The conversion of the second floor of the Hotel Buckminster, located in Boston’s Kenmore Square, into housing is just one of several examples of using vacant space for residential purposes.

A Kenmore Square hotel that often houses families of college students and other guests of Boston University will soon be the site of new apartments – representing just one of several recently approved projects to convert vacant space in Boston into housing.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority last month approved a plan to convert the vacant second floor of the Hotel Buckminster at 645 Beacon St. into 18 apartments.

The hotel floor has been vacant for more than 10 years. As part of the project, which is proposed by Coles Holding Ltd., an adjacent vacant building at 651 Beacon St. will be demolished and replaced with a new seven-story building that will include four new apartments and 60 parking spaces. Two of the units will be affordable.

The project is expected to break ground this fall.

The BRA’s approval of the project comes six months after the city released a report, “Leading the Way: A Report on Boston’s Housing Strategy FY2001-2003”.

The report highlights a three-year plan to create 7,500 new housing units, including 4,300 market-rate units, 2,100 affordable units and the restoration of 1,100 vacant public housing units.

Since the report’s release, how much has Boston done to ease the housing crunch?

A lot, say city leaders. The BRA, Department of Neighborhood Development and Boston Housing Authority are together and separately working on projects to get more housing built, they say.

“The mayor has been really good about bringing his department heads together on this,” said Meg Kiely, BRA’s deputy director of community development and housing. “They meet regularly with staff … to really make sure that we’re following up with the report and the strategies identified [in the report].”

A report released in late March outlines the progress. From last July through December, 2,027 new units were permitted, including 676 city-assisted units, according to the report.

The report also notes there are 6,917 proposed housing units currently in the works.

“A lot of what we’re doing here at the BRA is in response to what has been identified in the Leading the Way strategy report,” Kiely said.

‘Mayor’s Attention’
A housing division within the BRA was formed in December. The team meets regularly to look at ways of promoting the creation of more housing. So far, the division has discussed ways to increase housing around transit stations and construct housing for artists. It has also talked about ways of marketing vacant lots that are appropriate for housing development.

“Because of the mayor’s attention to the housing needs of the city, we’ve got folks that are really focused on how to promote housing in the city,” Kiely said.

The BRA recently asked a developer who proposed an office complex in Allston-Brighton to consider adding housing into the mix, and now are waiting for a response. However, one developer who wanted to construct a hotel in East Boston recently abandoned the idea after city officials recommended he look into adding a housing component to the project.

“Those are examples of what we’re doing with developers as they come in,” Kiely said.

In April alone, the BRA either approved or finalized plans for projects that would add some 170 housing units to currently vacant properties in Boston.

Here is a look at some of the projects:

• East Boston school renovation – Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development finalized plans to redevelop Joseph Barnes School in East Boston into 74 affordable senior apartments. The East Boston Community Development Corp. has been tentatively designated as the project developer.

• Mattapan affordable housing – The BRA approved a plan to build 44 affordable housing units at the site of a vacant storage facility in Mattapan. The Talbot-Bernard Homes project will be led by the Codman Square Development Corp. and the architectural firm of Mostue and Assoc. Construction is expected to start in early fall.

• South Boston townhouses – Two weeks after approving the Hotel Buckminster and Mattapan projects, the BRA approved construction of a multistory building that would add 18 units to the housing market. The new building is planned to go on the site of two vacant buildings and an empty lot. Three two-story townhouses are part of the project.

City leaders point out that the BRA is not the only department making the effort. The Boston Housing Authority and the Department of Neighborhood Development have also been doing their parts.

DND has identified vacant city-owned lots and buildings that can be converted into affordable housing.

“We have housing developments going on in every neighborhood with vacant land,” said Sheila Dillon, DND’s deputy director.

Affordable housing projects are in the works in Mission Hill and the Highland Park neighborhood of Roxbury.

“We have hundreds of parcels in planning,” Dillon said.

Groups like the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership, which provides rental housing assistance to people throughout the state and administers 6,000 Section 8 vouchers, have expressed appreciation for such efforts to create more affordable units.

Despite the progress that has been made, MBHP leaders indicate that the city has a long way to go to produce more affordable units.

“Demand is still dramatically outpacing supply, so a concerted effort to correct the imbalance is most welcome,” said Jennifer Allison, MBHP’s interim executive director. “MBHP has around 20,000 people on our Section 8 waiting list, and even current voucher holders require months of searching to find a home they can afford. So clearly, there is a lot of work to be done.”

Boston Redevelopment Authority Shifts Housing to Top of Agenda

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 4 min