For years, the Washington Street gateway to Boston’s South End had suffered from neglect. Buildings were in disrepair. The streetscape was uninviting. It was a dreary part of town that few people went out of their way to visit. But over time, the influx of artists and the efforts of community organizations to bring new life to the neighborhood set in motion a revival that continues into the present.
Playing an important role in the ongoing revival of the neighborhood was the construction of Project Place’s Gatehouse, 14 units of rental housing for formerly homeless residents, office space for Project Place’s comprehensive employment-training programs and homegrown businesses, and a new, ground-floor Myers + Chang restaurant.
Financing for the development included a $250,000 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston's Affordable Housing Program through member Wainwright Bank & Trust Company (now Eastern Bank).
In this FHLB Boston multimedia profile, take a tour of Gatehouse, visit with a resident, and learn about Project Place's approach to providing housing and comprehensive employment services for homeless men and women.
(Photo left: Bianca Thomas, resident)
Marcie B. Laden is director of development at Interseminarian Project Place
Gatehouse is permanent single-room occupancy housing for previously homeless people. Project Place has been working with homeless adults since 1967. We have always focused on transitioning people to self sufficiency with regards to work and housing.
Our approach has always been to give people the skills and resources they need to obtain and retain housing. We hadn’t until now developed our own housing. The need for work and housing happen simultaneously for people who are homeless. Both are needed to help people succeed.
We found that even after working for six or nine months in our program and finding jobs outside, many people still couldn’t afford to move out of shelters and transitional housing. They had taken action to move out of homelessness but were still unable to find affordable housing. This made it harder for them to achieve success.
(Photo right: Gatehouse)
As a result, we decided to explore developing housing for people recovering from homelessness. These people needed a permanent home and needed support. They needed to be around people who understood who they were and where they were coming from. Developing housing in the same building as Project Place meant that residents would be able to receive support if they needed it. This was the thinking that went into the development of our housing.
At the same time, Project Place had outgrown its program space in the South End. Our three-story brownstone on Rutland Street, which wasn’t accessible, had an inefficient heating system, small offices, and limited training and classroom space. We wanted to combine the objectives of finding housing for people who had been homeless and finding a better place for us to do our work.
Project place was founded in 1967 by a group of students at Harvard Divinity School who began working with homeless kids on Boston Commons and Harvard Square. They had a van, a hotline, and a drop-in center. That was the start. It was largely volunteer-based. Very early on we were fortunate to receive as a donation a brownstone on Rutland Street in Boston’s South End to use as our headquarters.
(Photo right: Bianca Thomas (left) and Marcie Laden)
As the city’s homeless population changed so did our work. We gradually moved away from working with homeless and runaway youth to working with homeless adults, who were the people we were finding on the streets.
Our goal was to change lives and help people stay off the street, not just for a night, but permanently. While some organizations focused on housing, we focused on work. Over the years, we have run a variety of programs focused on developing job-training skills for people who had never worked ― who had issues that became an obstacle to permanent employment.
In the late 1990s we began to move into social enterprises. This is now the biggest part of our work. We employ our clients in a variety of fields. We have a landscaping, maintenance, and cleaning program; a food-service preparation, catering, and pushcart program; and a vending-machine business. We realized that we needed to enrich our training programs and increase our businesses to make them more competitive. By making the businesses competitive we would be able to maintain employment for our clients and others.
(Photo right: Computer room, Project Place)
Our clients are hired for six to nine months and work every day. In addition to work, they participate in other activities, including computer, customer-service, and workplace-skills training. Our workplace training focuses on the importance of not missing work and dealing effectively with on-the-job issues.
If there is a layoff, our clients are often the first to go. If they lose their job they have the option to return to us for help. We work with people for up to two years after placement, helping them look for new work, enroll in a training program, or go back to school to get their GRE. Our goal is to help them keep moving forward.
Our new location improves the effectiveness of our training programs. We have a commercial kitchen and a loading dock, new vans and parking space, and additional space for equipment and training.
Land from the City
We acquired the vacant lot on which Gatehouse was built from the City of Boston through a bidding process. Gatehouse is brand new, but it fits in well with the neighborhood. The development process included many meetings with the community to determine what they
(Photo right: Resident, Gatehouse)
wanted to see built on the site, which is part of the Washington Gateway district. We made a commitment to create ground-level retail space to add to the improvements already underway up and down Washington Street. We worked with the neighborhood on this for four years.
Myers + Chang restaurant is located on the ground floor of our building, and Project Place occupies the middle floors. The housing ― 14 efficiency apartments ― are on the top two floors of the building. We have a property manager for the housing, but no staff. The residents have certain rules they need to follow. If they need something we are here to help them.
The first year or two after people move out of shelter or transitional housing are critical. The residents are faced with a whole new way of life. They have made great changes in their life and are no longer doing what they used to do, no longer hanging out with the people they used to hang out with. They are going to work and coming home. But sometimes they struggle. They’re lonely or have problems on the job or problems keeping a job, which is usually an entry-level job. We continue to provide support for them, but not in a formal way. There are people in the building they can turn to for help if they need it. What is unique about living here is that the residents can have a connection to Project Place and other residents if they want it. If they don’t need it, they can be on their own.
