December 28, 2022
A proposal by the Pine Street Inn and The Community Builders to convert an existing Comfort Inn hotel on Morrissey Boulevard into supportive housing for formerly homeless adults has prompted an impassioned debate about the role Dorchester can and should play in assisting those struggling to live out their lives with dignity in one of the most expensive cities on the planet.
There are decent and well-meaning people on both sides of the Comfort Inn divide and legitimate concerns have been raised and heard. But, in the end, the project presently under review by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) should be approved for two main reasons:
First, the project itself can improve conditions in and around the site with minimal impacts and costs. Secondly, the chief beneficiaries of the new housing will be our neediest neighbors from in and around Dorchester, including many who have been waiting anxiously for safe and affordable housing in their own community.
The two nonprofits intend to renovate the 131-room Inn into 104 studio rental units, each with a kitchenette and bathroom. The complex will also have security, with case managers working on site with the tenants, all of whom are subject to eviction if they don’t follow the rules enforced by an experienced team of property managers. That’s a major shift from the transient, unregulated environment of the current chain hotel, which can be a magnet for problems if left unchecked.
Some of those opposed to the hotel’s conversion have cited anecdotal accounts of drug use, homelessness, and loitering at local parks, beaches, and businesses. But most of the tenants who will be housed at the converted hotel are already tenants in scattered site housing elsewhere in Dorchester. Most, according to Pine Street, are older adults over 50 years of age in apartments that aren’t ideal for “aging in place.” These men and women— once relocated to the Comfort Inn’s renovated space— will have direct access to support services and each other’s company. And, in moving out of their current units, they’ll free up urgently needed subsidized housing for people waiting for that opportunity.
Some opposed to the Pine Street-TCB proposal have suggested that Dorchester residents already pull their weight in the form of group homes, sober houses, scattered subsidized units, and the like. It’s true that city neighborhoods like our own are generous in spirit and compassionate towards those in need, in part, because “these people” are so often our own family and friends. It should be a point of pride, not a strike against us, that Dorchester welcomes the chance to help our neediest, more vulnerable neighbors.
The Morrissey corridor will undergo significant change in the coming years with hundreds of new units of market-rate units slotted to rise within blocks of the Comfort Inn site. This project presents a chance for us to help house existing neighbors who need the support services and affordable options that only this type of housing can offer.
And, in the process, we can stabilize a block that might otherwise present a larger public safety threat in less experienced hands. In the Comfort Inn conversion, we have an opportunity to improve the neighborhood, help our neediest neighbors, and unlock new opportunities to alleviate the housing crisis more broadly. We should seize it.