New South Boston Community Center to be named for late BHA chief McGonagle

Congressman Lynch, right, with BHA administrator Kenzie Bok at Monday's announcement. Cassidy McNeeley photo

Bill McGonagle. WBUR photo

Congressman Stephen F. Lynch held a press conference on Monday at the Mary Ellen McCormack Housing Development to announce $850,000 in federal funding that he had secured to establish the William “Billy” McGonagle Community Center as part of a new YMCA facility in South Boston.

The center will part of a new 17,500-square-foot facility on the site of a defunct boiler plant in the McCormack complex. The new federal funding is in addition to a $1.75 million grant that Lynch secured in 2022. Construction is expected to start later this year.

McGonagle, who grew up in the McCormack development, went on to lead the city’s Boston Housing Authority (BHA), which owns and manages the housing development, which is also called “Old Harbor.” He died in 2019 at age 67 shortly after his retirement from city government but remains a revered figure to friends and former colleagues.

p3 McGonagle center rendering REP 19-24.png

“Billy was affiliated with BHA for 92 percent of his life, whether he lived here or worked here,” said his wife Ellen, who spoke at Monday’s event. “I took the kid out of the project and then he worked his way all the way to administrator.”

McGonagle started his career with the BHA as a junior groundskeeper and was appointed its administrator in 2009 by former mayor Thomas M. Menino. From his first day to his last, McGonagle was determined to improve public housing. Most notably he was a key player in the desegregation of projects in South Boston and Charlestown. The community center built in his name will further his legacy of inclusion.

“This new YMCA will help enrich the lives of neighborhood children and families,” said Lynch. “It will create a safe space for residents and promote training and educational opportunities for them as well. It also is entirely fitting and reassuring that this new facility will forever be associated with our friend Billy McGonagle to honor his memory and the wonderful work he did throughout his life.”

Lynch, who knew McGonagle as a kid, also grew up in public housing. Without it, he said, his family would have been homeless. Today, the BHA has more than 42,000 families on its waiting list.

“We have over 180,000 families statewide all in the same situation my family was in: waiting, hoping,” said the congressman. “They call it housing insecure, but you're worried about being homeless. It's a desperate situation. Knowing this federal money and eventually this larger project will go to addressing that need is heartwarming to me and I want to thank everyone who is part of this.”

Lynch also thanked a tenant task force led by Carol Sullivan for driving the effort to establish the center that will bear McGonagle’s name. “This was a request that came from the people who live here,” he said, “to their elected leaders to the state representative and the senator, to the city councillor, to the mayor, to the governor. And then it came up to Washington, D.C.”

Sullivan added: “This is a very exciting day for the tenants. What the YMCA is going to bring here for our tenants is outstanding. It's going to be state-of-the-art, something we have never seen before.”

David Shapiro, CEO of Greater Boston YMCA, said the new community center would be like “a new town square, a hub for the community, a world-class asset that everyone here deserves. “That's game changing,” he said.

The McCormack development dates back to the late 1930s. It’s named for the mother of one of Lynch’s predecessors in Congress, the late Speaker of the US House John W. McCormack.

WinnCompanies CEO Gilbert Winn called Lynch the “godfather” of the development. “Real estate development and community development are getting more complex, expensive, and harder,” said Winn. “The federal support that the congressman brings will be the chief reason this succeeds. But it can’t be done alone. It can’t be done just with the private sector and the federal government. The state support has been excellent, and the city support has been unbelievable.”

“On behalf of families living in public housing, I'm so happy that the McGonagle family could have a part in this,” said Lynch. “They watched firsthand the incredible impact Billy had on everyone in need of public housing and that need is certainly more important today than ever. “

Subscribe to the Dorchester Reporter