Baltimore—After serving the community for nearly 82 years as an orphanage and special education school, St. Elizabeth Convent has found yet another purpose: affordable housing.
Built in 1917 as a convent and orphanage, the building was later used as a school for the developmentally disabled. But by 1999, the school had closed. The nuns wanted to continue to live on the property and use the place to serve others, but they could not afford its upkeep.
In partnership with Homes for America (HfA) and Communities of Care, the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi converted the building into Clare Court, a $7 million, 30-unit community of apartments and townhouses serving families adopting children from the local foster care system, persons with disabilities, and seniors.
All the one- and two-bedroom apartments and four-bedroom townhouses offer Sec. 8 rent vouchers, though half are project-based and half are tenant-based. Twenty-two of the units are reserved for tenants earning up to 40 percent of the area median income (AMI), and eight are reserved for those earning up to 50 percent of AMI.
The sisters and HfA formed an innovative partnership allowing the sisters to keep one wing of the 50,000-square-foot building’s first floor and create a 10-unit assisted-living facility for some of the elderly nuns. They also kept ownership of the kitchen, dining area, common space, and the chapel, as well as the majority of the 10-acre site and a second, smaller historic building. The balance of the building was sold to HfA for $250,000 through a condominium arrangement.
“We’ve often partnered with nonprofits to help them with the property and the vision,” said Trudy McFall, chairwoman of HfA, which served as developed and is now co-owner of the facility.
The sisters wanted to preserve “the retreat-like and park-like nature of the property,” said McFall. The stained glass windows, statuary, and crosses on the building were kept as they were.
Financing included $2.5 million in low-income housing tax credit equity from Enterprise Community Investment, Inc., a $1.4 million state Department of Housing and Community Development loan, an $850,000 city of Baltimore HOME loan, and a $200,000 Affordable Housing Program grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta.
The second building on the property, the 8,000-square-foot Stone House, was built in the 1880s and now serves as an activity center for children and family programs. It also has an on-site service coordinator and provides offices for Homes for America and other social service providers.
Clare Court residents must fulfill a set of requirements that includes volunteer service, participation in the resident association, and completion of training courses.
The project was honored as the “Best Project in Maryland for 2005” by the Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers, and was named a 2005 Tax Credit Excellence Award Winner for best seniors development by the Affordable Housing Tax credit Coalition.
“This is far and away the most unique project in our portfolio,” said McFall. She added that nuns in another state have asked HfA to partner with the order for a similar redevelopment.