50 below-market housing units, childcare, Haven HQ to be added to Portsmouth church site

Jeff McMenemy
Portsmouth Herald

PORTSMOUTH — The Episcopal Church of New Hampshire is partnering with the Portsmouth Housing Authority on an ambitious mixed-use redevelopment of its Lafayette Road property, which will feature as many as 50 affordable or work-force rental housing units.

The Episcopal Church is redeveloping its 3.4 acre Christ Church property to build “approximately 50 units of affordable, workforce apartment rental units, a new headquarters for Haven’s violence prevention services, renovated facilities for Little Blessings Child Care, and a revamped worship space,” church officials announced late Tuesday morning.

PHA Executive Director Craig Welch, HAVEN Executive Director Kathy Beebe, NH Episcopal Bishop Rob Hirschfeld stand outside of Christ Episcopal Church on Lafayette Road in Portsmouth

“This is what happens when faithful people dare to pray for a vision of God’s purposes," Bishop Rob Hirschfeld said in a statement. “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.”

Reached Tuesday, Craig Welch, the executive director of the Portsmouth Housing Authority, said the PHA is “thrilled to be working with the Episcopal Church and Haven on this project.”

Project to create desperately needed workforce housing

The Episcopal Church of New Hampshire has announced plans to redevelop its Christ Church property on Lafayette Road in Portsmouth.

“It’s going to be awesome. We are so excited,” Welch said about the mixed-use project that will create desperately needed workforce housing, an improved child-care center, a revamped worship facility “and a new headquarters for Haven in Portsmouth, which they’ve been looking for for a decade.”

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Welch stated that the PHA is still “very interested” in working with the city of Portsmouth on a separate project to redevelop the former Sherburne School site for below market-rate housing.

“But the need is tremendous and we’re trying to line these projects up,” Welch said, adding the redevelopment of the Lafayette Road property will be “pretty special.”

“To combine work-force housing and child care on the same site is so important,” he said. “That’s the workforce that supports the rest of the workforce.”

The Portsmouth Housing Authority will be the “master developer for the entire project,” Welch said.

“We’re so happy to be making this happen for them. We’ve been working closely with the diocese for about six months on this,” Welch said.

He credited the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire for their willingness to redevelop their property and help make the project a reality.

“They’re an action-orientated parish and they wanted to put their money where their mouth is,” he said.

The project will “meet some significant needs in the community, it’s a real credit to their parishioners,” Welch said.

He estimated there will be between 40 to 50 rental units built on the church site.

“It’s still up in the air,” Welch said when asked if they’ll all be rented at work-force rates or lower.

“There’s a couple of different ways we can go, but they’ll all be either affordable or work-force,” Welch said.

Credit given to Christ Church parishioners

Hirschfeld stated the 50 new housing units represents a meaningful development for Portsmouth, and the diocese has found the ideal partner in the PHA.

Welch 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,” he said.

Thanks to the creativity of the project’s partners, the church structure will be retained.

Plans call for part of the building to be repurposed as the headquarters for Haven, according to the announcement by church officials.

The building will also house new space for Little Blessings, and its child care service will continue to operate uninterrupted throughout construction.

Episcopal worship services to continue at site

A key element of the project is continuity of Episcopal worship services, which will be relocated to the renovated former church rectory, according to church officials.

Plans also call for the African Burying Ground at Langdon Farm, located behind the rectory and part of the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire, to be preserved and highlighted, they said. 

Haven Executive Director Kathy Beebe called the project “beyond exciting” and added that “we are grateful to the Episcopal Church for the opportunity.”

“It will allow us to expand our client services, counseling, educational outreach, and provide program and office space in a centralized location.” Beebe said. “Haven will continue to maintain its satellite office in Rochester.”

Haven currently operates out of an office at Pease Tradeport.

Little Blessings Child Care Center director Dana St. Jean said “a renovated or new space will strengthen our ability to continue providing quality services, especially in these challenging times for the early education industry.”

“Bishop Hirschfeld’s commitment to early education is admirable. This is a tremendous opportunity that we are very grateful to be a part of, and we look forward to our partnership with the diocese, Portsmouth Housing Authority, and Haven as the project develops and comes to fruition.” St. Jean said.

When completed, the new project will be the 13th housing development worked on by PHA, Welch said.

“We’ve been working on this problem with the kind of urgency we think it needs,” he said.

The Episcopal Church of New Hampshire comprises more than 8,000 members worshiping in 46 congregations throughout the state. The church honors God by striving to create a safe, open, and affirming environment for everyone. It engages in New Hampshire communities through worship, learning, and service, according to church officials.