North Shore CDC – 2022

North Shore CDC – 2022

Nonprofit hopes to turn two former Salem Catholic schools into housing

Two former Catholic schools in Salem would see new life as mixed-income apartments if a nonprofit is able to secure local approvals and funding.

The project is not expected to face any obstacles due to the COVID-19 pandemic because the developer already has built into its plans a multiyear timeline for raising the needed funds.

North Shore Community Development Coalition seeks to convert the former St. James School on Federal Street and the former St. Mary’s School on Hawthorne Boulevard to a combined 62 rental units, 45 of them affordable.

Under the $25 million plan, the St. James would have 33 units with a preference for 55-and-over households, and the St. Mary’s building 29 units with a preference for people working in the creative economy, according to David Valecillos, senior project manager for the Salem-based coalition.

“There is a great demand for both types of housing,” Valecillos said. The projects also would result in the rehabilitation of two historic structures: the St. James School was built in 1906 and St. Mary’s in 1941, he added.

Valecillos said the pandemic and its economic impacts could potentially accentuate the need for affordable housing.

"There was a housing crisis before, and the pandemic is exposing the preexisting inequities,” Valecillos said. “Housing like this will remain important, and the need may be even greater afterwards.”

A mix of studio and one- and two-bedroom units, the 62 apartments would include nine affordable to households earning up to 30 percent of area median income, and 36 affordable to those earning up to 60 percent of that income level, which is currently $113,000 for a family of four. Seventeen units would be market-rate.

Over the years, the coalition has created 400 affordable homes, most of them in the Point neighborhood off Lafayette Street in Salem. The group also invests in neighborhoods through public arts, youth development, and other programs.

The coalition is now seeking special permits from the Planning Board for the school conversion projects. The city’s Historical Commission, and the Design Review Board, in virtual meetings recently voted to recommend Planning Board approval of the project. The Planning Board is set to open its hearing, also in virtual session, on May 7.

Even with city approvals, Valecillos said it would likely take the group three to four years to secure the financing — most of it expected federal and state low-income and historical tax credits — to proceed with the development.

“We’re really excited about the chance to renovate these beautiful buildings and create critically-needed affordable housing,” Mickey Northcutt, CEO of North Shore CDC, said in a statement.

St. Mary’s School closed in the 1970s, and St. James School closed in the 1980s. The St. James and the Immaculate Conception (formerly St. Mary’s) parishes merged in 2017 into a consolidated parish, named Mary, Queen of Apostles, but the two churches continue to operate, according to the Rev. Robert Murray, pastor of the new parish.

After the closure of St. Mary’s school, the building was used for a period of time by the Boys & Girls Club of Salem and as a pastoral center for the parish. The St. James building was used temporarily by the city to house students during a school renovation project and for a time as a pastoral center for the former Salem Catholic Collaborative.

Murray said his parish supports the North Shore CDC project.

“We recognize that the educational mission of the Catholic Church in Salem is no longer viable,” he said, “but in keeping with the church mission of social justice, we support offering a place for affordable housing for families.”

The Archdiocese of Boston in 2018 selected North Shore CDC to redevelop the two former school buildings. The coalition and the archdiocese later reached 99-year lease agreements for both properties, according to Valecillos.

The City Council last year approved a zoning amendment needed for the redevelopment plan to move forward, according to Tom Daniel, the city’s director of planning and community development.

The change, which allows by special permit religious and municipal buildings to be used for multifamily housing, also opened the way for a developer selected by the city to pursue plans to convert the city’s former senior center on Broad Street to 16 condominium units, one of them affordable.

Daniel said the city welcomes the North Shore CDC’s redevelopment plan because “it’s bringing housing and at a mixture of affordability levels,” adding that it also supports the specific needs of over-55 residents and creative entrepreneurs in the city.

“Plus, North Shore CDC has a really good track record in terms of the projects they develop, and the projects they own and manage,” Daniel said. “And they are a great partner in the city.”

The Federal Street side of St. James School in Salem. ASHLEY GANEM

Article Credit: Boston Globe