Finding Affordable Housing Solutions in New England

VHB helps developers navigate housing hurdles.

May 29, 2024

To help ease severe New England housing inventory shortages that have driven rents and home purchase prices to all-time highs, VHB is working closely with property developers on a range of projects from affordable and workforce housing to market rate construction—all aimed at putting people in homes. VHB helps developers keep these crucial projects on track by leveraging our integrated services approach, in the field site knowledge, and relationships with local regulatory agencies to streamline complex permitting processes.

Bunker Hill Redevelopment artist rendering of retail and residential.

Affordable Housing Redevelopment Opportunities

Recently, the Massachusetts legislature announced the state’s largest-ever housing bill, the $4.1 billion Affordable Homes Act. In Connecticut, where housing prices have hit new highs and reports cite a shortfall of 89,000 affordable units, lawmakers have approved funding measures that include nearly $1 billion for housing-related initiatives. In response opportunities like these and others, VHB has been partnering with developers to close the critical affordable housing gap with precedent-setting projects.

  • Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport) Parcel D-4: The first affordable housing project in Boston’s Seaport District will redevelop a parking lot above an I-90 tunnel into a sustainably designed 224,000-square-foot, 15-floor building with approximately 200 units for income-restricted households. To keep this unique air-rights project with its multiple review processes on schedule, the developer turned to VHB to leverage their relationships with state agencies to navigate through the permitting process. Along with survey and civil design services, VHB is developing transportation access strategies for the proposed building that will also play an important part in moving the project forward.
  • Bunker Hill Housing Redevelopment: VHB is collaborating with the team that is reshaping the Bunker Hill housing development—New England’s largest housing community for low- and moderate-income households—in Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood. This transformative project will replace the 1940s-era development with nearly 3.3 million square feet of new development consisting of 16 buildings with 2,699 residential units designed to Passive House and LEED Gold standards. VHB has supported the project with entitlement permitting, transportation engineering, air quality modeling services, and climate change impact analysis for a resilient design.
  • Walden Square Redevelopment: WinnCompanies, a national leader in affordable housing development, has collaborated with VHB on many projects and chose our team to advance a City of Cambridge project designed under the Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO) ordinance. To expand its existing affordable housing project at Walden Square, Winn will cost-effectively build two new solar-powered buildings with 95 units on the existing 7.32-acre site, ultimately increasing the property’s total number of affordable housing units to 335. VHB’s design gives the community access to ample green space and improves connections within the property for pedestrians, bicyclists, and vehicles.
  • Worcester Boys Club Redevelopment: Winn and VHB also teamed to create the first senior housing development in Worcester’s downtown area—an innovative adaptive reuse project that saves a treasured landmark. Other developers had passed on the redevelopment because of site limitations. In what will be the City’s first air rights construction project, Winn will build a new 64,000-square-foot building straddling a tunnel with a podium structure. Combined with the original building, the new development will include a total of 80 affordable apartment homes with state-of-the-art amenities.
  • Connecticut Affordable Housing Redevelopments: In Connecticut, VHB is providing Winn with a host of integrated services to support five affordable housing redevelopments that have leveraged innovative financing and design to give cost-burdened residents throughout Connecticut access to more than 800 high-quality apartments.
    Summit at Juniper Hill graduate student housing building and Dartmouth Connects bus.

Market Rate/New Construction

Housing demand has been far outstripping supply throughout New England, particularly in New Hampshire where an estimated 90,000 units are needed by 2040 and the government has recently dedicated $40 million to finance new housing. VHB has been working creatively with developers to maximize their investments and alleviate this dire shortage.

  • Merrimack Park Place: Hailed as Merrimack’s first walkable mixed-use community, this 372,000-square-foot development adjacent to Merrimack Premium Outlets includes 402 apartments, a 110-room hotel, a fitness center, and office, commercial, and restaurant space. Having played a key role in developing the Outlets, the VHB team knew the site’s complexities, had established a good rapport with Town stakeholders, and was well positioned to help the developer bring its vision to life. The project has required carefully balancing the parcel’s optimal future development with concerns about traffic and stormwater—all without disrupting existing infrastructure.  
  • The Summit on Juniper: To accommodate an undergraduate enrollment spike in an area that has experienced acute housing scarcity, Dartmouth College entered into its first-ever agreement to lease land for a student housing development to a developer. As part of the development team, VHB completed a range of site/civil engineering services for a new LEED Gold-certified graduate student apartment complex that will house at least 500 people on Mount Support Road in Lebanon. The team is actively working on additional on-campus housing on Lyme Road.
    Harden Farm workforce housing buildings and parking area in tree-heavy setting.

Workforce Housing

New England communities hard hit by deficits in median-income housing have been straining to attract and retain the workers vital to sustaining their economies. VHB’s professionals bring the resources and resourcefulness to find thoughtful solutions to address this pressing problem known as the “missing middle” so employees who may not qualify for affordable housing can live where they work.

  • Harden Farm Employee Housing: Hosting millions of visitors annually, Maine’s Acadia National Park relies on its seasonal employees; but an ongoing housing shortage has prevented the National Park Service from reaching its hiring targets. As part of a housing strategy to meet this critical workforce need, VHB is designing a 56-bed seasonal housing development on the park’s Harden Farm property. The low-impact sustainable layout minimizes site disturbance to the greatest possible extent.
  • St. Albans Workforce Housing Site Feasibility Study: Having seen its population decrease 10 percent over a 20-year span, the City of St. Albans has retained VHB to help conceptualize where workforce and senior housing can be built near the downtown core to draw prospective residents. The City plans to transform a formerly contaminated 5.5-acre industrial site into a housing development with more than 120 units, roughly 90 of which will be workforce housing. VHB was previously involved in the site’s clean-up and brought that site knowledge to the project.

To learn more about how VHB’s residential real estate team can resource public and private clients to help close housing supply gaps throughout New England, connect with regional Real Estate Market Lead Elizabeth Grob.