(Photo right: Myers+Chang restaurant)
Since we know the folks here, we hear when someone may be having a problem and are able to provide support before they totally fall apart. We are able to check in with them before they get to a point where ― if they were living strictly on their own ― they would maybe stop paying rent. If they were living outside, the landlord would simply evict them. If we find there is a problem we try to work with them. Living at Project Place takes out of the equation the threat of immediate eviction or the fear that they’re going to be kicked out if they can’t pay their rent. Our goal is to keep them in their apartments. If it’s the first apartment they’ve had in a number of years, they may feel a tremendous pressure to succeed. We try to remove some of that pressure.
Our residents are single adults. The majority of the homeless population has issues in addition to being homeless. They could be mental-health issues, physical disabilities, or a history of domestic violence. When they move out of homelessness, they often must deal with some of those issues in addition to finding a job. Some of the folks here come from a transitional program for women that we run. The majority of women in that program ― called Betty’s Place ― are victims of domestic violence. When they are ready to move out of that program, they sometimes come here.
We are 100 percent occupied. The apartments are gorgeous. Each unit is adopted by a local design firm, which decorates and furnishes the apartment. As tenants move on, the designers come in and update the apartment.
(Photo right: Resident Bianca Thomas in her apartment.)
It matters a lot to our residents that the apartments are so lovely. They’re studios, but they are well- done studios. They are moved that people think they deserve such a quality home. This was a critical point to us when we built the apartments. Our tenants are constantly commenting that the space is wonderful. Living in apartments like those at Project Place makes the residents feel they are what we tell them they are. It sends a message: You are working hard to change your life and your life really is changing. This apartment is yours. It’s wonderful and you have a place to live.
As people build up a work record, they are able to move out of their apartments. Most are looking for larger units. Many of the folks living in our apartments have families and want a bigger apartment so they can live with their children or have them visit overnight.
(Photo right: Gatehouse community room.)
Gatehouse, which was a $11.5 million project, was financed through a combination of public and private funding, including New Market Tax Credits and a $2.5 million capital campaign. As part of the campaign, we sold plaques to donors for $100 to $100,000.
Our Bank partner was Wainwright Bank & Trust Company (merged in 2011 into Eastern Bank). Wainwright has been a great supporter of Project Place. Wainwright’s commitment early on was critical to our ability to secure financing. Once you have a reputable lender on board, it is easier to line up other funders. Wainwright was always a great cheerleader for the project ― a good partner. They aren’t just silent financiers. Their participation was instrumental in bringing in other funders. I know they worked hard and long to put the tax credits in place.
The AHP award was also important. It speaks volumes as testimony to the value of the project. When you get an AHP award and others know it, they think you have a worthwhile, financially viable project. So the AHP is really important. It also helped us close a funding gap.
(Photo right: Gatehouse)
Take a video tour of Gatehouse with Marcie Laden, director of development at Interseminarian Project Place.
Video: Click on the Start link at the right to tour Gatehouse. >>
(Photo right: Street view from Gatehouse.)
The Numbers: Gatehouse
|Department of Housing and Community Development Housing Innovations Funds||
|MassHousing Affordable Housing Trust Fund||
|Department of Neighborhood Development HOME funds||
|MHIC New Markets Tax Credits||
|Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston Affordable Housing Program Grant||
|Other Permanent Member Funding||
|Other Soft Costs||
|Capitalized Repl. Reserve|
|Capitalized Oper. Reserve|
Resident Bianca Thomas talks about her life at Gatehouse.
Video: Click on the Start link to the right to view the video. >>
(Photo right: Bianca Thomas)
Marcie Laden: Gatehouse has a green geothermal cooling system. Although the system has been somewhat of a nightmare so far, we’re trying to fix it so it will operate efficiently.
Low-VOC materials were used for the floors and kitchen, and the rooms have energy-efficient sensor lighting. The windows face east to get maximum sunlight. The exterior stairwells are not heated to conserve energy.
(Photo right: View of Washington Street from Gatehouse windows)
Marcie Laden: Washington Gateway ‘s goal has been to develop this part of lower Washington street. They’ve been adamant about continuing the revival that has been happening down here for some time. Joanne Chang, who was a member of our board, was interested in opening another restaurant, and we worked with her to open it on the ground floor of Gatehouse. Opening the restaurant was part of our commitment to the community. The restaurant, which has outdoor seating, is welcoming and adds vitality to the street at night and on weekends. Our building overlooks Pierce Park, which is maintained by one of our businesses as part of our community commitment.
I think our building, which has won several design awards, certainly marks this lower section of Washington Street as an up-and-coming place. What is happening in this neighborhood is similar to what has been happening in other parts of the South End for years. Since we opened in 2007, some upscale restaurants have opened right down the street. I would say our project was a contributor to their willingness to open in the neighborhood. I think other new plans are in the works for the neighborhood, but development has been stalled because of the economy.
FHLB Boston Housing Profiles July 2011
(Photo right: View of Washington Street and Berkeley Street)