Mayor Carlo DeMaria appeared before Council Oct. 15 to provide an update on the sale of the Pope John XXIII High School site, which he hopes to purchase and convert into affordable housing for seniors and veterans.
That plan was first reported in the Independent earlier this month.
“A lot of our seniors have a difficult time paying rents in the city,” said the Mayor. “People are struggling. The government needs to step in and help.”
Based on an initial appraisal, the 2.5-acre property at 888 Broadway was valued at $12 million. The old school building would likely be razed to accommodate a new three-story construction containing 300 to 400 housing units.
The property would give preference to Everett residents, with up to 70 percent of its units rented out to people who have lived in the city for at least two years according to the U.S. Census. This is a preset percentage imposed by the state.
In addition to residential units, the Mayor said that the acreage could also include ground-level retail, outdoor dining and public open spaces.
“I’m looking to do something appealing to complement the park across the street,” he said.
The Zoning Board would also require that there be sufficient parking spaces available for guests and visiting nurses. The idea of a shuttle service for the development was also raised.
The Mayor said that he wanted Council’s support before entering into price negotiations for the property. He is planning to use state rather than federal funds, and suggested possibly using the income from Encore to finance the purchase.
“We could use that money to reduce taxes for residents for one year,” he said, “or we can give a lifetime of benefits to seniors through purchasing this property.”
Councilors expressed strong support of the Mayor’s vision, with Councilor Michael McLaughlin calling it one of the “best ideas” he’s heard in a long time, and Council President Anthony DiPierro saying, “it’s about time the City steps in and does something of this magnitude.”
“This is a good idea for the community,” said Councilor Wayne Matewsky. “There isn’t a week that goes by that a senior citizen doesn’t call me asking for affordable housing.”
“I like the idea,” echoed Councilor Peter Napolitano. “[This is] one of the chief complaints of our residents. We don’t want to push long-term residents out, people who’ve built this community.”
“I’ve been fighting for this for a long time,” said Councilwoman Rosa DiFlorio. “I’m in favor of this 100 percent.”
The councilwoman also urged establishing an equitable way of deciding who gets to inhabit the new construction under the 70 percent local preference.
“I have a lot of friends who moved out of the city because they couldn’t afford the rent. They want to come back,” she said. “If they were here for twenty years and they were forced out, I would hope we would [give them priority].”
Councilor Fred Capone also raised the issue of prior contamination of the land and urged the City to fully assess the history of the parcel.
“We want to know what we’re getting into before we get too far into it,” he said.
The Mayor’s office is currently in conversations with the Archdiocese, which owns the school site and which will be maintaining it through the winter months. They will carry out more detailed appraisals and abatement tests in the coming weeks.
The Mayor said he hopes to move forward “at a rapid pace” and to put out an RFP within six months, with a preference for developers who have experience building affordable housing for the elderly. Tony Sousa, the director of Planning and Development, said construction could begin as early as next year.