Community betterment drives students’ affordable housing design

A group of Northeastern University graduate students in the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs have placed second in the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston’s 16th annual Affordable Housing Development Competition.

The students won $6,000 for their architectural rendering of an affordable housing development on a parcel of land on the Dorchester-Mattapan line, focusing on Morton Crossing, a lot located next to the Morton Street commuter rail stop.


Image courtesy for the student group

The developers-in-training— Chelsea Biggs, MPA’16, as well as Stephen Donovan, Sandra Larson, and Eric Goldman, all MS’15—designed the proposal for their capstone project. Three faculty members supervised the undertaking—James Connolly, an assistant professor of public policy and political science, Alicia Sasser Modestino, an associate professor with appointments in the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs and the Department of Economics, and Gavin Shatkin, an associate professor with joint appointments in the School of Architecture and the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs.

As part of the competition, teams of graduate students are paired with affordable housing organizations to develop innovative and comprehensive development proposals that address the organizations’ needs.

Connolly noted that this competition allows the organizations to secure a professional-grade design proposal that will help move their development plans forward. “The norm with these projects is that a substantial portion of what the students develop ends up getting translated into the final product in some way,” he said.

The Northeastern students worked with their peers from Boston Architectural College to create a plan for Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation, a nonprofit affordable housing developer in Dorchester.

At the start of the competition, 10 organizations pitched their sites to the student groups, which were then tasked with ranking their favorites. The Northeastern team put Morton Crossing at the top of its list, particularly because of its location and mixed-use capabilities.

“I liked the potential of having a mixed-use site with some commercial built in and something that was transit oriented,” Donovan said.


Image courtesy of the student group

The students created a plan for 35 units of affordable housing, 23 of which would be reserved for families. They also built in commercial space for three different tenants.

Larson noted that the students reached out to local groups and businesses to present hypothetical opportunities for them to set up shop in the commercial spaces. A few businesses expressed interest in moving their operations to that location.

“A big part of the project was coming up with ideas for the commercial space,” Larson said. “We talked to people in the community and discovered that a lot of them wished for something that would engage young people or teens, and have some kind of gathering spot for the neighborhood.”