Opponents target Pine Street bid for hotel conversion with sidewalk protest at the site

The scene in front of the hotel at 900 Morrissey Blvd. on Saturday morning Seth Daniel photos

While city officials review a Pine Street Inn plan to convert the Comfort Inn at 900 Morrissey Blvd. into housing for formerly homeless persons, neighbors who oppose the idea staged a protest last Saturday on the sidewalk in front of the hotel.

Between 50 and 75 neighbors gathered there over the duration of the event, with some holding up homemade signs calling for saving the future of the neighborhood while others used the occasion to criticize the ownership of the hotel.

The 900 Morrissey plan calls for Pine Street Inn and The Community Builders (TCB) revamping the 131-room hotel into 104 studio apartments with support services for formerly homeless persons and 24-hour security. The project comes amid a regional housing crisis and low supply of low-income units.

The comment period for the project, which is under review by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), ends on Jan. 6.

Neighbor Tim Murray said that no one is disputing the good work Pine Street Inn does, but he said he hasn’t seen any plans to guarantee the surrounding areas will not suffer spillover effects from what he described as essentially a 104-unit homeless shelter. Pine Street officials have said repeatedly that the converted hotel will be permanent supportive housing, not a shelter.

“You saw it spread from Mass and Cass and they have no plan to address that,” Murray said, referring to an area closer to downtown struggling with drug dealing and homelessness. “We already are dealing with the effects of this in many ways. One simple way is if you try to get toothpaste at the CVS, it’s all locked up. If you compare the prices at Stop & Shop here with those in Quincy, they are higher here…We aren’t scared the boogie man will show up; the boogie man has already shown up. This will only magnify it. The people here have invested in this place for generations.”

He added that Dorchester has done its part to address the issues of homelessness and addiction, so perhaps other neighborhoods should be considered. “We shouldn’t be the demonstration project for the mayor, Pine Street Inn, and Community Builders to say they’ve done their part,” he said. “We’ve already done our part.”

Deirdre Wilkinson said Dorchester is already saturated with service providers, noting that the conditions at the Roundhouse – formerly a Best Western Hotel – at Mass. and Cass has her worried. It is now being used as a low-threshold housing option for those on Mass. and Cass.

Deirdre Wilkinson, right, and Sharon Lupichuk, center, were among the protesters at 900 Morrissey Blvd. project last Saturday morning.

“I worked at the Roundhouse when it was a hotel and I’ve watched it go to what it is now,” she said. “There are so many young kids here in this area and it’s right next to the school and bowling alley and so many activities. It’s always Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury. You never hear about this in West Roxbury, but we’re supposedly all part of Boston.”

Pine Street operates permanent supportive housing facilities in Dorchester, Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, Fenway, the South End, and Brookline.

Another 900 Morrissey neighbor, Maggie Mancuso, said the city should heed the opposition from local residents. “This decision was made behind our backs and without transparency and Dorchester deserves better,” she said.

She was joined by Susan Kelly, who took aim at the owners of the property, the Strazzula and Sammartino families – who also operate Boston Bowl and other properties on Morrissey Boulevard.

“They opened up in Dorchester in 1959 and they’ve been here a long time, and now they’ve left us for Scituate,” she said.

After a BPDA meeting on Dec. 7 that attracted 270 people, the Reporter noted that those speaking in opposition outnumbered supporters by approximately two to one.

A statement from Pine Street Inn and TCB last Friday reiterated their view that affordable housing is desperately needed and that projects like 900 Morrissey provide safe and stable housing for some of the city’s most vulnerable residents, many of them elderly.

“Future residents at 900 Morrissey will undergo multiple screenings, pass criminal background checks, and will be drawn from a known list of the city’s chronically homeless individuals,” read the statement. “We are grateful for the community support we have received on this project to date. We have been addressing questions around security and parking and will continue to work with the community and city to come up with the best plan for 900 Morrissey.”

They added they have a long track record of success to point to.

“With 50+ years of experience improving people’s lives across Boston, we are committed to being good neighbors,” the statement noted. “We invite residents of the neighborhood to tour one of our permanent supportive housing locations for a first-hand look at the type of housing we are planning at 900 Morrissey Blvd.”

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