Planning Office recognized for Rollins Square development

The archdiocese’s Planning Office of Urban Affairs received a grant for $50,000 from the Fannie Mae Foundation for its unique partnership with Fleet Boston Financial on the Rollins Square housing development. After a 2001 study of the need for affordable housing, the Planning Office and Fleet Boston decided to work together over the next seven years and build 2,000 units of housing.

The goal is an impressive one, considering that the Planning Office has created 1,756 units of housing in the last 35 years. The Planning Office, usually using property owned by the archdiocese, builds the units and Fleet Boston provides finance. Fleet Boston also forgives a fraction of the loan for each unit of affordable housing.

Relationship between the two organizations began when Fleet funded a housing study conducted by the Planning Office. In 2001 the study produced a report, “A New Paradigm for Housing in Greater Boston,” which assessed that 15,000 units of affordable housing would need to be build in Boston over the next 10 years to meet an increasing need.

One hundred ten of the 184 units in Rollins Square located two blocks from the Holy Cross Cathedral in the South End, sold for below market value. Twenty percent of the units were sold to formerly homeless families, 40 percent to moderate-income first time homebuyers and another 40 percent sold for market-rate. The development also includes 277 parking spaces, two commercial spaces, and a park.

The project began when Cardinal Bernard Law met with Mayor Thomas Menino to propose a housing project on a city-owned site. Cardinal Law was especially concerned for “the people who run the city” such as teachers, firefighters and public works employees. “He was concerned that they couldn’t afford to live in [Boston],” Armitage said.

To facilitate the project, the city donated the land for the 37 low-income housing units and deferred payment on the rest.

As the need for affordable housing has increased, so has the Planning Office’s activity. “The number of units in development has increased substantially in the last two years,” said Armitage. “In total we have about 650 units in development right now.”

The Planning Office will use the grant money to continue to build affordable housing projects, such as Rollins Square. The office focuses on creating housing for those most in need — the elderly, homeless, disabled, immigrants, minorities and people with HIV and AIDS.

The Planning Office also partners with other developers, including Edward A. Fish and Associates. They worked together on Providence House elder residence in Brighton. Building functions as independent elder care, assisted living facility and a nursing home — allowing residents to remain the same home as the age.