Republicans in Congress this week stripped $850,000 that would help finish the conversion of a former Hyde Park middle school into an affordable apartment building aimed at LGBTQ seniors, but the work continues and the new building still expects to welcome its first residents early next year, one of the project's organizers said this morning.
Gretchen Van Ness, executive director of LGBTQ Senior Housing, said that, in the worst case, the 74-unit Pryde, in the former William Barton Rogers School, will open to residents without some of the amenities promised them and the community, such as furniture in a sun room or a finished courtyard, at least until she and other organizers can raise the funds they thought they'd be getting from Washington.
Van Ness said construction, by Pennrose, a company that specializes in such work, remains as on track as it can in an old school building without many blueprints but that the goal remains to apply for a certificate of occupancy in late fall and to then seek applicants for the apartments through the city's housing lottery system, with the first residents moving in in late January or February.
Van Ness said she was shocked to learns that Republicans on an Appropriations Committee sub-committee voted to strike out the Pryde and two LGBTQ projects in Pennsylvania in a 2024 appropriations bill, in part because all three were earmarks that individual members of Congress were allowed to put in for projects in their districts - after going through a detailed review process to prove the projects were supported by people in the districts in addition to having merit.
The Advocate quoted one Republican congressman as saying he moved to strip the money because the Pryde and the two Pennsylvania projects were really fronts for "grooming children." This is not the first time homophobes have attacked the project.
US Rep. Ayanna Pressley made the Pryde an earmark after her group submitted letters from groups that included Hyde Park Main Streets and the Hyde Park Board of Trade and from local elected officials, including several city councilors and state Rep. Rob Consalvo, that the project had "deep and wide community support," Van Ness said.
In addition to serving as a home to LGBTQ seniors, the Pryde was also designed to include a community center with an art gallery and meeting room, she said, adding her group is also looking at how to possible incorporate a health-care clinic in the building.
"The Hyde Park community wants us to open," as do seniors looking for a safe place to call home - especially in a generation that lived through severe discrimination and AIDS - she said.
She said some 900 people have already e-mailed her group expressing interest in the apartments and she's expecting several thousand applications through the city lottery. "There's such pent-up demand," she said.
Van Ness said she's optimistic that, in the worst case, backers will be able to raise the funds needed to replace the money that would no longer come from Washington. She said the project already has a total of 27 different funding sources, including housing and historic-preservation tax credits and money from the Boston Community Preservation Act fund.
She said funding what is now a $45-million project has been a challenge at times because of a number of unexpected costs caused by construction work in a decades-old building without many blueprints. As just one example, she said that Pennrose had to redo plans for a kitchen that would be off the school's old auditorium when workers opened the door to the room planned for it and found a steel beam running right through it.