A flood of comments on Comfort Inn plan: ‘Nays’ edge out the ‘yeas’ as more than 400 weigh in

Elected officials, religious leaders, and the public weighed in during the designated time for comment on Pine Street Inn’s proposal to convert the Comfort Inn on Morrissey Boulevard in Neponset into permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless people.

The period for feedback on the controversial project, which remains under review by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), ended on Friday, Jan. 6. The BPDA’s website and email inbox pulled in hundreds of comments, according to a review of documents provided to the Reporter.

Letters and emails expressing opposition edged out support, with more than 200 letters or emails on each side. Some weighed in both through email and on the website. The comments, with people on both sides touting longtime residency in Dorchester, came after multiple in-person and virtual meetings on the project, which calls for 104 units inside the rehabilitated hotel.

Pine Street Inn is working with a fellow nonprofit entity, The Community Builders, to convert the 130 hotel rooms into studio-sized units, after they buy it from the Strazzula family. The building, located at 900 Morrissey Blvd., would have security 24 hours a day. Case managers would have office space to work with tenants, who would sign a one-year lease and pay a third of their income toward the rent. The average tenant age would be 57, though they tend to trend older, according to Pine Street.

Supporters say the project offers desperately needed housing as the region faces a crisis and demand outstrips supply. The supportive housing model also helps end homelessness for people, they add.

But opponents, including some abutters, have said they do not want formerly homeless people living nearby. They have pointed to the K-8 Murphy School across Morrissey Blvd. and demanded proponents create the housing somewhere else.

On Friday, six elected officials from Dorchester and South Boston wrote in to register “strong opposition” to the proposal. “After a quick search of a small radius surrounding the current Comfort Inn, there are already more than two hundred beds for men and women who are homeless, suffering from substance abuse disorder, as well as many other service providers,” they wrote. “In the past year, over two hundred calls for police services have been made, the majority of which took place for 123 Hamilton Street, owned and operated by Pine Street Inn, in addition to the Ramada Inn.”

The Ramada Inn is being leased by Father Bill’s, a separate homeless shelter operation that is temporarily using the space while its new facility in Quincy is being built.

The officials who signed the letter were state Sen. Nick Collins, state Rep. Dan Hunt, City Council President Ed Flynn, and Councillors Erin Murphy, Michael Flaherty, and Frank Baker.

John Schneiderman, president of the Pope’s Hill Neighborhood Association, wrote that it was the “most controversial project” he’s seen in eight years as head of the civic group. “Our neighborhood understands that there is a real need for the support of the homeless,” he said in his online comment. “But the size and scope and location of this project is not the right place for this.” He called for more discussions between neighborhood groups and Pine Street Inn.

The proposal has received support from the city’s Age Strong Commission and the Boston Advisory Council on Ending Homelessness, which has seven members who are homeless or formerly homeless.

“We believe this project helps address the affordable housing crisis in the City of Boston by adding much-needed income-restricted apartments to the housing inventory,” the council wrote. “The set aside of these apartments for extremely low-income people will help preserve economic diversity in Dorchester as market rate buildings continue to be developed along Morrissey Boulevard and in the surrounding neighborhoods.”

The project also drew support from local religious leaders. Ardis Vaughan, chair of the board of trustees for the First Parish Church, said the proposal is a “unique opportunity” to provide permanent supportive housing. “The conversion of this hotel to permanent residential use housing long-term residents will contribute positively to this thriving community,” Vaughan wrote.

Rev. Gerald Osterman, the administrator for the Saint Monica and Saint Peter parishes in South Boston, said the project “aims to alleviate in part one of [the city’s] most pressing problems.”

Asked to respond to the letter from elected officials and other comments, a spokesperson for Pine Street pointed to a statement they had issued in December, ahead of a small outdoor protest held outside the Comfort Inn.

“Future residents at 900 Morrissey will undergo multiple screenings, pass criminal background checks, and will be drawn from a known list of the city’s chronically homeless individuals,” the statement said. “We are grateful for the community support we have received on this project to date. We have been addressing questions around security and parking and will continue to work with the community and city to come up with the best plan for 900 Morrissey.”

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