Wednesday, July 17, 2024

U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, center, listens Thursday to a resident of Somerville’s Clarendon Hill housing with Mayor Katjana Ballantyne. (Photo: Emily Pauls)

A visit Thursday by Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley highlighted progress on the Clarendon Hill Redevelopment Project, which will upgrade 216 affordable homes and add 80 moderate-income units and 295 market-rate units – a total of 519 homes across three buildings and a set of townhomes that revives a project built in 1948 as housing for veterans.

Data shows that 92 percent of Clarendon Hill households now are women-led and 87 percent are led by women of color, Mayor Katjana Ballantyne said during the visit by Pressley, a celebration of her securing $2.4 million in federal funds for what’s called the Clarendon Hill Housing and Transportation Equity Project.

“It’s usually the women, especially low-income women and women of color, that get second-tier treatment – but not this time,” Ballantyne said.

This project, she said, has been an honor to work on.

“What was once deteriorated, unsuitable housing will now be new, healthy homes in fossil-fuel-free LEED platinum buildings surrounded by great outdoor space and safer streets,” Ballantyne said.

Clarendon Residents United, a Somerville tenant organization, have been advocating since 2016 for the redevelopment. Two residents of Clarendon Hill, Jessica Turner and Maggie Joseph, were part of a Thursday roundtable discussion on the funds and project with Pressley and Ballantyne.

A goal of healthier communities

Also at the roundtable was Diane Cohen, executive director of the Somerville Housing Authority; Cory Mian and Rodger Brown of the nonprofit developer Preservation of Affordable Housing; and Gonzalo Puigbó, chief executive of the Somerville Community Corporation.

“Thank you so much to Rep. Pressley not just for securing critical funds for this vital project but for always standing up for affordable housing, low-income families, sustainability and safe transit,” Ballantyne said. “This project can now continue building for the future of both Clarendon residents as well as our commonwealth.”

Pressley said that investment in transit and housing can radically transform communities.

“Everyone deserves a safe and sustainable neighborhood to live and move through,” Pressley said during the discussion. “Transit justice is racial and economic justice, which is why I fought so hard to support projects that address the inequities in our transportation systems and create healthier, safer and more connected communities.”

Conditions “not good at all”

Turner, a 14-year resident of Clarendon Hill and member of Clarendon Residents United, told the officials what it is like for the residents to live in Clarendon Hill.

“The current state of the domain is not good at all,” Turner said. “Some of us who live there don’t even know what it’s like to not live in a place that is falling apart.”

This project will change that, and everyone is looking forward to change, she said.

“I’m sorry that you had to fight so hard,” Pressley said to Turner. “It can be very demoralizing to wake up in an environment every day that doesn’t affirm your work … Thank you for being so honest.”

Years in the making

In the new Clarendon Hill, every building includes a mix of income ranges; Ballantyne, who began advocating for the project as a city councilor, has called it a “social model” in addition to being an economic model. The homes will surround a 16,000-square-foot park and have access to 368 parking spaces.

Meetings about a proposed redevelopment began in October 2016, with zoning approval won in the fall of 2020. Relocation started in late summer of 2022 for construction beginning in December 2022.

The project is in the first phase of construction; by the end of 2024, almost all of the families will be moved into new homes, said Mian, of Preservation of Affordable Housing.

“This funding really helps enable that second phase so that we can complete this project and the additional infrastructure work that needs to happen out there,” Mian said.