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By Andy Metzger

BOSTON, JAN. 16, 2018.....A downtown Boston building dating back to the Grant administration will have a whole new use next year when it becomes home for people who have lacked a place of their own.

The Planning Office for Urban Affairs of the Archdiocese of Boston and St. Francis House have assembled a mix of public and private funds to rehab 48 Boylston Street, which was built by the Boston Young Men’s Christian Union in 1875.

Behind the ornate façade of the structure there will be 46 units of affordable housing, including 26 units designated for people who are homeless or have been homeless. The remaining units will be reserved for people with incomes at or below $43,440.

Officials celebrated the start of construction at a Boylston Street building that will house the formerly homeless. [Photo: Andy Metzger/SHNS]

The apartments will have a touch of 19th century polish, according to Karen LaFrazia, who is executive director of St. Francis House, which operates a day shelter across the street. The building is sandwiched between Emerson College and Chinatown.

"We're going to preserve the beautiful Victorian gothic façade. We're going to keep the marble fireplaces. And there's just something so special about that," LaFrazia said. "When I think about somebody who's been living in shelter or on the streets, and when they come home here, they're going to come home to a beautiful apartment with a marble fireplace overlooking Boston Common. The dignity that gives somebody and the message that sends is profound."

Gov. Charlie Baker, Cardinal Seán O’Malley and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh attended a ceremony in a packed room at the old Christian Union where participants signed a steel beam to be used in the renovation.

Construction will cost an estimated $20 million with financing from a state bond bill, the City of Boston Incentive Development Program and Neighborhood Housing Trust funds, equity from Bank of America’s purchase of housing and historic tax credits; a grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston; and a permanent mortgage provided by Eastern Bank, according to the Planning Office for Urban Affairs of the Archdiocese.

The Massachusetts Historical Commission, led by Secretary of State William Galvin, provided $2.5 million for the project.

"I look forward to finding other projects to do like this so we can continue to use historic tax credits in a very creative and effective way," said Galvin. He said, "It's not just about the buildings. It's about the people they serve."

People will be living in the building in "just one year," said LaFrazia. A second phase of construction would feature 93 units, according to a spokeswoman, who said the second phase has not yet been finalized.

"I've seen firsthand how much a home provides a strong impact for somebody," Walsh said. "When formerly homeless individuals give tours of their new homes, you can see the pride in their faces."

Both Baker and Walsh have touted their administrations' accomplishments in providing better accommodations for homeless people. The governor has boasted about reducing the number of homeless families living in hotels and motels, and Walsh on Tuesday said Boston has housed 1,300 chronically homeless people in Boston in the last four years.

In his second inaugural address, Walsh pledged to rebuild the Long Island Bridge, which was demolished over safety concerns, cutting off access to shelter and other services on the harbor island.


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