beginning. Getting the resident councils on board early was critical and helped us get the approvals at the Planning Board, Zoning Board and City Council. Building trust and relationships with residents was a major part of this success. It’s been a challenge, but a necessary one. We knew the buildings were very old and past the point of remodeling them.”
Both Corcoran and Ewing said the time to rely on government to fix, build or maintain all public housing units has come and gone long ago. They believe this new concept will be the way that many communities like Chelsea struggling with maintaining their older public housing can escape with a victory.
Corcoran said they have financing in place now, much earlier than one might expect, due to the confidence that investors have in the project – that coming from the team being on the same page.
“We have all the financing totally committed,” he said. “That’s incredible to have it at this stage, which would be incredible for just a market rate development. We pushed that further up in the timeline to combat the disbelief in this concept…We have an equity investor. We have a number of construction lenders trying to get through the door and we have the permanent financing, which is a program run out of Freddie Mac. They’ll provide the permanent financing once construction is done. There is confidence with the whole team and that’s what it’s all about.”
Ewing said he is happy to see that the City, and all of the leaders were on the same page to get this done for the residents – something he said in time they might be interested in repeating once people see the success at Central Avenue.
“Transparency has been a key,” he said. “We kept the City involved and the residents and Joe Corcoran Companies have been willing to share their numbers with us all the time…There was no disagreement something had to be done with the housing. There were issues with parking and density, but I think the community realized our residents shouldn’t be living in a 50-year-old development, but in a better environment. At the end, they put aside their community concerns to do something that will be better for the lives of so many people and their kids…I think it’s going to be a real showpiece down there and great for the entire community.”