From the NYT:
Walk the halls of the Senior Residence at St. Peter the Apostle and you can see remnants of the convent that once was.
The modestly sized rooms hold only single beds. The round-topped design of some windows hints at the stained glass that once filled their frames. The former chapel transformed quite handily into a library and sitting room. An old confessional now serves as a medicine closet.
The nonprofit organization Build With Purpose opened this boarding-home-style residence for older adults in River Edge in 2013, the first of what it hopes will be many other converted buildings like it in New Jersey.
The mission is to find shuttered buildings that can convert easily into housing for the state’s aging population. The nonprofit, based in Metuchen, is renovating another convent in Edison into a similar congregate home, and it has plans to open 100 new units of senior housing in 1,000 days, hoping to change not only former convents but also decommissioned school buildings and some of the abandoned motels that line the Jersey Shore.
“We’re looking for the kind of real estate that best lends itself to use as senior housing,” Brian Keenan, president of Build With Purpose, told The Record of Woodland Park.
Repurposing is the name this charity uses. But the strategy — also called adaptive reuse — is a trend that has recently taken hold in New Jersey, although it can sometimes face as many financing and bureaucratic hurdles as developing a vacant lot, affordable housing experts say.
In Montvale, the United Way of Bergen County is transforming a long-shuttered school into a 10-apartment building for older adults, a renovation expected to cost $1.6 million to $2 million because the classrooms are about the size needed for the one-bedroom apartments they are scheduled to become. Building from scratch could have cost more like $3 million, and “this is certainly greener,” Thomas M. Toronto, president of the organization, said.
Similarly, three Burlington County schools were converted into apartment buildings for the elderly in the past few years by an ecumenical housing organization.
Affordable housing for older adults and others with special needs remains in high demand in North Jersey, with spaces often filling up before the buildings open and waiting lists stretching several years long. Affordable housing developers often bemoan the high cost of land and the lack of centrally located open spaces that are better suited to those in need of supportive services.
Transforming schools, convents and motels makes the most sense because the original buildings are often the right size and layout to convert into housing, Mr. Keenan said.
“Our mission is to find a new purpose for abandoned properties,” he said. “The question we try to answer with every project is: How do we use real estate for social change?”