The Community Preservation Act in this city has always been about making the most of New Bedford’s abundant historic resources.

But this year it will also be about making the most of that history for the purpose of developing badly needed affordable housing.

For a city long challenged to do new construction and renovation, there is no place where you get a better view of the variety of important affordable housing construction and renovation currently underway than at the public hearings for the annual Community Preservation grants. The hearings were held by way of Zoom over the last several weeks.

These government incentive-grants have enabled the preservation and reuse development of historic structures across the city for what New Bedford greatly needs right now — a larger and better-quality housing stock for the people who live here but who increasingly can no longer afford to stay here.

The Community Preservation Act, as they used to say, is “one of the best things to ever come down the ‘Pike.” It’s not only helping spur construction and new housing, it’s literally holding back from decay many of the historic structures that have led to the regeneration of historic New Bedford over the last half century. 

The CPA has also allowed upgrades to city parks and ballfields that would have been delayed much longer without it, and it can be used for the purchase or upgrade to open space. And by the way, could we build some better trails through the Acushnet Cedar Swamp in the Far North End some day? 

This year there are some exciting and unusual projects, especially in the greatly needed area of affordable housing.

Like the $3 million redevelopment of the former Holy Family School as 15 units of affordable residences in the West End.

Gerry Kavanaugh’s company, CMK Development Partners, is redeveloping the former school associated with St. Lawrence Martyr Church after the former elementary and high school structure had sat vacant for 35 years.

Kavanaugh, a former chief of staff to the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, is as politically connected a Massachusetts developer as you’re ever likely to encounter. He’s also a local guy, active in nonprofits and charities, who says he’s doing it when the numbers might not work for some developers.

“This is a labor of love for us,” Kavanaugh said in presenting his development to the Community Preservation Committee. “Commercial developers just looking for returns would probably not do this project.”

Holy Family Apartments will not be a mix of affordable and market-rate units but rather all affordable units: 11 one-bedrooms; 4 studios and 1 handicapped-accessible unit. 

It’s a project that will take one of the city’s valuable red-brick, early 20th-century structures that’s been declining for many years, restore it and help revitalize its neighborhood. WHALE meanwhile has a plan to restore the old Hillman Street firehouse and civil defense center just a block away. 

CMK is seeking $175,000 from the CPC for a handicapped-accessible elevator and first-rate landscaping for the grounds, which will include off-street parking in a bit of the present St. Lawrence lot.

The Holy Family development is not the only affordable housing development before the CPC in a year when the housing crisis has become particularly acute in the city as rents for your average two-bedroom have pushed past $1,200 and even $1,400 a month.

Up in the North End, Winn Development for the past year has been building out what’s called the Cliftex II mill. 

This five-story 1896-built structure is part of the long line of housing-renovated red-brick mills that will one day be known around the country as one of the longest stretches of restored 19th-century factories in America. 

All the way up Riverside Avenue, starting near Riverside Park there’s Whaler’s Place, then Whaler’s Cove, then Victoria Riverside, then Manomet Place 1, then Cliftex II, and then Riverbank Lofts. 

Most of the converted red-brick factories are like Cliftex II, built for those 55 years old and up. They are also a mix of predominantly affordable housing although Whaler’s Cove is assisted living and the lofts at Riverbank and Victoria Riverside are market-rate.

The second part of the former Cliftex Mill in New Bedford is being redeveloped as apartments. Credit: Jack Spillane / The New Bedford Light

At Cliftex, 56 of the 71 units will be affordable for individuals at 60% of the median income. 

Winn Development, like CMK, is a for-profit company, but like the renovators of the Lofts and Suites at Wamsutta Mill in the Hicks-Logan area, they’ve done the job of preserving this valuable mill. Two decades ago, an owner in over his head had sought to quickly tear Cliftex 1 down and sell the valuable woodwork.

Winn, which has another arm that bills itself as the nation’s largest manager of affordable housing, is seeking a little over $86,000 in CPA funds to help build out an adult day care room in Cliftex II. The money will be used for masonry work and to replace basement windows.

You might say, why should the city’s Community Preservation money be used to help private for-profit developers like CMK and Winn Development, and the answer is that the quality of the historic preservation of these buildings would probably not be accomplished without the CVPA, as well as other government assistance.

At the CMK project, the state’s Mass Development agency, the New Bedford Housing Authority (through the New Bedford Development Corp.), and the city of New Bedford are also involved, either through grants or low-income loans.

The late Steve Ricciardi at the sprawling Wamsutta complex off Route 18 was one of the first developers who proved you could do large-scale historic residential developments in New Bedford through preservation grants and other subsidies. 

Both the Holy Family Apartments and Manomet II developments will be subsidized this way. Good. Without them, the historic preservation that will attract people to live in a city with 19th-century character will not take place, and reusing this aging infrastructure would be far more challenging.

The third great preservation and housing development that this year has come before the CPA is Temple Landing II.

Unlike the others, the Temple Landing development is not about historic preservation. It is about building out the land that was created when the decaying United Front housing development was demolished in 2009 to make way for Temple Landing I.

The site at Temple Landing near where an affordable senior housing building will be constructed. Credit: Jack Spillane / The New Bedford Light

Thirteen years after it was constructed, Temple Landing remains a big success. 

Unlike its predecessor it has through-streets that knit the affordable development to the surrounding neighborhood. Its brightly-colored townhouse units are all different, well-maintained and a true model of a privately operated affordable housing development.

Cory Fellows of the nonprofit Preservation of Affordable Housing is overseeing the $15 million new development, which will be a single structure that will house 27 elderly housing units, all of them affordable to 60% of the median income and eight of them affordable to very low-income residents who earn less than 30% of the median income.

The new development will be designed to be highly energy-efficient and to blend in with the colorful townhouses of the project’s first phase.  

Fellows said the United Front Development Corp., which planned Temple Landing I, always intended to develop this open space at the same site. He outlined the reasons for settling on senior housing.

“As the years have gone by, we found in talking with our residents and our management staff that senior housing was a real need,” he said. Families who had raised their children at United Front and then Temple Landing were now ready to downsize into a senior apartment.

The CPA process is not just about affordable housing this year.

There are 14 other projects that have applied for the $1.6 million in funding available for projects. The money is raised through a combination of a 1.5% property surtax approved by New Bedford voters in 2015 and state matching funds. 

Among the successful past and ongoing CPA developments in New Bedford are the renovation of the historic First Baptist Church into the Steeple Playhouse; the construction and renovation of a 46-unit mixed-used and mixed-income apartment building in the heart of the downtown at Custom House Park; and the renovation and upgrade of basketball courts at Brooklawn Park.

Good stuff. And the developers who have gone before the Community Preservation Committee, along with the efforts of other mixed-use developments at Eighth and Union and 117 Union Street, have provided a signal that there are at least a few things underway to address the housing crisis.

Email Jack Spillane at jspillane@newbedfordlight.org.

Editor’s note: This story was amended on Feb. 7, 2022, to correct the name of a city park that was upgraded under a CPA project.

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