School, Church Reborn as Mixed-Income Complex: Case Study

Units in the new building are contemporary, while the church apartments incorporate some of the historical elements of the original building.

Sacred Heart at St. Bernard in New Orleans, La., is a 53-unit, affordable and mixed-income project that was a collaboration between Providence Community Housing, a nonprofit affordable housing developer in New Orleans, and Columbia Residential, a development firm based in Atlanta.

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Completed in October 2018, the project brought desperately needed affordable housing to the Seventh Ward of New Orleans through the adaptive reuse of the former Our Lady of the Sacred Heart parish site, which included a church and school built in 1955 that was vacant and blighted.

Sacred Heart at St. Bernard
Sacred Heart at St. Bernard. Image courtesy of JHP Architecture

“It had been damaged during Katrina,” said John Schrader, vice president of JHP Architecture in Dallas. “The church was in disrepair, with foundation and roof problems. The church tower was collapsing. It was in pretty bad shape.”

So, the team adapted the church and built a new four-story apartment building that consists of three levels of apartments over a community room and commercial space occupied by a nonprofit. The one- and two-bedroom units are located both in the original church building and the newly constructed building.

Sacred Heart at St. Bernard
Sacred Heart at St. Bernard. Image courtesy of JHP Architecture

“We really played off the old with the new,” said Schrader. “We respected the history.”

Units in the new building are contemporary, while the church apartments incorporate some of the historical elements of the original building, such as brick walls, exposed ceilings and repurposed lights. Some of the units are two-story lofts, which take advantage of the height of the church building.

The finished project provides deeply affordable and permanent supportive housing units to the community. Forty percent of the units are set aside for very low-income renters, 43 percent are affordable for renters earning 60 percent of the area median income, and the remaining 17 percent are unrestricted at market rate.

“Due to the mixed-income nature of the Sacred Heart community, residents pay anywhere from zero to $822 for a two-bedroom, tax-credit unit restricted for families making 60 percent of the AMI or less, to $1,175 for an unrestricted market two-bedroom apartment,” said Christina Davis, development manager at Columbia Residential.

Sacred Heart at St. Bernard
Sacred Heart at St. Bernard. Image courtesy of JHP Architecture

Building amenities include gated parking, a fitness center, a business center, a community room for the public, laundry facilities and 4,200 square feet of first-floor space housing a nonprofit youth creative group.

Sacred Heart at St. Bernard, which received honorable mention in the MHN Excellence Awards Adaptive Reuse Category, was financed primarily through low-income housing tax credits.

“This was a 9 percent transaction that brought a tremendous amount of equity into the deal,” said Ryan Herringshaw, Providence’s COO & director of real estate. “We also had Capital One in on the financing scheme—they provided both the bridge and equity construction, as well as our permanent takeout—and they were the proprietary equity investor behind our syndication structure, as well.” Herringshaw said that additional funding came from the city of New Orleans and from the Louisiana Housing Corp.

Read the CPE-MHN Guide to 2021.