Plans to remake Mildred Hailey housing complex advance

They call for eventually adding 437 apartments while also replacing 235 existing units on the Jamaica Plain site.

By Tim Logan Globe Staff, Updated September 18, 2020, 3:20 p.m.

A long-planned makeover of the Mildred Hailey Apartments in Jamaica Plain is starting to move forward.

A trio of nonprofit developers have filed plans with the Boston Planning & Development Agency to convert about half of the housing complex — which was renamed from Bromley-Heath in 2016 — into larger buildings of mixed-income apartments. It’s one of a wave of similar projects the Boston Housing Authority has launched around the city, partnering with private developers to redevelop its stock of large and aging public housing complexes.

At Hailey, The Community Builders, Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corp., and Urban Edge — all Boston nonprofits focused on housing and community development — are seeking BPDA approval to replace seven older buildings at the huge low-income housing complex and replace them with seven-story buildings of new apartments serving a wide mix of incomes.

In all, the $400 million project would add 437 units to the complex, along with replacing 253 existing apartments, and adding a new community center and retail space. As at other BHA redevelopments, all the units for low-income public housing tenants would be replaced, with the rest of the new housing set to serve a wide range of incomes, potentially up to market rate rents.

“There is some moderate income housing that gets added, and upper-middle-income housing, too,” said Bart Mitchell, chief executive of The Community Builders. “We don’t always get the opportunity to create a mix like that.”

It may take a decade to build out the site in several phases, a plan designed to minimize disruption for existing residents. A $140 million first phase would demolish just one 23-unit building, while adding 234 new units largely on vacant land.

Plans also call for a new community center, retail, parking, and a redesign of buildings and streets to make the seven-acre site, which sits alongside the Jackson Square Orange Line station, more welcoming for pedestrians and cyclists. The BHA plans to eventually redevelop the entire 29-acre Hailey complex, but hasn’t yet named a developer for later phases.

While neighborhood discussions about the project have been ongoing since the BHA awarded the site to the three groups in 2017, Thursday’s filing of detailed plans will launch the process of formal review by the BPDA. The developers also plan to seek city and state financing this fall for the project, with an aim to start construction in 2022.

Public subsidy, Mitchell said, could help the Mildred Hailey redevelopment avoid the slowdowns that have delayed a similar plan to rebuild BHA’s massive Bunker Hill public housing complex in Charlestown. There, developers initially proposed tripling the density of the site — adding roughly 2,000 new units of market-rate housing — as a way to pay to replace about 1,100 public housing units with minimal public funds. But they’ve faced pushback from Charlestown residents worried about traffic and density in a hard-to-reach corner of the neighborhood, and recently came back with a more scaled-down version.

A third such public housing remake, at the Mary Ellen McCormick complex in South Boston, remains in early planning stages.

The projects highlight the complexity of this type of redevelopment, Mitchell said, which have to balance density and affordability while also remaining economically feasible. He said he’s confident that it has devised a good formula to rebuild at Mildred Hailey.

“We’re trying to be really thoughtful about building types and scale that will both be beautiful to the neighborhood and make economic sense,” he said. “We’ve got a good, balanced approach.”

Read Boston Globe link here