Baptist church set to be redeveloped into affordable elderly housing

LONDON: The trend to convert old church land into affordable housing for the elderly is now commonplace.

A historic church in Allston-Brighton is in the early stages of redevelopment into affordable housing for the elderly.

The Hill Memorial Baptist Church, the last remaining Baptist church in Allston-Brighton, was acquired by the Allston-Brighton Community Development Corporation in December following a five-year effort, according to the ABCDC.

John Woods, executive director of the ABCDC, said he was approached in 2018 by a representative from the American Baptist Churches of Massachusetts, TABCOM, who said the Hill Memorial Baptist Church may have to close. Woods said TABCOM wanted “something positive to happen” to the church after it closed.

Woods said the ABCDC considered several options for redeveloping the church, and the organization talked with community members about how they could “still maintain some of that neighborhood feel that’s out there.”

“We came to the conclusion that affordable elderly housing in the neighborhood would be really helpful to help people transition from their existing living situation into a more supported sense of affordable housing,” Woods said.

Harvard University originally provided Boston with the funds to purchase the site. The use of city funds mandates the property be used for affordable housing for at least 99 years, according to the ABCDC.

The ABCDC aims to repurpose the site into 50 units of affordable housing for low-income seniors, Woods said.

“The good thing about that is that the units are a little smaller than they would be if they were condos,” he said. “We feel like we can get the units on the site and still be respectful of the neighborhood massing and the neighborhood height issues.”

The ABCDC partnered with senior-living community Allston-Brighton Elderly Housing, known as the McNamara House, on the housing project. McNamara House’s Holton Street location has a waitlist of over three years, according to the ABCDC.

Woods said the “wonderful thing” about the project is its focus on the community, since McNamara House is also a “neighborhood organization” like the Hill Memorial Baptist Church.

“This is going to be a really unique opportunity for the people to sort of feel like they’re a part of a development process as opposed to having a development process happen to them,” Woods said.

District 9 City Councilor Liz Breadon aided in the acquisition process, according to the ABCDC.

Breadon said she is “very much in favor of” the project, because many seniors in Allston-Brighton are interested in downsizing but do not want to leave the neighborhood.

“We need to add more housing options for folks who want to age in place in the neighborhood,” Breadon said.

The ABCDC “wanted to give [seniors in Allston-Brighton] an opportunity to be able to stay with a support system” by creating affordable housing in the neighborhood, Woods said.

Despite the possibility of selling their homes for a high price, many seniors are still not comfortable with leaving the neighborhood.

“There are a lot of folks that have had these houses that are worth a lot of money right now, and they’re a little bit uncomfortable with the idea of selling because the neighborhood is still part of their life,” Woods said. “This is hopefully a solution for folks.”

Woods said one complication the ABCDC faced in planning to redevelop the site was preserving the historic church. He said many conversations involved trying to accommodate ministerial activities in the space.

The Hill Memorial Baptist Church held its last services on March 31, 2023, wrote Diane Badger, ministry coordinator for TABCOM who also oversees the archives, in an email.

Badger, who oversees TABCOM’s archives, wrote that the church’s archives are currently with the church clerk and will be going to the TABCOM offices in Groton. When they arrive in Groton, TABCOM will catalog and preserve them for future reference.

“At the archives we are working diligently on preserving our history as Baptists in Massachusetts going back to the 1600s,” Badger wrote.

The ABCDC plans to use the original church building as a common space for the residents of the new affordable housing, Woods said. He said this is a way to reconcile the past and the future of the building.

“It’s got all the ingredients that reinforce the sense of neighborhood around here,” Woods said.

Woods said the redevelopment project is in the “pre-file process,” where they will converse with the Boston Planning and Development Agency about current design plans.

Brittany Comak, assistant director of communications for the BPDA, wrote in an email that once the ABCDC files the project, it will begin a review process. After the review process is complete, the BPDA Board will consider the project for development.

The ABCDC is continuing to have conversations with the community about the project, Woods said. The organization will host a neighborhood meeting at the Honan-Allston Library on May 22.

Woods said the ABCDC’s best-case scenario would be to start construction by late 2025. He estimates the project will take two years, and its first residents are expected to move in in late 2027.

“It’s something that we’re pretty proud of, and it’s a rare opportunity,” Woods said of the redevelopment. “Because we’ve been talking to the neighbors for so long, this should be a project that everybody feels really happy about.”