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Boston’s St. Francis House offers Christmas spirit, prepares for affordable housing project in 2023

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Catching some downtime inside St. Francis House on Sunday, Karen LaFrazia took in the Christmas spirit that filled the homeless shelter’s kitchen and dining room.

LaFrazia, the agency’s president and CEO, watched 350 guests enjoy plates full of stuffed chicken breast, butternut squash, mashed potatoes and string beans. Roughly 30 volunteers served the meals restaurant style during St. Francis House’s annual Christmas Day lunch.

“The thing that fills me with warmth is when I look at the people who are housed and the people who are unhoused, there’s real fellowship happening,” LaFrazia said. “The folks who are coming here are the same as anyone who lives in any neighborhood around the Commonwealth. They’d be great neighbors.”

Sooner than later, guests will get a chance to become neighbors.

St. Francis House will be breaking ground on a 19-story, 126-unit affordable housing building on Lagrange Street, at the crossroads of Chinatown and Downtown Crossing, by late spring.

Seventy units will be for people who are coming out of homelessness, while the remainder will be used to prevent people becoming homeless, LaFrazia said. The units, including studios and 1- and 2-bedrooms, will range in price from extremely low-income to market rate.

“Wouldn’t it be the best Christmas present, the best New Year’s gift, that they woke up in their own bed next Christmas, they’d cook their own Christmas meal, invite their own family and friends to their home?” she asked. “That’s my Christmas wish. Every single one of these men and women deserve their own place to live.”

Boston saw its homeless population decrease by 2.4% from last year to 1,545 individuals earlier this year, according to the city’s 42nd annual census released in June. The number of homeless families, however, had increased, from 843 to 929, the census shows.

Accessing affordable living quarters in the city is getting harder, too. The median price for a 1-bedroom rental is $3,060 in Boston, which leapfrogged San Francisco to be the second most expensive city in the country, according to an October report from Zumper.

St. Francis House staffers are looking to secure affordable apartments for 150 people within the next year, but LaFrazia said she expects the project her agency will be undertaking next year will bring more relief by increasing Boston’s sparse affordable housing stock.

“There just isn’t enough affordable housing,” she said. “You can send people to go look for it, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be there.”

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