The Watson, 140-apartment building in Quincy Point, is the first mixed-income community in Quincy.
QUINCY — When Chazzie Henderson took a job in Dorchester last summer, the Florida native knew it would be difficult to uproot herself and her 12-year-old daughter, but two months after moving 1,000 miles north, it wasn’t the homesickness or anxiety about her new job that began to make her question her decision.
It was the cost of renting an apartment in the Boston area.
Two-bedroom apartments in Florida cost about $1,200 per month on average, which is about $500 to $1,000 less than comparable apartments in and around Boston, where rent for a two-bedroom apartment averages around $2,200 a month.
“The struggle to find something affordable — it’s insane,” said Henderson, who makes a little over $70,000 a year as a STEM teacher at Epiphany School, a private charter school in Dorchester. “It was either move into something really far away or pay $2,500 a month for something that was nearby and falling apart.”
Her search for an affordable apartment finally ended last November, when she moved into The Watson, a 140-apartment mixed-income building in Quincy Point that offers varying rents to accommodate low-income, middle-income and market-rate renters.
The building includes 28 apartments for low-income individuals and families making 50 percent of the average median income or less — or about $32,077 a year for a single person. Another 86 apartments are reserved for those earning up to 110 percent of the area median income, or between $78,000 and $94,000 per year. The remaining 26 apartments are reserved for market-rate renters.
Traditionally, renters like Henderson who can’t afford market-rate rents but who earn too much to qualify for assistance, have been left behind in a housing market where the only respite from soaring rents has been federal or state-funded subsidies reserved for the poorest residents, something officials hope more residences like The Watson can help to change.
“This is a national model for a true mixed-income community as it is able to provide housing for low-, middle- and higher-income renters under one roof in a major metropolitan market, with the vast majority of the units restricted for the so-called ‘forgotten middle,’” said Gilbert Winn, CEO of WinnCompanies, which coordinated the project.
The building at 116 East Howard St. in Quincy Point opened to renters last fall. Industry leaders, delegates and elected officials gathered in the second-floor courtyard on Monday to reflect on the success of the project and to hold an official ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The complex is the first of its kind in Quincy, where residents have been squeezed by a general shortage of housing and a building boom that has primarily brought market-rate housing into the blue-collar community.
The Watson has become home to teachers as well as nurses, home health aides, bus drivers, chefs, pipe fitters, software engineers, waiters, law clerks, retail managers and union workers. More than a dozen of the residents are from Quincy, and the vast majority living in the building, which is now 96 percent occupied, are from the South Shore and southeastern Massachusetts.
The project needed the collaboration of 10 public and private entities. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the state and nonprofits such as MassHousing and Neighborworks of Southern Massachusetts as well as WinnCompanies helped pay for the project.
Quincy contributed a total of $2 million to the $44 million project cost: $1.25 million from its affordable housing trust fund, $500,000 in HOME funds and $250,000 in Community Preservation Act money.
Mayor Thomas Koch said more projects like The Watson are “essential to balance the needs” of Quincy residents. Quincy’s next mixed-income housing project could be in Quincy Center, where FoxRock Properties plans to build 110 apartments with varying income guidelines.
A major barrier to projects like these is often money. Private developers are wary of getting involved with below-market-rate projects because they limit profits.
Quincy City Council President Brad Croall, who represents Quincy Point, said projects like The Watson are the “benchmark” for what mixed income housing should be and for the cooperation of public and private entities partnering to make them happen.
“The affordable housing trust fund, when it’s used to its capacity, is a great catalyst to build housing stock that can house the people who already live here — many of whom are quite frankly being forced out because of a lack of affordability,” Croall said.
The combined support, blended with tax-exempt financing, allowed the project – which includes a gym, a community room, a networking lounge, a dog park and a large second-floor patio courtyard – to be built.
It’s a building U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch called a “dream” when compared to the Old Colony Housing project in Boston where he grew up with his five brothers and sisters.
“We need to connect families to jobs and to the economy and transportation to really fulfill their lives, not just warehousing people,” he said.
Henderson said having affordable rent plus amenities has made all the difference in her quality of life.
“I’m hoping that the city of Quincy and Massachusetts continue to put programs like (The Watson) in place for those of us who don’t make enough to afford market rate but make too much for other governmental-funded programs, and that the workforce housing program continues to blossom and that more people hear about it so that people like myself, who are in that middle pocket, and my daughter can find places to call home,” Henderson said.
Reach Erin Tiernan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-786-7320. Follow her on Twitter @ErinTiernan.