Campus & Community

East Boston gets helping hand

3 min read

A below-market rent for a renovated East Boston apartment looks more than pretty good to Javier Loaiza, who is raising his daughter, Dahiana, by himself and feeling stretched a bit thin financially.

“It looks like a paradise,” Loaiza said just before the Aug. 21 official opening of Siochain I, a low-income housing renovation project on East Boston’s Saratoga Street undertaken by the nonprofit Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH). “I don’t have much money and even if I had money I wouldn’t be able to find a place to live. So I feel very lucky.”

While Loaiza was grateful for NOAH, NOAH was grateful to Harvard University.

NOAH was the first organization to receive a low-interest loan out of the $20 million in financing Harvard is making available for affordable housing in Cambridge and Boston.

“Harvard has committed to working with us, and it’s so important,” said Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. “This is a true partnership.”

Harvard President Neil L. Rudenstine was on hand for Siochain I’s opening ceremony. He said that neighborhoods aren’t revitalized all at once, but building by building, block by block, which is why projects such as Siochain I are so important.

Rudenstine also said Harvard’s role in the project was small, but marked the start of a larger involvement for the University.

“I think Harvard’s role has been a very modest one, and it’s just a beginning,” Rudenstine said. “I want to make that clear. There has to be more of this.”

Siochain, meaning “peace” in Irish, consists of two renovation projects a block away from each other. The building housing Loaiza’s one-bedroom apartment is on Saratoga Street and contains several other apartments. The second part of the project, which is still being completed, is on Meridian Street and has apartments upstairs and retail space on the ground floor.

Siochain I’s neighborhood is a patchwork of two- and three-family homes, some with shops on the ground floor. Loaiza’s building, painted a crisp dark green with beige trim, contrasted with a steel-shuttered storefront across the street. At the same time, it mirrored another recent renovation project diagonally across the intersection where it is located.

Harvard’s investment in the $2 million project was relatively small, about $161,800. But the below-market funds made up a shortfall and helped persuade other lenders to increase their contribution.

“Costs went up 30 percent. We couldn’t have done the project without you,” NOAH Executive Director Philip Giffee said to Rudenstine.

The money was drawn from a revolving loan fund set up by Harvard last year that will lend $20 million over 20 years. The money will be lent at 3 percent interest, with $10 million pledged to Boston and $10 million to Cambridge.

NOAH also received a $50,000 grant from the Harvard Housing Innovation Program to increase their ability to undertake larger, more complex renovation projects.

Kate Racer, of the state Department of Housing and Community Development, said Harvard’s influence in affordable housing may extend beyond financing. Children growing up in the Harvard-financed units will hopefully get a message that education is important.

“When you think of Harvard, you don’t automatically think ‘affordable housing,’ but you do think education,” Racer said, addressing the parents in the audience. “While living here, please remember Neil was here today. Remember the most important thing you can do is make sure your children go to school and get an education.”