This is Part 1 in EMPath’s Whittier Choice blog series. New blogs will be posted each week throughout the month of March.

What is the Whitter neighborhood?

Whittier is a section of the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston. It is home to several large housing developments, including the former Whitter Street Apartments, a 200-unit public housing development that opened in 1953.

What’s happening there?

The neighborhood is being completely transformed over the course of five years through funding from the federal government’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative. As part of this transformation, the Whittier Street public housing development is being replaced by mixed-income housing. All 200 units of affordable housing are preserved in the new buildings as Section 8 subsidized units—with the addition of market-rate and moderate-income units.

The neighborhood transformation also involves increasing access to educational and job opportunities, improving pedestrian safety and transportation, installing public art, and adding recreational space, among other projects.

What is the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative?

The Choice Neighborhoods Initiative is a grant program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). According to HUD, the program “address[es] struggling neighborhoods with distressed public or HUD-assisted housing through a comprehensive approach to neighborhood transformation.”

The initiative focuses on three core strategies:

  1. Housing: Replace distressed public and assisted housing with high-quality mixed-income housing that is well-managed and responsive to the needs of the surrounding neighborhood.

  2. People: Improve outcomes of households living in the target housing related to employment and income, health, and children’s education.

  3. Neighborhood: Create the conditions necessary for public and private reinvestment in distressed neighborhoods to offer the kinds of amenities and assets, including safety, good schools, and commercial activity, that are important to families’ choices about their community.

The overall goal is to improve quality of life for neighborhood residents.

What is EMPath’s role?

EMPath is providing support under the “People” strategy. All residents of the Whittier Street Apartments had to move out of their homes (to other public housing units throughout the city) during construction. EMPath is providing its economic mobility coaching, Mobility Mentoring®, to residents to support them in this relocation and re-occupancy, as well as in their lives in general. A team of EMPath mentors is stationed at the apartments.

How did the redevelopment plan come about?

For three years starting in 2012, partners including the Boston Housing Authority (BHA), the City of Boston, the Whittier Street Tenant Task Force, Madison Park Development Corporation, Preservation of Affordable Housing, and others engaged the Whittier community in resident meetings, neighborhood workshops, surveys, focus groups, and public hearings in order to develop the Whittier Choice Neighborhood Transformation Plan.

In 2016, HUD awarded $30 million to BHA to implement this transformation plan. The project is also leveraging an additional $260 million in public and private funds.

Check back next week for Part 2 in the series, which will discuss what stage the project is currently at.

Visit the Whittier Choice website

Photo: Madison Park Development Corporation