Rollins Square - another benchmark for evaluating the Charlesview proposal

Rollins Square is another local mixed-income housing development that can help inform our expectations for what the Charlesview relocation and expansion could be.

This 184 unit project in Boston's South End between Washington St and Harrison Ave was built in 2003 by the Archdiocese of Boston on 2 acres of land owned by the Boston Redevelopment Authority. The project includes 277 underground parking spaces (1.5 spaces per unit).

While the density of Rollins Sq is much greater than Charlesview's proposal, the more relevant comparison is with the zoning code for each neighborhood and the surrounding buildings. Rollins Sq meets the requirements of Article 64 of Boston's Zoning Code, which sets a height limit of 70 feet and it matches nicely many of the surrounding buildings.

Charlesview proposes buildings more than 40-100 feet tall, unlike anything in the area and in clear contradiction to the Allston/Brighton zoning in Article 51 that sets a 35 foot limit.

One thing Charlesview and Rollins Sq have in common is that they both have the same architect from the same firm, Chris Hill from CBT.

Rollins Sq won the John M. Clancy Award for socially responsible housing in 2006. The jury noted that the six-story buildings and four-story townhomes "fit well within its mid-rise neighborhood". It also received a Maxwell Award from the Fannie Mae Foundation for outstanding development of affordable housing and an award from the Boston Preservation Alliance.

Rollins Square has a much larger amount of housing for moderate income residents than what is proposed for Charlesview. Cardinal Bernard Law, as described in The Pilot, was especially concerned about “the people who run the city” such as teachers, firefighters and public works employees. “He was concerned that they couldn’t afford to live in Boston.” We have heard the same concern in Allston and Brighton, that there is subsidized housing and market-rate housing, but not much of anything in between for people making a decent living but unable to compete with absentee landlords and others able to afford a $400,000 home.

According to The Boston Globe:

"Buyers of low-income units were required to be first-time homebuyers, with income of less than $40,800 for a single person, or $58,300 for a family of four. Moderate-income buyers were required to have annual income up to $62,350 for a single person, and $89,050 for a family of four.

The prices initially set for the low-income units ranged from $141,400 for a one-bedroom to $170,000 for a three-bedroom. Moderate-income units were priced from $210,000 for a one-bedroom to $260,000 for a three-bedroom unit. Market-rate units were sold at whatever the market could bear, between $265,000 and $970,000."

The income break-down is:
Market rate: 40%
Moderate-income first-time homebuyers: 40%
Low-income residents: 20%

The Charlesview proposal creates a segregated community with low-income residents in apartments on the south side of Western Ave and wealthier homeowners on the "good" side of the Western Ave on the Telford St site. Builder Magazine describes a different approach taken in Rollins Square to provide the same high-quality homes to everyone, regardless of their income.

"WHEN THE STATED GOAL IS to provide mixed-income housing, the end result often makes it clear just who lives where. Not so with Rollins Square, an unusual 184-unit community in Boston's South End, where low-income tenants enjoy the same design standards and amenities as those who paid market-rate prices for their condominiums.

“Our client wanted to raise the bar on standards for affordable housing,” architect Christopher Hill says in reference to the Archdiocese of Boston, “and at the same time create a truly social invigorating community. We didn't create separate styles for separate categories of residents.”


  1. Anonymous12:58 PM

    I think that Rollins Square’s success can be attributed to a skewed distribution of income levels towards the middle and market rate (only 20% low income). I don’t have the exact numbers, but I think the Charles View distribution will be majority low income. For some reason, I don’t think that if the market rate units were to be truly “mixed” into a majority subsidized ones, that they would be very marketable…although, maybe Harvard’s proximity would make that possible. -peace mikolajev

  2. Harry - How would I know any of this if not for you? The answer is - I wouldn't. You are a local hero. We have a few and I am grateful. Thank you for working so conscientiously on this Charlesview project proposal on behalf of everyone in AB and Boston for that matter. It was ironic to me when I read about this archdiocise success - I live adjacent to the former archdiocise- and am not happy about B.C.'s recently proposed plans for that property. Well that's another matter. In any case thanks Harry - thanks for all you're doing to educate "us." I hope Charlesview can end of looking more like Rollins. I think it's imperative for the project to be a success. Otherwise it will just be another "project" a.k.a. slum. By the way - Mike Pahre's blog mentioned you were a professor. Where - and of what? THANKS!!!

  3. 10 year,

    Thank you very much for your nice words. Mike Pahre must have recently renewed his poetic license when he referred to me as some sort of academic. My career has been dedicated to improving computer-aided design software for engineers and architects, and we don't get fancy titles for doing that.


  4. Anonymous10:50 PM

    Rollins Sq Also has less green space.
    I also think this community of Allston & Brighton should work with the 213 Residents of Charlesview first before the Charlesview Board adds more units to this area. I am apposed to the more units that will not create anything more but expensive Condos to this area that is already over burden of ENCROACHMENT of our next door NEIGHBOR HARVARD UNIVERSITY. jimmy....

  5. Anonymous8:52 AM

    Its Aug 2008 when I found this article by accident.

    As a resident of this complex, the 'success' of the complex is also one of control for good or bad. You can pretty much figure out how it will go. Who has more time and ability to control the direction of such complexes based on income level?

    Fake 'green'. This complex was built with aluminum windows and outer doors - when its 32 degrees outside, the frames actually ice up on the inside! But that's just as bad as the balcony unit door having a 1/4 gap. Everything is hollow.

    The flaw inherent of this success is that those that are market rate will have the objective of higher unit value while those at middle/low target the ability to afford to live there. This will be the situation for any such mixed complexes.

    Control of the complex - you can pretty much guess where it is and as such associated spending by the control. Where else is there support for having a complex paid to be managed by an outside group while also retaining a paid staff to do the same tasks costing as much as 1/2 your budget?

    You may afford to get in but slowly the costs of living there get pretty high. But that's justified because values are going up. If you plan to be there long term that is not your objective.

    But everyone will continue promote its 'success'.