Case Study

Case Study: Massachusetts Projects Cultivate Resident-Centered Communities

7 min read

Great Resident Services a Must for All Managers

While for-profit and nonprofit affordable housing developers can have different approaches to tax credit projects, there is one thing they generally agree on—the need for high-quality resident services for their populations.

Two projects by different developers, just a few miles apart in Massachusetts, illustrate this point clearly.

For-profit Beacon Communities, for instance, points to its large 3,000 square-foot common space in its Island Creek Village senior division in the Duxbury area of Massachusetts, which has a wellness center in addition to a fitness room, hair salon and a large (1,458 square-foot) community room.

At nonprofit Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH), they are eager to share their resident services at the jazzily named Flat 9 at Whittier in the Roxbury section of Boston, including measures designed specifically to help victims of trauma.

Even the names of the projects indicate they are not cookie-cutter affordable housing projects but have had some creative thought put into them. Flat 9 is a clever name, referring not just to apartment flats but, in a nod to its music-drenched neighborhood, the name of a jazz chord. And the unit in Island Creek Village for seniors has the unusual name of The Bodhi, a reference to the life of the Buddha.

Finding the Groove
POAH has even written an elaborate essay on the need for great resident services at Flat 9 and its many other developments.

“POAH’s Community Impact initiatives build on a platform of stable housing to create opportunity for residents who call our communities home,” the POAH manifesto says. It cites four benchmarks for thriving residents: stable housing, the ability to access new opportunities, the chance to achieve financial independence and principles of trauma resiliency.

And it lists a long roster of resident services, including a partnership with Whittier Street Health Center. This includes:

  • A mobile health van offering preventative checks (blood pressure, glucose, cholesterol, vaccines, nutrition advice);
  • All levels of trauma-informed yoga and meditation;
  • A Fair Foods affordable food program;
  • A Family Self-Sufficiency program in partnership with the Boston Housing Authority;
  • EV Kids program for youth four to 18, including 1:1 youth tutoring, reading and language development, school support and college transition support;
  • Voter registration and mobilization campaigns – including transportation to polls; and
  • An annual Family Day neighborhood event to honor and celebrate the legacy of Whittier Street Apartments.

Whittier Street Apartments, a public housing project, is the predecessor site to Flat 9, says Meena Jacob, vice president of real estate development at POAH. “But Roxbury, especially lower Roxbury, has a strong history of jazz in the neighborhood, so the name is a nod to the history of the neighborhood.”

Boston Housing Authority put out a request for proposals for developers in 2013, she says, when it applied for a Department of Housing and Urban Development Choice Neighborhood grant. “We partnered with Madison Park Development Corp. There was a lot of predevelopment work, and the project was funded in 2016,” says Jacob.

The grant was divided into three components: housing (six buildings in total), neighborhood and people, she says, with the third featuring resident service programming.

Some $18 million went toward the housing, Jacob says, building 221 public housing units, of which 121 households are coming back into the new development. Thirty are at the site POAH’s partner developed, and the rest are dispersed throughout Whittier’s Choice Neighborhood.

Other financing includes soft seconds from the city of Boston and the state, as well as State Low Income Housing Tax Credits. POAH contributed an amount above deferred developer fees, and MassHousing contributed workforce housing money. Tax credit investors include National Affordable Housing Trust, Citizens Bank, Eastern Bank and Bank of America.

A Quarter of a Billion Dollars
Total development costs for the three phases are about $264 million.

There are 316 units at POAH’s site, in three phases: 172 units in the third phase will be divided roughly into a third public housing return unit, a third middle-income, including LIHTCs and workforce housing money, and a third unrestricted.

Rodger Brown, manager of real estate development, says a significant feature of the development was “it gave residents the opportunity to make a choice about where they wanted to live, and they had multiple options.”

 And, he says, Flat 9 at Whittier represents “the most diverse transformation of public housing in the city.”

Both four percent and nine percent LIHTCs were used for the project. The third phase will have a 28-month construction timetable and be finished Spring 2025. A 13-story high-rise building, it will also have 10,000 square feet of retail space.

Resident services are being handled by POAH, Boston Housing Authority (BHA) and Madison Park Development Corp. POAH has its own staff on site.

One of the efforts is a pilot trauma resiliency program, delivered “through a design lens and a service lens,” Jacob says.

The design lens includes things like a calming and welcoming color palette, vibrant space and light, and jazz music playing in the lobby.

There’s no composed theme song for Flat 9, “but that’s a great idea,” Brown says. “We’ll roll down to Berklee College of Music and see if we can get one.”

Live jazz music is an option in the future, says Jacob. There is space in the third phase that can be used for food, entertainment and public art, says Brown.

As far as medical services go, “We don’t have a clinic on site but the BHA partners with the Boston Medical Center and our Community Impact people have connections there as well. And there will be a fitness space in the third phase,” Jacob says.

Tree of Enlightenment
A few miles away is Island Creek Village by Beacon Communities, including The Bodhi (the term means the sacred tree under which Buddha reached enlightenment), which is an over-55 community with a lot of resident services.

Island Creek Village was developed in the 1980s, says Emily Bouton, development director for Beacon. In 2013, Beacon came in and added two phases, including the over-55 project, developing 214 units across eight buildings (320 units total, including the original 1980s buildings, which Beacon manages but does not own.)

The new phases were financed by State and Federal LIHTCs, soft debt from the town of Duxbury and the state. For the State LIHTCs, Beacon worked with a nonprofit called Blue Hub. Permanent financing came through MassHousing and construction debt through Bank of America, which was also the tax credit investor. Vouchers were also mixed into the deal. Total development cost on the two new phases came to $75 million, says Bouton.

Aviva Rothman-Shore, senior vice president for community engagement at Beacon, detailed the resident services, the bulk of which happen in The Bodhi with its large common space.

There are two fitness spaces, two computer spaces, a salon and a wellness suite, which hosts a nurse and a nail technician. Outside there are a dog park, garden, playground and pool, she says.

There is a full-time resident services coordinator at The Bodhi, says Rothman-Shore. “We have an entire focus on health and wellness, including fitness classes four times a week along with balance assistance.

“We have a partnership with the Duxbury Senior Center to bring in meals, a nutrition group, a COVID vaccine clinic (during the pandemic) and computer help, getting people accustomed to technology.”

This helps residents connect to their healthcare and benefit providers and reduces social isolation through tools, like FaceTime and Zoom. Beacon is also starting to track outcomes.

Neighbor-to-neighbor connections include bingo, coffee hour and game night.

Beacon is a for-profit developer that is mission-based, says Rothman-Shore. Beacon, she says, is committed to creating ongoing connections with its residents.

“Serving residents and communities is part of our job,” she says.

Mark Fogarty has covered housing and mortgages for more than 30 years. A former editor at National Mortgage News, he has written extensively about tax credits.