Lower Mills complex to receive $7 million revamp

The Boston Housing Authority is pouring $7 million in capital improvements into Lower Mills Apartments, leading to an on-site case manager and upgrades to common areas, the lobby, and kitchen and baths, city officials say.

There are 177 units in the Dorchester Avenue apartment complex. The construction, which isn’t expected to require relocation of residents, begins in early spring and is expected to last 14 to 18 months.

The on-site case manager will work with the elderly, the disabled and other residents living in the building. A meeting is set for Sept. 14 at 2 p.m., in the building, for a discussion about the physical improvements.

“Every unit will get something, certain upgrades,” said Kathryn Bennett, special assistant to the public housing agency’s administrator for planning.

In some cases, the kitchen and dining areas will be opened up.

“It should not impact [residents] other than that,” Bennett added. The units will remain affordable, she said and residents will still pay 30 percent of their income.

The $7 million in repairs comes through a series of complicated regulatory changes, in which ownership of the building is being transferred from the housing authority to a BHA-controlled entity because of federal requirements. An elected board of residents will remain in place.

The change frees up the funds for the repairs.

The complicated move was started by Sandra Henriquez, who oversaw the city’s housing authority before joining the Obama administration and the U.S. Department Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 2008.

Under the regulatory change, HUD will reimburse the BHA at a higher level per unit, as much as two to three times per unit. Because of the higher reimbursement, money in the agency’s operating budget is freed up for the much needed improvements.

Housing officials say the regulatory change is too expensive for HUD to replicate elsewhere in the city.
Built in the 1970s, Lower Mills is one of two housing complexes slated to receive the money through a regulatory change. There are 108 studio apartments, 59 one-bedroom units and 10 two-bedroom units in the complex.

The other city building undergoing the regulatory change is the 294-unit Heritage in East Boston. The two sites were picked for the changes in 2008.

Citing several meetings with residents in recent months, the BHA is asking the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which oversees various types of projects in the city, to waive the appointment of an impact advisory group for both sites.

The Boston Housing Authority will continue to directly manage Lower Mills, housing officials said.