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Affordable housing in Back Bay offers new opportunities for previously unhoused and low-income individuals

A new affordable housing effort in Back Bay, completed in December 2023, created 210 affordable apartments in the area, 111 of which were designated for people formerly unhoused.

The Young Women’s Christian Association at 140 Clarendon Street in Back Bay. The historic YWCA building was converted into affordable apartments last month with designated units for individuals who are formerly homeless. ZACH SCHWARTZ/DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

140 Clarendon Street in Back Bay, home of Boston’s Young Women’s Christian Association for nearly 100 years, was converted into affordable apartments for the redevelopment project, according to a press release from the Mayor’s Office of Housing.

“The 140 Clarendon building is a historic property that is unique in many ways. It was a rare opportunity to create supportive housing in the middle of Back Bay, where land available for development is rare,” Alexander Sturke, the director of communications for the city of Boston, wrote in an email.

The Pine Street Inn, a homeless services organization, provides “on-site housing stability support to help tenants remain in their apartments” and “programs that assist with increasing their income and provide them with skills and tools to live more independently,” according to the press release. 

It will provide “wrap-around services” to formerly unhoused residents during the redevelopment process. These services aim to provide a holistic approach to ensure these residents “remain stably housed and reach their highest level of independence.”

Darcy Jameson, the vice president of development at Beacon Communities LLC, said the housing project was “in response to the humanitarian crisis” affecting people experiencing being unhoused in Boston. It is now fully occupied, Jameson said.

“The city of Boston really took a big step forward to help address [the housing problem] at scale with the 140 Clarendon redevelopment project, which I just think is fabulous,” Jameson said.

Jameson said a buyer was already looking to obtain the building in 2019, but the sale fell through during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Beacon Communities and the Mount Vernon Company approached the state and city about implementing “something that would preserve the cultural and educational uses” of 140 Clarendon and create housing, Jameson said. Beacon Communities bought the property in 2021.

Jameson said the housing at 140 Clarendon is a low-income housing-funded tax credit project, meaning households earning 60% or below of the area median income are eligible to apply.

Beacon Communities also received Project-Based Section 8 Vouchers from the Boston Housing Authority, Jameson said. These vouchers provide housing for individuals earning up to 50% of the area’s median income. 

Jameson said creating affordable housing in Back Bay gives residents access to different community services. 140 Clarendon houses commercial tenants, including the Lyric Stage Theatre and the Snowden School, which Beacon Communities retained, according to the press release.

“I think that’s really one of the benefits of having an affordable community in an urban area, especially in a community like the Back Bay where there are all these wonderful resources, and our community, as well as the broader community, has access to them equally,” Jameson said.

Janell Smith, a barista at a Tatte Bakery & Café located on Clarendon Street, said she felt the affordable housing at 140 Clarendon would be “positive for the community.”

“Housing is something that should be allotted to everybody, and especially affordable housing,” Smith said. “I know in Boston, it’s not something that, you know, is within reach of a lot of people.”

Smith said it’s important the city implemented affordable housing in Back Bay, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Boston, because “it brings a sense of equity.”

140 Clarendon, alongside other affordable and low-income housing projects in Boston, are not quick fixes for everyone. 

Jonathan Green, an e-commerce shopper at a Star Market branch in Back Bay, currently lives in a halfway house but is facing impending unhousing, as the extension he received expires at the end of April.

Green said he has been repeatedly turned away from housing due to a past felony conviction, and affordable housing is not an exception. 

“There’s so many barriers even with affordable housing,” Green said.

Jameson said she thinks the city is currently working towards addressing the need for creating housing that serves a wide range of people at different incomes, especially those experiencing being unhoused. 

“I think that 140 Clarendon reflects the leadership of the city and the state like no project I’ve seen in a very long time,” Jameson said.


CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated that this was the first affordable housing effort in Back Bay, it is not the first but the latest. The article has been updated to reflect this change.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article said that this project was approved by the city of Boston last month. The article has been updated to reflect this error. 

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