Harbor Point Redevelopment, MA

Privately-Funded Public Housing Redevelopment: A Study of the Transformation of Columbia Point (2008)

This case study, which chronicles the transformation of Columbia Point, draws upon newspaper and magazine articles, academic articles and books, and interviews with local residents, government officials, architects, and developers, including Miles Byrne of Corcoran Jennison (formerly Corcoran, Mullins, Jennison, Inc.), Orlando Perilla, the Executive Director of the Harbor Point Community Task Force, and Etta Johnson and Ms. Chatman, residents and activists at Harbor Point. Members of the Institute for International Urban Development have been following and lecturing on the Columbia Point redevelopment for the last 20 years. Frank Vigier, Mona Serageldin and John Driscoll were instrumental in the direction and content of this case study.

Constructed under the auspices of the state of Massachusetts’s Veterans’ Housing Program in 1954, the 1504-unit Columbia Point public housing complex, located on the Boston waterfront (fig. 1), was originally designed as a temporary dwelling for returning World War II veterans and their families. Less than twenty years later, the project, as well as the hopes that officials at the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) and the Department for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) had once invested in it, were in a state of decay. The development became largely uninhabitable due to crime, a high number of dilapidated and closed units, a concentration of at-risk tenants, and a lack of basic amenities, the result of an inadequate operations and maintenance budget.

While Harbor Point has won numerous awards and praise from numerous quarters, perhaps the greatest sign of success is that approximately 285 of the 350low-income families (81.4 percent) that inhabited the complex when renovation began still reside in the new development.3 Given that fewer IIUD Case Study Harbor Point, Massachusetts Institute for International Urban Development September, 2008 4 of 31 than 20 percent of Boston residents lived in the same household in 1989 as in 2006 (American Community Survey, 2006), these families have had a remarkably low turn-over rate. Nevertheless, Harbor Point is largely inhabited by residents whose income levels and ethnic backgrounds are poles apart from those who had spearheaded its transfiguration in the first place.

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