St. Francis House, POUA dedicate downtown Boston affordable housing

BOSTON -- Rain pelted the tent set up for the May 28 ribbon cutting ceremony of The Union, a new affordable housing community for homeless, formerly homeless, and low-income individuals in downtown Boston.

Karen LaFrazia, president and CEO of St. Francis House, the homeless services agency behind the project, encouraged those present to take the rain as "one more reminder of why today is so important."

"The weather today speaks for the need, in and of itself, to provide affordable housing for people who are experiencing homelessness. The men and women that St. Francis House serves are people who have to bear the elements every single day," LaFrazia said.

The Union, located at 48 Boylston Street, is the site of the former Boston Young Men's Christian Union. In 2015 St. Francis House partnered with the archdiocese's Planning Office for Urban Affairs to develop the historic building into 46 units of affordable housing. Bob's Furniture furnished the apartments, and Maloney Properties will manage the building.

Twenty-six of The Union's studio and one-bedroom units are intended for homeless or formerly homeless individuals, who are selected by lottery. The other 20 units are for individuals with incomes at or below $51,780. The building also houses offices for St. Francis House, which will provide support services, including counseling and job training.

"This is a day long in coming and fantastic in the making," LaFrazia said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. She said all but one of the units are already occupied and the last resident will move in the next few weeks.

Cardinal Seán O'Malley offered a prayer, and state and city officials shared remarks about legislation and initiatives related to housing and homelessness. Several speakers, while celebrating the completion of The Union project, said much work remained to address the housing crisis Massachusetts is facing.

Boston mayor Martin Walsh spoke of his first meeting with The Union residents a few months ago and the progress that has been made in supporting people experiencing homelessness. He pointed out that the building was "prime real estate" that could have been purchased and turned into luxury condominiums.

"This project represents our belief every single person in this city deserves compassion, support, and a safe place to call home. And that's what we have to continue to strive for," he said.

Gov. Charlie Baker spoke about the partnership between the archdiocese, the city, and the state to create The Union. Remarks were also offered by two members of the Massachusetts legislature, Senator Joseph Boncore and Representative Aaron Michlewitz, Chair of the House Committee on Ways and Means.

Andrew Moskevich, a resident of The Union, who spoke of his experience with homelessness and his participation in St. Francis House's Moving Ahead Program (MAP), which he said enabled him to find a full-time job and housing. He then earned an associate's degree in human services at North Shore Community College. He said he looks forward to working as a housing case manager, helping people the way St. Francis House helped him.

Moskevich said homelessness is "devastating to the person, the family, and the community."

"Homelessness becomes a full-time job. Where is my next meal going to come from? How am I going to get to my doctor's appointment tomorrow? How can I get a job if I don't have an address? And the big one: Where am I going to stay tonight? That's not a question I or anyone else should ever have to ask again," Moskevich said.

Lisa Alberghini, president of Planning Office for Urban Affairs, said plans are underway to build a high rise building with 126 affordable housing units on the lot immediately behind The Union.