A Distressed Project Bids to 'Reinvent' Public Housing

Boston's Mission Hill complex tries to secure federal help with a renovation plan designed to integrate it into the wider community

RESIDENTS of a Boston neighborhood are hoping to win $50 million in federal funds so that their deteriorating public-housing complex, Mission Hill, can be revamped.

Mission Hill is 1 of 40 applicants competing for five to seven $50 million grants to be awarded by the United States Housing and Urban Development office. A decision on Mission Hill's grant application is expected this week.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts, who talked with tenants and toured the complex, said he will push hard for the federal funds.

"I have talked to US Housing Secretary [Henry] Cisneros about this project and he has reviewed it personally," Senator Kennedy said. "And he has been extremely impressed."

Tenants at the site told Kennedy last week that although the housing project is not as dangerous as it once was, it is still not safe for children.

"There are needles in the hallways, and outside there's shooting and cars speeding away from the police," says Mission Hill resident Helen Perkins.

According to Boston Housing Authority (BHA) Administrator David Cortiella, the Mission Hill proposal will "reinvent public housing." The goal, he says, is to integrate the complex into the outer community instead of isolating it. One idea is to open up streets in the complex to the outside neighborhood traffic. Also, planners hope to include more residents of different economic backgrounds as well as a beefed-up community-policing force.

The plan will make Mission Hill buildings look more residential and less institutional, Mr. Cortiella says. Front and back yards will be built, and new doors will be added. Other plans include establishing new health, community, and job-training centers.

Under the plan, young people at Mission Hill will also get special consideration for participation in programs like Head Start, City Year, and Youthbuild. Fifty percent of Mission Hill's 2,700 residents are under 18, Cortiella says.

The Mission Hill proposal was put together by its tenants, the BHA, and local social-service providers.

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