How a 1K+ unit public housing redevelopment used early community feedback to build trust

Mary Ellen McCormack Redevelopment

A more than $1 billion project to replace an aging affordable housing development in South Boston, WinnCompanies’ Mary Ellen McCormack project will not only replace the 1,016 existing units, but will add an additional 2,000 middle-income and market-rate apartments in order to address market demand.

Given the project’s scale and the right to return offered to existing residents, WinnCompanies’ project team knew they would need resident feedback to create a redevelopment plan that would satisfy the needs of the community and create a better quality of life. That’s why project leaders took a unique approach of presenting a set of principles and design guidelines to the community in 2018, rather than a complete project plan, and shaping final plans using community feedback.

The development team worked hard to establish trust with residents, primarily through a resident-led and -elected task force, and used a hybrid approach to create a two-way dialogue. In addition to having team members hold office hours at the property two days a week and hosting numerous community meetings, WinnCompanies launched a project website on the coUrbanize platform to engage stakeholders who were unable to attend traditional meetings, or who speak Spanish or Chinese.

“At in-person meetings, community members are often looking at a screen, and there are limited opportunities to revisit that information,” says Andrew Colbert, Vice President of Development at WinnCompanies. “They may lose the handout or forget specifics discussed. coUrbanize allows project information to be constantly updated and community members can revisit the site over and over…It works well with a hybrid structure.”

Using this approach, WinnCompanies incorporated resident feedback into project plans early on, including planning for a washer and dryer in each unit, committing to pay for basic utilities in affordable units, creating ground-floor, direct-entry units similar to the townhomes that exist at the site today, and guidance on social programs and a “local-first” retail leasing strategy.

When it came time to submit the project for entitlement, the project team was ready to demonstrate their meaningful and equitable engagement with residents, and avoid any potential delays.

Using coUrbanize, WinnCompanies:

  • Solicited resident feedback early on about design plans and social programs
  • Used documented community feedback to demonstrate to agencies that residents were engaged and informed on the project plans
  • Ultimately sped up the entitlement process, saving tens of thousands of dollars in potential delays

“In communities where we haven’t used coUrbanize and faced opposition, entitlements can drag on for an additional 12 to 18 months. The cost is probably in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars with additional permitting, legal, and overhead expenses plus costs associated with design changes.” – Andrew Colbert, Vice President of Development, WinnCompanies

Mary Ellen McCormack Redevelopment

WinnCompanies’ goal is to make Mary Ellen McCormack a 21st century neighborhood where residents are the highest priority — not just through modern homes and open spaces, but through programs designed to create a better quality of life and the chance to pursue brighter futures for themselves and their families. Read more about the project here.