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Community betterment drives students’ affordable housing design

An architectural rendering of Morton Crossing.

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.

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.

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 of public policy and 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.


A photo of two of the students who worked on the capstone project with one of their advisors, James Connolly From left, Sandra Larson and Stephen Donovan, both MS’15, worked with Chelsea Biggs, MPA’16, and Eric Goldman, MS’15, not pictured, on an architectural design capstone project for a lot at Morton Crossing. James Connolly, an assistant professor of public policy and political science, was one of the group’s advisors.


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.

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.”

-By Joe O’Connell

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