The Needham Housing Authority (NHA) celebrates its 75th anniversary today. Whether the NHA can continue to drive the town’s efforts to provide deeply affordable housing will depend on decisions over the next 12 months regarding ambitious redevelopment plans that could extend over the next decade.
The NHA’s redevelopment plans start with the one-story studio apartments on Linden Street across from the High Rock School. They are the “Linden” part of the Linden-Chambers complex owned and managed by the NHA. These units, built on an 11-acre site in the early 1960s and ‘70s, have provided deeply affordable homes to more than 2,000 senior and disabled individuals over the past 60 years. Both properties are state-subsidized public housing, with no tenant paying more than 30% of their income for rent. The Linden Street development is 72 studio apartments in 18 single-story buildings, and the Chambers Street development is 80 studio apartments in five two-story buildings.
The Linden studios serve as both a testament to Needham’s initial post-World War II commitment to providing affordable housing, which started in 1948 with the founding of the NHA, and a stark reminder of the subsequent decades of federal and state underfunding. As a result, the units are worn out and do not meet contemporary standards for accessibility, sustainability or resident amenities.
NHA’s original mission was “to provide decent, safe and affordable housing for low to moderate income families and individuals and offer programs and resources to improve the quality of life for residents, program participants and the broader Needham community while respecting the rights and privacy of all.” The current mission adds the obligation to preserve and modernize its existing housing while adding new units through redevelopment and new construction .
But the NHA has not had access to the necessary resources to meet its redevelopment, modernization and capacity objectives — until now.
The NHA is at a major inflection point. It’s finally poised to tackle the recommendations of town housing plans from 2004, 2007 and 2022, which identified the redevelopment of the Linden/Chambers complex and a significant addition of new units as top priorities.
In 2021, the NHA announced the Preservation and Redevelopment Initiative (PRI), the launching point for its ambitious plan to transform all of its 336 deeply affordable units to last another 40-plus years, while possibly adding as many as 200-plus new units across its five developments over the next 10 years beginning with redeveloping Linden. The 2022 housing plan recommends that the town “support the PRI to enable NHA to make essential improvements to its property inventory while also potentially yielding buildable lot areas for additional deeply affordable or more diverse-income affordable housing.”
For more than 25 years, the Linden Street redevelopment project has been the town’s highest housing priority. In 2021, NHA engaged the Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA) as its principal development consultant, to bolster NHA’s 10-person staff in pursuit of the PRI goals. In late 2022, NHA engaged Bargmann Hendrie + Archetype to provide architectural and engineering design services for the project. Earlier this month, NHA leadership and its consultants unveiled the schematic design and its zoning relief implications to the Planning Board. The design replaces the 23 buildings and 152 studio apartments with two four-story buildings, adding 95 more one–bedroom apartments for a total of 247.
The project will have three construction phases. The first two will replace the 72 Linden studios with 136 new apartments and is projected to cost approximately $70-80 million. Benefits to residents will include larger units, elevators, centralized air conditioning and heating, better indoor environmental quality, increased outdoor spaces and enhanced common spaces and services. The site’s energy efficiency and resiliency to climate change will improve significantly.
“There are several key considerations for the proposed zoning change such as height, number of stories, number and types of units, setback, density, etc. and the nature that such a significant change be allowed by right as opposed to by special permit,” said Adam Block, chair of the Planning Board. He added that there are also non-zoning considerations that will need to be addressed by other committees.
Despite the importance of the Linden-Chambers Redevelopment Project, all parties recognize the need for more input from tenants and additional community engagement. “Our tenants are both inconvenienced but greatly benefited by any project,” said Reg Foster, chair of the NHA Board of Commissioners. “Plus they know first-hand what needs to be fixed and improved. Their input and buy-in are essential ingredients for success. But ultimately, it’s the Needham community’s collective decision as to the size, scale, and design of the replacement buildings and how much we invest in preserving and increasing affordable housing in our town.”
If the stars align, the first 76 new Linden units could be available by mid-2027.
The NHA will host two more community briefings and listening sessions on the latest schematic design on Tuesday, Oct. 17, and Monday, Oct.r 23, from 7- 8:30 p.m. at the Linden-Chambers Community Room, 5 Chambers St. Anyone wishing to submit written comments may do so by emailing NHA chair Foster at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Needham resident Jim Flanagan is an education consultant.