What will become of the crumbling brick building with the boarded windows at 872 Morton St. in Mattapan? Prime property along a busy commercial district, directly across from a newly renovated commuter train service, sits an old Boston Police station house whose fate will ultimately be decided not only by its huge potential, strong community support for revitalization and an interested developer, but also by a downturn in the housing market.
After nearly four years of planning and negotiations with community leaders, the city-designated developer met this week with residents and elected officials to suggest a change in usage from homeownership to rentals, a move prompted by the current mortgage lending and foreclosure crisis.
The decision comes as real estate sales are plummeting and foreclosures are at an all time high. Quoting housing statistics for Mattapan alone, John Judge, the principal with Judge Company, LLC, stated there are approximately 100 homes in Mattapan currently in some phase of the foreclosure process. That number represents 14 percent of the total foreclosures in the City of Boston, according to Judge. For Mattapan, which stretches only three miles, these figures were significant enough to force Judge to re-evaluate his plan to build condominiums for home buyers.
"It's a depressed housing market now and it wouldn't make sense," said Judge speaking at the meeting.
Those working closely with homeowners affected by the sub-prime lending like Lillie Searcy, Director of ABCD Mattapan Family Service Center said the housing foreclosures is a national problem that may present more housing stock for renters. Searcy runs a foreclosure prevention program that assist customers in Mattapan, Roslindale and Hyde Park.
Judge's present proposal for 872 Morton includes 28 apartments both one and two bedrooms. Street level design on Morton would include 2,000 square feet of commercial space. Standing three stories above Morton, the building will progress to four stories in the rear. Each unit would have one space for parking, including additional parking for the retail office, a total of 44 spaces. Each unit would be equipped with a washer/dryer, central air conditioning, a fitness room and even an environmentally friendly roof top made with ground soil to help with insulation.
The project got positive reviews from those community members who attended the meeting.
"I am so excited about this project because it [building] has just sat there for so long," said Catherine Hardaway owner of Final Touch, an upscale clothing boutique only a few feet away from the decaying Morton Street structure.
The project would offer mixed-income opportunities. Market rate apartments priced between $1,100-$1,250 for a two bedroom and affordable units would rent at approximately $950 a month for the same two bedroom. With the affordability component the rental became even more attractive for some.
New store fronts, accessible public transportation and a well-traveled location gives Danny Hardaway, President of the Morton Street Board of Trade and co-owner of Final Touch, the inspiration for a revamped business district.
"This would create a nice viable impression and instead of going outside of your community, you could shop here," said Hardaway.
The concern around asbestos removal and public transportation were raised by community activist Barbara Crichlow. Judge explained companies hired for the job would be qualified to properly remove the materials. He also stated he would work with the State Representative Linda Dorcena Forry, who was also at the meeting, to address Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority directly.
While the project has been in the works for years, the building continues to be owned by the City of Boston. Judge says he is confident that with the positive support shown at the meeting the project would go forward. If approved by the City of Boston demolition would begin within months according to Judge with ground breaking to commence in the spring 2009.
With 12-18 months predicted to complete the project, Hardaway stated it will be worth the wait.
"We can't stop this project. It is long overdue."