BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — Like many people who grew up in Beverly, Jennifer White remembers Gloucester Crossing as a neighborhood with a less-than-stellar reputation.
The area accounted for a disproportionate share of the city’s crime rate and wasn’t considered a safe place to raise a family.
Yesterday, as White tried to corral her energetic 2-year-old son on Mill Street, she painted a much more flattering portrait of the neighborhood she now calls home.
“It’s more family oriented,” she said. “There’s better people, community meetings. They’re trying to get people involved and that’s made a big difference.”
White attributed the improvement to the advent of Holcroft Park Homes, a $20 million affordable housing development that now provides 58 apartments in six new buildings on Mill and Grant streets.
About 100 people showed up yesterday for the ribbon-cutting of the second and final phase of the project, which took seven years to complete.
“We didn’t just build good buildings. We changed a neighborhood,” said Jack Meany, CEO of the North Shore YMCA, which co-owns the development along with the North Shore Community Development Coalition.
Gloucester Crossing, named after the nearby railroad tracks, is a neighborhood of triple-deckers that were built for workers at the adjacent United Shoe Machinery Co., the former factory that was once the city’s largest employer (and is now the Cummings Center office park).
North Shore CDC and the North Shore YMCA bought 10 properties in the neighborhood in 2007, knocked them down and constructed the new buildings. The first phase, which included 29 apartments in four buildings, opened last year.
Officials said the new buildings, along with an effort to hold community meetings and bring the neighborhood together, has resulted in a 90 percent drop in police calls to the neighborhood since the properties were purchased.
“This place was in a tremendous depression,” Meany said. “Now look around. It’s a safe neighborhood. It’s a place where people care. It’s a place where people are taking care of their neighborhood.”
The Phase 1 apartments are fully occupied, and there’s a waiting list for the Phase 2 units. Individuals who make less than $39,660 and a family of four with an income of less than $56,640 are eligible. Rents for the Phase 2 apartments range from $870 for one bedroom to $1,280 for three bedrooms.
Funding for the project came from a variety of sources, including state, federal and city money.
State Rep. Jerry Parisella said the new apartments help to meet a growing need for affordable housing.
“The No. 1 call I get in my office is for people looking for affordable housing,” he said.
Clark Zielger, executive director of the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, said every community needs affordable housing, “but this city and these organizations did something about it.”
“This is going to make a lasting difference in this neighborhood,” he said.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.