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Ex-Red Sox slugger goes to bat for low-cost housing

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by Casey Ross
Boston Globe

Former Red Sox slugger Mo Vaughn, now an affordable-housing entrepreneur, is buying two threatened apartment complexes in Boston as part of his expanding campaign to preserve low-cost housing in communities stretching from Roslindale to Wyoming.

Vaughn and his company, Omni New York LLC, will buy the Florence Apartments in Roslindale and Forestvale Apartments in Jamaica Plain, two developments in danger of losing the government assistance that has kept them affordable for decades.

The complexes are currently owned by Francis Colannino, who has repeatedly generated loud protests from tenants by threatening to end subsidized-housing contracts on the properties. He did not return a call seeking comment.

Terms of the transaction were not disclosed yesterday. The pending deal was revealed yesterday by Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s office.

The mayor’s office said Vaughn, 40, will seek financing through MassHousing, the state’s affordable-housing bank, to keep the apartments affordable for 20 years, promising to end nerve-wracking uncertainty for hundreds of residents.

The former Sox first baseman, who thumped 230 home runs during eight seasons in Boston, could not be reached for comment last night.

Vaughn’s company, cofounded with his lawyer, Eugene Schneur, in 2004, has steadily expanded its portfolio in recent years, rehabilitating properties in New York City and then moving on to midsize cities such as Ithaca and Poughkeepsie in New York. He also purchased an apartment complex in Gillette, Wyo., before buying the two complexes in Boston.

Vaughn was involved in a number of local charities during his playing days. He got into the development business in 2003, when persistent injury problems forced him to retire from baseball. His projects have ranged from housing con struction to rehabilitation of elderly complexes and inner-city public housing.

Last year, he took on the rehabilitation of the dilapidated Noble Drew Ali Plaza in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn.

His move to buy the Forestvale and Florence complexes drew praise yesterday from Menino, who has been immersed in battles to preserve their affordable status since 2002.

“His work to preserve and promote affordable housing will be as, if not more, appreciated than his playing time here,” Menino said. “I’m excited that Mo has taken this initiative along with the City of Boston, as countless working class families and residents stand to benefit.”

Forestvale, a 108-unit complex, was on the verge of losing its subsidies in 2002, when Colannino opted out of the federal Section 8 program that had insulated tenants from skyrocketing rents in the city for more than 20 years. But federal and Boston officials agreed to pay higher subsidies in exchange for a promise to keep 90 percent of the apartments affordable through 2010.

Colannino recently extended the subsidy contract at the 138-unit Florence Apartments, but only for a five-year term.

A tenant at one of the properties said residents had been on edge before Vaughn recently visited the complex and told people he was planning to purchase their apartments and make upgrades.

“He told us it was his intent to fix up the units and make them nice,” said Kay Fallon, 66, a Forestvale resident of 30 years. “We feel like this is going to be a very good thing.”

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Written by Symphony

June 26, 2008 at 10:31 pm

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