SWAMPSCOTT – Last week, state officials announced a $2 million grant to help create senior affordable housing at the former Machon School. The grant will help the planned $15 million, 38-single-unit housing development move forward.
The nonprofit B’nai B’rith Housing will develop the Senior Residences at the Machon for people 55 and over. Keith Construction of Canton won the bid to develop the former elementary school.
“This project is a terrific example of the creativity and diligence of the town of Swampscott, B’nai B’rith Housing and many others who have made this happen,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “The big issue is that we don’t do this enough. We are nowhere near where we should be in terms of production of housing.”
The state funding will come from state bond accounts and federal funds. Other funds will come from North Shore HOME Consortium ($342,000) and a private philanthropy ($250,000).
“The need is extraordinary,” said B’nai B’rith Housing Executive Director Susan Gittleman. “Soon the building you see on the hill will be transformed into a welcoming community with activities for residents. We cannot wait to get started.”
Construction is planned to begin next spring, and residents could begin moving in by the fall of 2021, said Heather Amsden, a BBH spokeswoman.
The building will have common spaces, a library and a gym. To help residents access services such as health, wellness and educational programs, there will be an on-site resident service coordinator who will partner with the town’s senior service agencies.
According the state, almost 25 percent of Swampscott households have a senior member. With one-third of Swampscott households over 65 earning less than $40,000 a year, and with seniors projected to make up over half of total Swampscott households by 2030, the need for affordable housing options for seniors is critical.
“Swampscott has become more economically diverse over the last decade,” Swampscott Selectman Chair Peter Spellios told an audience that included State Representatives Lori Erhlich, Brendan Crighton and many from communities benefiting from the housing awards. “These are the first [affordable units] constructed in over 30 years, since the Swampscott Housing Authority,” said Spellios. “B’nai B’rith, you are our champion for providing housing and services to the seniors who will live here.”
Vice Chair of the Select Board Naomi Dreeben also praised the B’nai B’rith project. “B’nai B’rith is a wonderful partner for us. We want to reuse this beautiful building and B’nai B’rith is doing the hard part of [securing] the funding and making it happen,” she said.
The Machon project gave birth to a new town entity. The Swampscott Affordable Housing Trust was formed “to encourage the production of more affordable housing,” said Chair Kim Martin-Epstein.
John DiPietro, 77, expressed the big question people at the senior center wanted to know. “What income do you need to qualify for affordable housing?”
Heather Amsden of BBH explained that selection is based on a percentage of a person’s income.”
Martin-Epstein explained that the cost is similar to how public housing works. A person whose income is at 60 percent of the area’s median income “will pay 30 percent of their monthly rent.”
Local residents Helaine Hazlett, Robert Powell, Beth Andler, Shari Cashman and Susan Steigman were part of a committee assembled by Barbara Schneider, liaison between B’nai B’rith Housing and the Jewish community. Schneider helped get Jewish community support for the project. She said Rabbi Allison Adler on behalf of the North Shore Rabbis and Cantors Association, businesswoman Phyllis Sagan, Metro Credit Union CEO Robert Cashman and others wrote letters of support for the housing.
Hazlett said it’s important for seniors to “age in place” in a familiar setting. “I learned that from my mother who stayed in her own home to the end.”
Meanwhile, Raymond Harris, 74, has lived alone in his Swampscott home since his wife, Rosalie, passed away more than three years ago. His daughter, helicopter pilot Marine Captain Jennifer Harris was killed in a 2007 crash in Iraq. Harris, who lives near the old school, is looking forward to the project’s completion. “I’m interested in applying,” he said.