City is seeking input for housing on 70 vacant lots

A map showing the location of most of the 70 vacant lots that city officials are seeking to turn into affordable housing. Screenshot

Looking to kickstart the redevelopment of 70 city-owned lots across Dorchester and Mattapan into affordable housing, city officials will launch a community input effort this weekend.

Most of the lots are north and south of Talbot Avenue at its Blue Hill Avenue end.

The “open house” for local residents is set for Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Boys and Girls Club at 15 Talbot Ave. Every lot is owned by the Mayor’s Office of Housing.

Staffers from the office will be on hand, alongside others from the Boston Planning and Development Agency, which has drafted a plan for more housing in Mattapan, and from the city’s Transportation Department, which is working on a proposal for a center MBTA bus lane down Blue Hill Avenue.

In the larger picture, Mayor Wu, with sign off from the City Council, is funneling $35 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to fast-track affordable housing through 150 parcels of city-owned land. This weekend’s open house will focus on the first 70 lots. They are located within District 4, which is represented by Brian Worrell on the City Council.

City officials are seeking input on the type of affordable housing local residents want to see, and they hope to draw in renters interested in owning a home. City staffers at the open house also plan to highlight ways renters can buy a home in Boston and prequalify for mortgage products backed by the city.

The new homes could range in style from single-family to duplexes and townhouses, as well as three-deckers.

The parcels have come into the hands of the Mayor’s Office of Housing through tax foreclosures. Some once were filled with houses that burned down over time.

The community outreach efforts on these lots will continue through the end of the year, according to Jamie Smith, who works on real estate management and sales for the Mayor’s Office of Housing.

“We want to make sure we get feedback that we can incorporate into our development guidelines that go into the requests for proposals for these lots,” he said.

Staffers will also put a sign on each parcel to mark it as a future location of affordable housing, and include a QR code that people can use to weigh in through their phones.

The requests for proposals will go out to developers sometime early next year, with construction potentially starting in the fall.

City officials are ramping up efforts to build affordable housing as the economy faces a headwind of uncertainty. Costs of labor and material are continuing to rise, and homebuyers are dealing with rising interest rates, in addition to inflation, even as Massachusetts continues to suffer from a lack of inventory when it comes to homes.

“It’s made it more difficult to make the financing work, but we’re committed to continuing to find a way,” Smith said.

The Wu administration has sought to prioritize affordable housing production within city limits. Earlier this year, Wu joined Arthur Jemison, the city’s chief of planning, to unveil an audit of parcels owned by various city departments. The Mayor’s Office of Housing and the BPDA were identified as the city entities with the “most significant numbers of vacant and underutilized parcels,” the audit said. The housing office had 921 vacant parcels, while the BPDA had 176.

In September, Wu signed an executive order to streamline and speed up affordable housing, noting that currently the approval process can last as long as 337 days. She wants to cut that time in half.

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