The only designated developer selected to build affordable housing at the former Pope John XXIII High School notified city officials on Monday night that it is withdrawing its proposal.
“This just isn’t the right time or place for it,” said Rafael Mares, the Executive Director of The Neighborhood Developers (TND).
City officials purchased the property in 2019 from the Archdiocese of Boston for more than $10M after the school closed following financial difficulties in May, 2019. City councilors initially believed that the razing of the school for 138 units of affordable housing for the elderly, veterans, and families was the right course of action in December, 2019, when they authorized city officials to purchase the former school.
In the fall of 2020, the city put out a Request for Proposals to develop the site. The only bidder to apply was TND, the developer of many units of affordable housing in the communities of Chelsea and Revere and the St. Therese project on Broadway in Everett.
The bid was accepted and TND partnered with Hebrew Senior Life in the spring of 2021 to provide services to the senior citizens in the project. In the bid, the city would donate the building to TND and TND would pay real estate taxes that would eventually exceed the $10M that was paid.
However, the city’s priorities have changed following the acceptance of the bid.
Student overcrowding, a problem in local schools for years, exploded on the public radar screen in recent months.
School officials tried to maximize the existing space in local schools by refurbishing storage rooms and suggesting the addition of modular classrooms at the George Keverian School to ease the overcrowding.
Mayor Carlo DeMaria set in motion the steps to get on approved project list at the Massachusetts School Building Assistance Program to build a new high school with a site to be determined. However, a proposed new high school could take up to 10 years to open.
Parents and residents became publicly upset and city councilors started their process to look at a solution for school overcrowding. To many councilors, the Pope John site became the answer. In August, the council ordered three public meetings to be held at the site to get feedback on the TND project that had started to generate opposition from parents of students, as well as neighborhood residents because of the demolition and new construction in their neighborhood.
In September, Superintendent Priya Tahiliani and the school committee started looking at the Pope John school as a potential 7th and 8th grade middle school. Tahiliiani presented three proposals to eliminate overcrowding in the K-8 schools at the September 19 meeting of the school board.
However, the high school would still remain a problem, with more than 400 students over the capacity of the building.
School Committee members and city councilors all took tours of the Pope John site, and made note of the extensive work that needs to be done to bring the building, which was constructed in the 1960s, up to present-day standards.
According to Tahiliani, a renovation could cost up to $40M.
The City Council and School Committee have scheduled a Joint Convention on Tuesday, October 4, to review the Pope John site for the use by Everett students.
The following is the letter that was sent by Mares of TND about withdrawing as developer of the Pope John site:
“Over the past weeks, I have been approached by many Everett residents. They each made a point of telling me that they appreciate the details of The Neighborhood Developers’ (TND) proposal to build affordable homes at the closed Pope John School, but that it just isn’t the right time or place for it.
“Overcrowded classrooms call for a school to remain a school. And while it unfortunately may not be as easy as opening the doors and letting the students in, we at TND appreciate the call for the Pope John School to be renovated so that it can service public school students in Everett.
“In 2019, the City Council and administration saw the closed Pope John School site as an opportunity to address another crisis Everett is facing, the desperate need for affordable homes. When in the Fall of 2020 the City issued a request for proposals to convert the Pope John School into affordable housing, we responded. We were the only team that did. No one else wanted to take on the challenge. Our proposal included affordable rental homes for seniors, veterans, and families with the strongest possible preference for Everett residents.
“We proposed a new building that would provide an attractive buffer for neighbors on Cameron, Lafayette, and Shute Streets and be better connected with Broadway and Wehner Park. Putting together a financially viable proposal was not an easy thing to do at a time when construction costs alone are too expensive to make any new home affordable without some type of subsidy.
“In June 2021, we were selected as the developer for the site. While the pandemic may have pulled all of us in different directions, our team at TND continued to refine the concept.
“When in June 2022 the City Council considered the next step, the land disposition from the City to TND, the City Councilors astutely observed that the circumstances may have changed over the last few years. I admit, it was painful for us to watch after all the work we had invested and with the knowledge that the need for affordable homes in Everett has only escalated, but it was reasonable.
“The City Council therefore asked us to convene a community meeting to get feedback on the proposal; so we organized three events to make sure as many of the neighbors and other residents of the city could make it. What we learned, in part, was that another problem, the shortage of classrooms, was more pressing. While Pope John may not solve the whole space problem for Everett Public Schools, it could be one of the quicker ways to alleviate some of the pressure. We are honored to unwittingly have played a catalyst role to make that happen. To be clear, we are no longer working on the vision to transform the closed Pope John School into affordable homes.
” ‘Why?’ “, you might ask. TND, despite the D in our name standing for ‘developers,’ isn’t really a developer in the common sense of the word. As the N for ‘neighborhood’ in our name suggests, our focus is broader. We develop affordable homes in Chelsea, Revere, and Everett so that residents can stay in their communities. We are a nonprofit, mission-based organization. We do more than build real estate. Our goal is to counter displacement, to create beautiful homes for residents of our communities, and to support them after they move in. Our mission is to create strong neighborhoods enabling community members to secure a stable home, achieve economic mobility, and determine their own future. I encourage you to check out our website (www.theneighborhooddevelopers.org).
“As to the other challenge, there undoubtedly is still a housing crisis in Everett. Did you know that according to the 2020 Census over 50% of Everett residents spend more than 30% of their income on housing? Were you aware over 27% spend more than 50% of their income to have a roof over their head? That’s not sustainable. Eleven percent of Everett’s residents are 65 or older and almost 2.3% are veterans. There is a real risk of displacement for many Everett residents. TND remains ready to work with the City, residents, and non-profit partners to counter displacement, including through the creation of affordable homes. “Feel free to email me with ideas, I’m all ears.
The Neighborhood Developers