The lot at 500 Lynnfield Street, once home to Union Hospital, will soon be the site of 150 new housing units for senior residents in Lynn.
The new development, which will be called Solimine House, is named in honor of local philanthropists Mary Jane and David J. Solimine Sr., whose son and daughter-in-law, David J. Solimine Jr. and Magnolia Contreras, currently own the site. Slated for completion in 2026, Solimine House will include three interconnected four- or five-story houses surrounding a central courtyard that will open into 40,000 square feet of public green space and walking paths.
2Life Communities, an organization that develops housing for low-income seniors, is behind the new project. Formerly known as Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly, the organization continues to be guided by Jewish values while remaining open to all. Recently, 2Life Communities launched another project at the site of the former Thurgood Marshall Middle School at 19 Porter Street, Lynn. The middle school site will take several years to complete and is expected to include approximately 114 additional housing units.
“Lynn is a fabulous community,” says Lizbeth Heyer, vice president and acting chief executive officer of 2Life Communities. “There is a tremendous amount of need in Lynn … Lynn has a [growing] population of adults who are really struggling with the economics of aging.”
Housing is an increasingly pressing issue for seniors in the United States. A 2021 study by McKinsey & Company reported that Massachusetts has some of the highest housing costs in the country, and ranks as one of the lowest states in the nation in terms of overall affordability. The study estimated that the state will need 125,000 to 200,000 more units of housing by 2030.
The current median income of 2Life residents is about $12,000 a year. At Solimine House, a one-bedroom apartment will cost approximately $1250, and two-bedroom apartments will go for $1450. However, through a variety of state and federal capital programs and other project-based subsidies, 2Life is able to significantly reduce rent for many of the apartments, especially for those of extremely low incomes.
Housing affordability is the foundation of 2Life’s brand, providing, as Heyer describes it, “emotional and financial stability” for residents. And Solimine residents will receive comprehensive, nursing-home-level care through an onsite PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) center, run by Element Care.
“[Our initiatives with 2Life] are the secret sauce and missing element,” says Bob Wakefield, chief executive officer of Element Care. Wakefield explained that Element Care is designed to keep people out of nursing homes by providing medical care in home settings. While Element Care can provide extensive care for seniors, its funding (capitation through Medicare and Medicaid) cannot pay for rent or mortgage.
That’s where 2Life comes in. “Once I have safe, modern, affordable, adaptable housing, there’s not a part of the social determinants I can’t touch,” Wakefield says. “We’re improving both on the quality of life and the longevity of life.”
And still more: 2Life isn’t just serving a need for housing and sustainable medical access for seniors in Lynn – it’s also serving a need for connection. In 2020, the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard reported that 58 percent of people age 80 and older live alone, and this year, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy declared loneliness and isolation a public health crisis.
“We are an organization that very much believes that aging is a team sport,” says Heyer. “It takes a village to age well, a village and a vibrant community to age well. We have a very holistic approach to the experience of folks living with us.”
Some examples of the programs and services 2Life provides are 24-hour on-call resident staff, lifelong learning programs, lecturers, concerts, facilitated conversations, intergenerational programming, collaboration with artists, and fitness and wellness programs.
Bob Goldman is a resident of Lynn, and is on the board for the Essex County Community Foundation (he is also a member of the Journal’s Board of Overseers). In that capacity, he has worked on finding solutions for the housing crisis in the area. Recently, he hosted an information session about 2Life’s Lynn projects.
“One non-profit like them building more than 200 units for elderly seniors in Lynn is huge. It’s huge,” Goldman says. “I’m familiar with senior low-income housing in Lynn that provides no services. They are not happy places, that’s my opinion. [2Life, with the services they provide] is just all about enhancing life and helping folks live longer, happier and healthier.” Θ