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Wave Of New Development Coming To Mattapan As City Plans For Growth

Mattapan, a Boston neighborhood that has historically suffered from underinvestment, is on the cusp of a revival.

More developers have begun to plan and build multifamily projects in the area, with over 1,000 units in the pipeline, and the city is preparing to approve a plan to guide the future of the neighborhood’s growth.

The Rise sculpture in Mattapan Square with The Loop at Mattapan Station in the background.

Last month, Mattapan saw one major housing development open and another break ground, adding more than 200 mixed-income units, the latest in a series of projects to move forward in the area.

The neighborhood has 1.3M SF of development and more than 1,000 new units either proposed or being developed, according to the Mayor’s Office of Housing. City officials hope this wave of investment and development will attract new people to the area while keeping longtime residents in place. 

“For many years, Mattapan didn’t see a lot of development, especially during my time growing up in the neighborhood, but that has changed in recent years,” Kenya Beaman, a Boston Planning & Development Agency community engagement manager and resident of Mattapan, said in written responses to Bisnow questions

Developers say they have been drawn to Mattapan in part because of the abundance of cheaper land and the ability to build affordable homes. But with the increase of interest from developers, longtime residents in the area have worried about the displacement and gentrification that they have seen hit other parts of the city, like Roxbury.

“In the past, developers have just come in and just straight up gentrified neighborhoods — the community has no say,” Amber Mercer, who grew up in Mattapan, told WBUR in January. “I don't think it's all going to be like rainbows and sunshine."

On Thursday, the BPDA Board is scheduled vote on the final draft of its PLAN: Mattapan, a document it put forward in April. The plan has three major vision statements: keeping residents in their homes while also developing more affordable housing, providing reliable transportation and upholding the vibrancy in the neighborhood squares.

The authors of the plan have emphasized how important community input has been in drafting guidance for the development and zoning to create equitable growth. 

The plan could potentially resolve issues that haven't been addressed for years. Mattapan has historically been left out of conversations regarding economic and housing development, according to the proposed planning guide.

“The neighborhood still faces economic and social disparities,” the plan says. “When compared to the City of Boston as a whole, residents of Mattapan earn less money, travel longer to work, and have poorer health outcomes.”

The neighborhood's population was 68.3% African American as of 2020, and more than a third of its residents are foreign-born, according to BPDA data. And officials say it has unique cultural aspects that community members don't want to lose as more development begins to take place.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu at the ribbon-cutting for The Loop at Mattapan Station.

Of the homes in the neighborhood, 43% are valued at less than $400K. That figure is only 23% citywide, according to the plan. With the opportunity for developers to buy and build at cheaper rates, there could be issues with creating housing that longtime residents can afford. The median household income in Mattapan is $17K less than the citywide median.

“Some residents are interested in increasing density to create more affordable housing; others are more focused on retaining the character of Mattapan and ensuring development without displacement,” BPDA's Beaman said in a statement. “As Community Engagement Managers, it’s our job to make sure we are reaching as many people as possible and educating the community on how the projects will impact the neighborhood.”

One such development is The Loop at Mattapan Station, a transit-oriented affordable housing project that opened its doors last month.

The mixed-use project, which was constructed in a partnership between Nuestra Comunidad Development Corp. and Preservation of Affordable Housing, brought 135 affordable apartments to a vacant MBTA-owned parking lot next to the Mattapan trolley station.

“The idea behind it was to create a transportation-oriented development,” Andre Jones, director of civil engagement at NCDC, told Bisnow. “We saw that opportunity in partnership with the Preservation of Affordable Housing to create affordable TOD housing in a neighborhood that needs housing.”

The development also brings 10K SF of ground-floor retail, half of which is occupied by Daily Table, a community grocery store that provides food and household products below market value. Jones said the developer and POAH did their best to listen to what the neighborhood wanted.

“We're continuing to lease out the remaining half of the commercial space, so hopefully another community-based business,” Jones said. “There was a robust community process. We tried to listen as intently as possible to what the community envisioned for themselves.”

Jones said transportation was a major factor in the project, as it was built on a lot right next door to the Mattapan trolley stop and a block away from the Mattapan Square Commuter Rail station.

Mattapan has the longest commute time of all neighborhoods in the city, with 62% of residents commuting by car because of the lack of public transportation options, according to the BPDA.

Another major project to break ground last month was a new phase of the Olmsted Green development, which will bring 80 mixed-income ownership units as part of the Preserve at Olmsted Green. The phased project, developed by New Boston Fund Inc. and Lena Park Community Development Corp., is one of the neighborhood's largest private housing projects, bringing in $250M in economic and housing development in the past two decades.

Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll and New Boston Fund Inc. Director Jerome Rappaport Jr., center, at the groundbreaking for the Preserve at Olmsted Green on April 24.

In total, the development will bring 500 units of housing, 237 of which are affordable family apartments and 59 units dedicated for homeless seniors.

New Boston Fund Inc. Director Jerome Rappaport Jr. said that in his time developing in Mattapan, he has seen a number of other developers enter the space. He said part of the reason is the abundance of developable land.

“Land is cheaper here, and they can perhaps attract people who are getting priced out in Jamaica Plain with a new construction,” Rappaport said. “There's a broader base of both the strong existing population plus additional people coming to the housing, the more people are willing to take the risks to build speculative new construction.”

He said that Mattapan has an unfair reputation that has historically led to its underinvestment and lack of economic development. Now, as people’s perceptions are changing, so are the city’s priorities in developing housing there.

“It's interesting to think of the difference between the reality of Mattapan and how a lot of people in Mattapan enjoy it and the perception of Mattapan and what people might think about Mattapan, but it is a vibrant community,” Rappaport said.

In February, the New Boston Fund and Lena Park CDC won the approval for a new 435K SF housing community named Olmsted Village. The six-building community is planned to include 187 affordable housing units, 43 mixed-income units, a community center, a medical suite and a childcare center. 

Both developments fall under the city’s only 40R Smart Growth Zone, a zoning overlay that requires 20% of the housing to be affordable and should allow mixed-use development nearby. The zoning also encourages development to be public transportation-friendly.

A rendering of the Preserve at Olmsted Green

Rappaport said that 40R was “critical” to this project, as it helped prioritize the development for state infrastructure funding that it might not have gotten otherwise.

"If we weren't a 40R district project, it would have taken 40 years to build," Rappaport said.

A major part of PLAN: Mattapan that has gotten attention from the community is the addition of language that would make it easier for homeowners to add accessory dwelling units, which could be a small backyard house or an entire addition to the house.

“Mattapan is a place that is uniquely positioned to be host to a kind of growth, a kind of gentle density that has a possibility of not only unlocking more opportunities for intergenerational living in the neighborhood but also, through the addition of ADUs, increase the value of Mattapan homeowners’ homes,” Arthur Jemison, Wu’s chief of planning and BPDA head, told the Dorchester Reporter.

The BPDA estimates that over 750 ADUs could be built, bringing more options for intergenerational and affordable housing as well as providing generational wealth for homeowners in Mattapan.

City officials hope the plan will create a new future for the neighborhood, helping achieve its transportation and housing goals. Beaman said that these new developments are a step in the right direction.

“Residents have asked for many things in Mattapan, such as more community gathering spaces, more variety of businesses, restaurants, bookstores, etc.,” Beaman said. “New development can help us unlock those opportunities.”