, Salem, MA

February 22, 2014

Citizens for Adequate Housing makes room for big family in Peabody

By Alan Burke
Staff Writer

---- — PEABODY — One size does not fit all. That goes for people and it goes for families. Which is why Peabody’s nonprofit Citizens for Adequate Housing is cheered whenever an apartment with multiple bedrooms comes its way.

That happened recently when the city turned over a two-family house on Elm Street for the agency to manage, with an almost-unheard-of four bedrooms in the upstairs apartment.

The building was purchased by the Historical Commission, using Community Preservation Act funds, and with the help of a variety of local agencies. The property is a historic structure, built in 1870 — just a few years after the end of the Civil War.

“There just isn’t a lot of affordable housing for large families,” said a delighted Corey Jackson, director of Citizens for Adequate Housing.

He quickly found families with Peabody ties for both the downstairs and the roomy upstairs apartments. “We tend to put a high premium on helping Peabody residents,” he said.

They moved into a home that CAH had upgraded to the tune of $125,000. “It’s beautiful,” he said, estimating its value on the free market as being in the range of $400,000.

Citizens for Adequate Housing manages five properties with 15 individual apartments. It also has 29 families in shelters. Their goal, Jackson said, is far-reaching. Getting people out of shelters and into the sort of housing now available on Elm Street is only one step. Ultimately, he looks forward to seeing the residents move up and out, finding their own housing at market rates after a period of assistance.

While the rents and utilities charged are little more than half of what for-profit landlords would demand, they’re not cheap. The four-bedroom apartment on Elm Street rents for $1,300, for example, including utilities. Jackson guesses it would rent for $2,000 on the open market.

Tenants are found the old-fashioned way, through advertising. Income is a factor in determining their eligibility for the subsidized units. To qualify, a family of four would make between $28,300 to $61,360 a year or less. Yet, Jackson points out, many of his applicants barely earn $20,000 a year. Currently, he adds, “we have a waiting list for all of our programs.”

CAH’s funding comes from individual donors, corporate charities, foundations and government grants. The apartments don’t quite sustain themselves.

“Typically we lose a little bit of money every year on rental properties,” he said. “We fundraise to cover the difference. ... We try to break even.”

In a press release, Mayor Ted Bettencourt noted the “creative integration of historic preservation and affordable housing” represented by the Elm Street project.