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Libraries, fire stations might include public housing

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh announced Friday that Boston will gauge interest in a redevelopment project that would juggle affordable housing with public areas such as libraries, community centers and fire stations.

The city is actively seeking innovative ideas about how to best utilize public space to maximize affordable housing for the city’s residents and create a more communal atmosphere, according to a release from Walsh’s office. Through what is called a “Request for Information,” the mayor’s office is asking for residents’ input.

Marcy Ostberg, the director of the Housing Innovation Lab, an organization working to increase housing affordability, said the plan is not set in stone until Boston residents chime in.

We want to crowdsource as many ideas as we can from developers, architects and members of the public because we want to understand if there is interest in this concept and if this idea is worth pursuing,” Ostberg said in an interview. “The City has some resources and we want to think about how we can leverage those resources to get as much public benefit as possible for our residents.”

Ostberg said Walsh has a commitment to building more affordable housing units in the city.

“We have a good amount of affordable housing here,” Ostberg said. “We have almost [a] 20 percent income for our restricted housing unit, but we always need more. We’re trying to continuously find new ways to build affordable housing — like this program.”

The City of Boston will use the responses to inform conversations and provide inspiration for further analysis. Before the Mayor pursues a public idea, he will first engage the community, according to the request.

“We are hoping to learn if there are certain public assets or properties that work better than others and if there are ways to organize a development like this that could help meet the City’s goals of improved public assets and increasing affordable housing,” Ostberg said. “We’ll look at all the ideas that have come in and we’ll find out any overarching components we can pull from that.”

The Walsh administration rolled out a long-term plan for affordable housing called “Housing a Changing City: Boston 2030.” The initiative’s main goal is to create 53,000 new housing units for a range of income levels throughout the city.

Jennifer Migliore, 26, of Brighton, said she’s glad Walsh is trying improve Boston’s poor housing market.

“I think Boston housing prices are ridiculous,” Migliore said. “It’s similar to all major cities in the United States. I think everywhere young professionals are just struggling to find affordable housing in major cities.”

Molly Horan, 29, of Jamaica Plain, said she’s been forced to move as housing prices have risen.

“I have, over the course of the years, moved farther to the outskirts of the city in order to find cheaper housing,” Horan said. It’s pricing out a whole generation of students who went to college here, like I did, and want to stay.”

In the release, Walsh said the City of Boston has an obligation to improve its housing market.

“With the right projects and partnerships in place, we believe this model could have the potential to enhance City property by improving our infrastructure and generating new affordable housing options needed in neighborhoods throughout our city,” Walsh said in the release. “I look forward to seeing the ideas that could help us reimagine the future of our civic spaces to maximize the public benefit.”

William Lemos, 23, of Back Bay, said he isn’t satisfied with Walsh’s plan to improve the city’s housing market.

“I don’t think it’s all that easy getting a place in Boston,” Lemos said. “It forces young professionals to the outer edges of the city, and even then, it’s really tough.”


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