Neighborhood Revitalization, From the Inside Out

Point redevelopment project gets financial boost

July 25, 2016 : The Salem News, by Dustin Luca

SALEM — Deep within The Point, the North Shore Community Development Coalition is millions of dollars into intense work that is hardly visible from the congested streets of the city’s most densely packed neighborhood.

Across eight buildings, 66 run-down apartments are being transformed into something the community can be proud of, said David Valecillos, project manager for the coalition. The organization focuses on revitalizing low-income and distressed neighborhoods as part of its mission.

Standing in the center of a newly renovated kitchen on the fourth floor of 52 Dow St., Valecillos described the way the unit looked months earlier.

“You walked in here, and this was the only common space — the kitchen,” he said. He then pointed to several doorways feeding into the kitchen. “Then it was bedroom, bedroom, bedroom, bedroom, bedroom.”

Some apartments have living rooms — but there’s often a catch.

“You’d have to walk through a bedroom to get to the living room,” Valecillos said. “We’re avoiding that now.”

Through intense construction — knocking down a wall here, some plumbing work there — the apartment Valecillos stood in has totally changed. 

“Now, instead of a five-bedroom, one bath, we have a three-bedroom, two bath and an actual living room,” Valecillos said. “We’re doing new kitchens, new bathrooms, refinishing hardwood flooring.”

One floor below him, another unit is gutted. Walls are torn out, reduced in many places to just the original beams drywall once masked. Utility buckets are everywhere, and dust covers everything as the work progresses.

Before the work made the unit unrecognizable, it was four bedrooms — with a living room repurposed to serve as a fifth bedroom, according to Valecillos.

“The one above this was to show how it’ll look,” he said, “and we can hold those standards to (other units).”

Achieving outcomes

The work is years in the making, an outcome of the city’s Vision and Action Plan of the Point Neighborhood that was penned and put in action in 2013.

“We acquired this building in 2014, and then we received funding last year,” Valecillos said. “Now we’re starting construction.”

NSCDC is sinking $25.9 million into its Congress Street Residences program, which includes 52 Dow St. as one of eight buildings targeted for improvement.

There will be a loss of housing along the way — of the 66 units being renovated, only 64 of them will remain apartments once the work is done and the dust has settled, according to Valecillos.

Two of the units on Congress Street are being turned into a community space, “which is needed in the neighborhood,” Valecillos said.

“The community space is going to be used by the residents of the buildings and neighborhood as a whole,” he said. “It’s going to be managed by North Shore CDC, and the programming is still in the process of being finalized.”

When built out, the space will be about 2,000 square feet, Valecillos said.

Dollars to domiciles

A major chunk of the cash to carry out the work landed last week.

Eastern Bank announced July 20 that it bought a $12.997 million bond issued by MassDevelopment benefiting Congress Street Residences Limited Partnership.

“Eastern Bank is excited to assist in revitalizing Salem’s Point Neighborhood,” said Jan Miller, vice chairman and commercial banking officer. “We’re concerned about the lack of local affordable housing and are proud to support organizations that improve growth and vitality in our communities.”

Marty Jones, president and CEO of MassDevelopment, said communities throughout the state “are facing a housing shortage that directly influences the economic strength of the commonwealth.”

“MassDevelopment is pleased to help provide solutions to those shortages, especially in gateway cities like Salem,” she said, “by supporting the work of organizations like the North Shore Community Development Coalition.”

The effect the projects have is perhaps best felt in each apartment, Valecillos said.

“The residents that will live in the units are getting safer, higher-quality units and living conditions,” he said. “And at the same time, you’re improving the aesthetics of the neighborhood.”

The end game: A new Point

The 64 units being upgraded as part of this project join another 77 units across 11 buildings the organization has already done heavy work on — leaving the end product at 130 units in 19 buildings, according to Valecillos.

“The Point neighborhood is dense. We believe it has the quality to thrive as a community,” he said. “We have a neighborhood model that focuses on promoting economic development in the area. That’s what we’re working on.”

But there’s more work ahead.

“This project will take a year,” said Mickey Northcutt, the organization’s executive director. “We own another 15 buildings that are all slated for renovation in the coming years.”

For two of those buildings, the coalition is looking for the cash to give them a brighter future. Meanwhile, it could be another five years before the other 13 buildings get funding and upgrades, according to Northcutt.

Obviously, the coalition doesn’t own the entire Point community. But there’s a sense, Northcutt said, that the limited amount of work it can facilitate will spread to the properties it doesn’t have its hand in.

“It’s the broken windows theory in reverse,” Northcutt said. “I’ve had people — property owners and condo owners — say, ‘where’d you get those windows?’ ‘Who’d you use to get the masonry work?

That’s a sign of progress spreading, according to Northcutt.

“When we renovated 11 buildings last year, we’ve seen and heard from adjacent property owners who invested in theirs,” he said. “We think that’s a good sign and think that’ll happen to an even larger degree with the Congress Street Residences.”

© Copyright 2016 The Salem News.