By Dave Rogers
---- — NEWBURYPORT - Renovations to the Greater Newburyport YWCA’s affordable housing building that began in January and took years more of behind-the-scenes effort are just about complete, paving the way for the Market Street building’s residents to return and to welcome five more tenants.
For 15 years, low income tenants have called the circa-1880 Vernacular Victorian owned by the YWCA home. But in an effort to enrich the city’s stock of affordable housing, YWCA officials have spent the last couple of years securing needed funds from the city and state as well as permission from the city’s Historical Commission to double the number of units inside the approximately 4,000-square-foot house.
Tuesday afternoon, the YWCA held a lottery inside the Newburyport Public Library to award the new units to eligible tenants. Greater Newburyport YWCA Executive Director John Feehan said the lottery drew 54 eligible applicants who were each given a number. A library employee then chose the five numbers at random. Eligibility requirements varied depending on the five units, which included a two-bedroom apartment, two one-bedroom apartments and two studio units.
Those wishing to live in the single bedroom apartments, which are fully handicapped accessible, must be institutionalized and confined to a wheelchair. Only those homeless were eligible for the studio units while those seeking the two-bedroom unit had to be earning 30 percent below the annual median income statewide and be homeless.
YWCA officials called Tuesday’s lottery one of the most emotional and heart-wrenching experiences they have witnessed saying that while five people left the library happy, the majority left distraught knowing they could be spending another cold winter on the streets.
“What it speaks to is the absolute need for more affordable housing,” Feehan said.
The lottery drew people from across the region after it was advertised in several publications and online. Rents for all the units have been subsidized by the state and include Section 8 housing vouchers. Leases are for a year but can be extended with the idea that tenants would contribute more to their rents as their economic standings improved, Feehan said.
Local architect Andrew Sidford said renovations include a new back addition plus a renovated attic. He and others worked closely with the city’s Historical Commission to make sure the renovated house continued to blend in well with the surrounding neighborhood while at the same time squeezing every single square inch into the property.
It was a laborious process that saw both sides make accommodations, but one would be hard pressed to look at the green shingled house with impressive dormers and tell it was a affordable housing project.
“And that was the goal,” Feehan said, adding that such a goal makes the process more dignified or less stigmatizing for affordable housing tenants.
While construction began in January, the official groundbreaking ceremony took place in late February. Since renovations got underway, current tenants were relocated to housing units within the city and in Rowley. Current tenants will be able to return shortly while new tenants will start moving in as soon as Sept. 15. The last new tenant is expected to move in by the end of October.
Feehan and Sidford said the project never would have gotten off the ground if not for the efforts of Mayor Donna Holaday and Newburyport state Rep. Michael Costello who helped secure necessary funds. They also praised the Historical Commission, which allowed some leeway to ensure the creation of five new units, the city’s Community Preservation Act Committee and contractor L.D. Russo who worked with YWCA officials during the process.
The official ribbon cutting ceremony for the newly renovated building is scheduled to take place Wednesday, Sept. 25, at 5 p.m. at the house. Those wishing to attend are asked to contact the YWCA at 978-465-922, Ext. 27.