Commentary | A few points to be made about Permanent Supportive Housing

I attended the public information meeting at The Murphy School on 9/27/22 to hear about a proposed partnership between Pine Street Inn (PSI) and The Community Builders (TCB) to convert the Comfort Inn at 900 Morrissey Blvd. into 104 affordable studio apartments for formerly homeless people. In addition to studio apartments, the new facility will offer community kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry facilities.

It was quite an emotional evening – over 200, maybe 300, people crammed into the Murphy School cafeteria, most voicing strong opposition to the proposal.   Many concerns were expressed about safety of their families, including children in nearby schools, reduction in property values, increase in crime, destruction of property, and more.

There is a lot of confusion about this project – and housing can be complicated. If accepted into the program, residents would be securing permanent supportive housing. What is “permanent supportive housing.

Permanent Supportive Housing means housing where assistance and supportive services are provided to assist people in achieving housing stability. Residents will receive wrap-around services for mental health, diet and medicine management, assistance for people with disabilities and elders trying to maintain their independence, and more. This is the supportive housing component, a proven strategy that works at other facilities here in Boston and around the country. While PSI will provide the wrap around services, TCB will purchase, renovate, and manage the building.

As soon as someone is accepted into the program and moves in as a new resident, s/he will be assigned a PSI case worker.  The ratio of residents to case workers will be 1:15.  

It is important to note that the people who move into these units will have to apply, be thoroughly vetted by the Boston Housing Authority, then carefully reviewed by PSI and CBP before being accepted into the program. The BHA application process is long and thorough – reviewing one’s rental history, neighbor and landlord references, criminal background, finances, and more. Additionally:

• There will be 24/7 security team and only one entrance.   There was much concern expressed about safety issues once these residents move into our neighborhood. PSI made this astounding comment: “Mostly the security team will protect the people INSIDE the building as many of them will be extremely vulnerable.”
• The average monthly income of tenants is $890 – from Social Security.
• PSI reports the average one- year retention rate for residents is 90 percent and sometime as high as 96 percent
• 50 residents out of the 104 people in the facility will be frail elders and disabled who are already living in scattered housing in Dorchester in PSI facilities.   Due to their age and health status, they can no longer climb stairs and need the wrap-around services that will be offered at 900 Morrissey.
• Federal law prohibits anyone registered as a sex offender from applying for subsidized housing.  Naturally this was a big concern about children being exposed to sex offenders, which is not the case.
• Because residents won’t have cars, there will be less traffic at the facility and in surrounding neighborhoods (most, if not all, Comfort Inn guests have vehicles).  Stop & Shop is across the street, and PSI will provide shuttle service to the subway, so this is a good location for people without cars.

This partnership between The Pine Street Inn and The Community Builders is new and innovative.   Housing advocates across the country are looking to convert hotels into supportive housing. 

Boston desperately needs affordable housing.  Especially in Dorchester where much of Morrissey Blvd will be developed with no subsidized housing (‘Subsidized’ means the tenant pays 30 percent of their household income toward rent.  None of the 13 percent “affordable” units required by developers is “subsidized”).  Boston has now beat out San Francisco as the second-most expensive city in the country.

I believe this project will bring many benefits to Dorchester and Boston: More mixed income; enhanced green space and addition of a community garden; fewer vehicles; 100 new construction jobs (all union) and 25 permanent positions between the two organizations.
People in Dorchester and surrounding Boston neighborhoods deserve to live safety, affordably, and with dignity. Please keep your mind open as this project moves thru the Boston Planning & Development Agency phase. Thank you.

Laurie Martinelli is a Dorchester resident.