City, News

‘A Boston-wide problem’: Allston square development project remains work in progress amidst lack of funding

A plan to develop Allston square, announced in February 2018, has not broken ground as it awaits funding from bank lenders. 

The site of the Allston Square Redevelopment Project. The program, which plans to construct 342 new housing units, has yet to receive proper funding. JOY KIM/ DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

The plan originally included six buildings along Cambridge Street, Franklin Street and Highgate Street, as well as development bordering Wilton Street, Braintree Street and Harvard Avenue, according to the letter of intent proposed by City Realty, the developer.  

As part of the program, 342 housing units with 254 parking units would be constructed. Of the housing units, 234 units were proposed to be condominiums and 108 as rental units.

After a series of Impact Advisory Group meetings beginning in 2018, the program received Boston Planning and Development Board approval in November 2019 and was granted a building permit in November 2022, according to the BPDA. 

But the Allston Square project has still not broken ground, one of many development projects contributing to a city-wide development slump amidst Boston’s housing crisis.  

Jacob Simmons, the vice president of product development for City Realty, said a “significant chunk of the funds” are needed to complete the project. He said the lack of funding comes down to a “matter of appetite” from lenders and high interest rates. 

“It’s not very unique to these sites, it’s very much a Boston-wide problem,” Simmons said. “We spend a lot of time on a weekly basis trying to find avenues to not be one of those stalled projects.” 

The project has undergone changes in attempts to make it more attractive to lenders, such as a shift from home ownership to rental properties. It had previously been a condominium heavy project, Simmons said, but after the pandemic, the market for condominium developments “basically dried up.” 

“Last year, we went through a process … to change this over from condominium to rental, and the point of that is … to make this something we feel is viable to lenders,” Simmons said. 

Anthony D’Isidoro, the president of the Allston Civic Association, said the progress of the development “has been a deeply frustrating situation.” 

“It’s very difficult when there’s a long delay in getting construction going and you see the consequences of that,” he said. D’Isidoro said that the stall has led abandoned buildings to “become even more susceptible” to problems such as graffiti and unhoused individuals inhabiting them.

D’Isidoro said he and others fought against the amendment to an all rental housing project.

“We approved more density because we thought … it’s home ownership, and the more home ownership the better,” D’Isidoro said. “To say that it was a minor change,  it isn’t. It’s a whole change in direction.”

Simmons said that “the scale” of the project has been another issue in securing funding. He said local savings banks who might be more apt to lend on a project are not as large, meaning they might not be able to take one on at a certain scale.

Simmons still hopes the redevelopment “will be transformative for the neighborhood.”

“It’s right now a pretty derelict … series of buildings,” Simmons said. “We still see it as a chance to bring back what we think should be a vibrant quarter of the neighborhood.”

The redevelopment aims to both address the “massive housing shortage” in Boston and create “a number of retail sites” to “reactivate the retail area,” Simmons said.

The hope is a full-circle effect: new development will help rent go down across the city, helping with the supply shortage that contributes to development slump.

“A few hundred units in a neighborhood of thousands of units … may be more of a drop in a bucket than a big splash, but the overall principle for why development is important is that right now in Boston we have a structural housing shortage,” Simmons said. “We’re hoping to be a part of fixing [that].”

But many changes and delays have left community members frustrated.

“What started out so exciting for the community … has gone through so many iterations, so many ups and downs,” D’Isiorio said.

D’Isorio said he believes City Realty has been looking for someone to take over the project, which has not been confirmed.

“The good news is we think this is probably a pretty compelling site for lenders to put money in, just because of the strength of the neighborhood,” Simmons said. “We still believe in the project and … we’re working to try to make sure this doesn’t stay stalled.”

More Articles

One Comment

  1. Needham bank advertises non-stop on local TV news about how they like to build things. Time to hold their feet to the fire?