A Close Look at the New Old Colony
It’s like the difference between night and day now that half of the distressed housing at Old Colony in South Boston—one of the nation’s oldest public housing communities—is undergoing a $135M redevelopment.
So say goodbye to what once felt like a walled fortress. (No more pretending you're a Viking.) A contingent of Beacon Communities, The Architectural Team, and Boston Housing Authority have already demolished some superblocks at the 840-unit project; recently completed 12 new buildings with 245 apartments and townhomes; and formed a new street pattern, seamlessly blending it into the surrounding area. From within The Homes at Old Colony, residents can finally see Dorchester Bay across the street and the downtown skyline. It’s “a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization,” says Beacon prez Pam Goodman (above, bookended by CEO Howard Cohen and finance SVP David Greenblatt).
Boston’s development boom makes Old Colony’s location even more desirable, as do its features: It's ADA compliant, has three new public streets, and achieved LEED Platinum thanks to its photo-voltaic panels, efficient envelopes and mechanical systems, recycled and low emission materials, says The Architectural Team’s Jay Szymanski. Before, the World War II-era heating systems were so poor residents would open windows on freezing winter days. (It was good if you were looking for a steam room, but little else.) Over time, much of the open space had given way to blacktop.
In ’09, the BHA secured federal funds then hired Chan Krieger/NBBJ and TAT to design a new master plan, the buildings, and apartments (Suffolk Construction is the GC, while Beacon, which has redeveloped affordable housing nationwide, is the developer and property manager. The first part of the renovation was done on time and on budget, reports BHA administrator Bill McGonagle, and work just got underway on 40 more units to be completed in 13 months. Notice the greenery? The team went to great lengths to save the mature trees at the project, Jay says. (Now you all know the power and influence of the squirrel lobby.)
The design of the town homes and the mid-rise with elevator (above) feature a contemporary look with traditional elements in similar proportions to the triple-deckers that pervade Southie. The new buildings have bays, front stoops, and private patios or terraces, while many units have direct entry from the street. They give residents a sense of ownership and encourage pedestrian activity that helps reduce crime, Jay says. And every home has operable windows and an individual ventilation system for healthier living conditions.
A critical component, the 10k SF Joseph M. Tierney Learning Center, links the complex to the water and offers programs for kids, teens, and adults. But this redevelopment—which has been hailed as a national model for providing desperately needed affordable housing—faces a major obstacle. Its funding came through the ARRA and HUD’s Hope 6 program, but now there isn’t any federal program available to finance the redevelopment of the remaining 350 apartments, says Bill. That’s a significant issue for Old Colony and housing authorities across the country, he cautions.