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Unique Portsmouth plan combines affordable housing, shelter services, church

A partnership between several nonprofits that will bring a unique mix of uses to a landmark church property on Lafayette Road is still in the early stages, but will get a congratulatory visit from U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen Monday.

The Episcopal Church of New Hampshire, domestic violence support organization HAVEN and the Portsmouth Housing Authority are partnering on a project at the 3.5-acre Christ Episcopal Church site that will create more than 40 affordable apartment units, seven transitional housing units, allow Little Blessings Daycare Center to expand and provide the church new, more efficient worship space. 

Shaheen, chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the Office on Violence Against Women, will tour the project site at 1035 Lafayette Road to celebrate the role a federal grant for HAVEN  played in making the project possible. Shaheen will accept an award during her visit from the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence for her work on behalf of survivors.

Haven is one of dozens of New Hampshire organizations that got funding through legislation Shaheen backed last year. The $2 million federal grant was to help HAVEN acquire property for an emergency shelter and office space.

Plans are for HAVEN to renovate the first floor of the church building for its use, and build an addition with seven units of traditional housing. Little Blessings Daycare, which operates out of the building, will stay there, in renovated basement space. The two organizations would split the building’s 13,800 square feet.

The Portsmouth Housing Authority plans a four-story, 44-unit multi-family residential building next to the church. 

The Christ Episcopal Church parish will relocate to the church rectory building, at the south end of the site.

The Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire announced the plan, which has been in the works for some time, earlier this month. The large brick church on Route 1 is too large and difficult for the church’s congregation to maintain, the diocese said.

“This is what happens when faithful people dare to pray for a vision of God’s purposes,” Bishop Rob Hirschfeld said. “This will be a bold project that will further God’s love and care in this community. I’m grateful to all involved for their courageous collaboration.”

HAVEN has been looking for several years to find a Portsmouth location that will allow it to expand, Executive Director Kathy Beebe said in the church announcement.

“This project is beyond exciting, and we are grateful to the Episcopal church for the opportunity,” Beebe said. “It will allow us to expand our client services, counseling, educational outreach, and provide program and office space in a centralized location.” HAVEN will continue to maintain its satellite office in Rochester.

PHA Executive Director Craig Welch said, “Addressing the housing crisis on the Seacoast has been identified as a top priority for our elected leaders and this is an important opportunity to begin making a dent in building more rental options for the vital workers in our community who can no longer afford to live in Portsmouth. “

He added that the PHA “Is so touched by the parishioners at Christ Church who are committed to their mission to serve people in our community by taking real action. Lots of people talk about values but Christ Church and its leadership should be commended for their selfless contribution to making this property available for such important work.”

The African Burying Ground at Langdon Farm, behind the rectory, as well as the portion of the Black Heritage Trail of NH that crosses the property will be preserved and highlighted, church officials said. The 3.5-acre site along Route 1 is surrounded on its three other sides by 182 acres of conserved U.S. Forest Service land, an oasis on the busy and always developing stretch of road. 

The Planning Board got a first look at the conceptual plan April 18. The meeting appearance was an opportunity for the board to get a look at what was planned, not to take action. A site plan, once finalized, will go through the hearing and approval process. Still, the board was enthusiastic about the concept.

“All of the needs are just great services to the community, they’re just desperately needed services,” Joe Almeida, facilities manager, said. 

Almeida asked why the housing aspect couldn’t be twice the size. “What’s in the way of you making this bigger and bolder? Can it be bigger? Are we holding back for any reason?”

Welch said a lot of thinking has gone into how to best accommodate the four different uses on the site – HAVEN, the church, the day care center and the affordable housing – as well as putting together the best plan to respect the African Burial Site.

He said with a 3.5-acre site and a day care center licensed for 71 kids, “Parking is always a thing.” There aren’t other opportunities for overflow parking since it’s surrounded on three sides by conservation land. He said the amount of parking needs to reflect what is practical for the site.

Welch told the board that the project has to be approved by the end of August in order for the housing authority to apply for the Low Income Housing Tax Credits that will make it possible,.

“We think that’s certainly doable,” he said. Welch said the $7.5 to $8 million in equity the credits bring to the project are what allows it to remain affordable.

Once that happens, ground to be broken early next year, and the apartments to be ready to rent in early 2026.