Revitalization: Affordable Housing and Adaptive Reuse

Often drawing opposition when proposed, affordable and workforce housing projects can serve as viable adaptive reuse projects that can bring life back to a neighborhood while preserving its unique sense of place.

Now known as The Boston Store Place, 92 apartments are affordable housing units, which are financed through $825,000 of low-income housing tax credits issued by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PFHA). The remaining 33 apartment units are considered market-rate. Similar to many historic flagship department store buildings, The Boston Store Place’s first floor includes high ceiling heights, making it suitable for a wide variety of uses. To no surprise, the store’s lobby is now a popular venue for special events, including wedding receptions, ceremonies, banquets, and trade shows. The Meadville, Pennsylvania-based Voodoo Brewery also takes advantage of the former department store’s voluminous first floor. Designed as a European beer hall, Voodoo offers flagship beers, seasonal brews and locally sourced food, while adding life and flair to downtown’s street scene with patio dining and decorative glass-and-metal overhead doors that open directly onto State Street. Other commercial occupants include the radio stations Star 104, Rocket 105 and The Wolf 93.9.

The Boston Store Place at ground level. (Adrienne Burke)

In April 2019, The Boston Store Place was acquired by the Housing And Neighborhood Development Service for $6.25 million. Better known as H.A.N.D.S., the nonprofit agency provides affordable housing for low- to moderate-income families and individuals, senior citizens, veterans, the homeless and people with disabilities. However, H.A.N.D.S. takes this mission one step further by acquiring historic properties and operating them as multi-family properties that once served another purpose. Since its establishment, H.A.N.D.S. has produced more than 1,000 units of affordable housing across Northwestern Pennsylvania, including the transformation of a former orphanage into the St. Joseph Apartments and a former college dormitory into the Villa Maria Apartments.

Inside The Boston Store Place’s Voodoo Brewing. (Adrienne Burke)

Committed to making neighborhoods in the communities it serves vibrant through the development and management of quality affordable housing, H.A.N.D.S. intends to upgrade The Boston Store Place property through the use of funding from the PHFA’s Revised Community Leveraging Assistance Initiative (ReCLAIM) program. The purpose of this pilot program is to identify buildings suitable for adaptive reuse incorporating housing and commercial space that supports neighborhood revitalization.

Erie’s former St. Joseph Orphanage was converted into the St. Joseph Apartments by H.A.N.D.S. (H.A.N.D.S.)

When it is all said and done, successful revitalization doesn’t have to come with the negatives of gentrification and displacement of existing residents or leaving spaces empty until the market can support the next high profile, luxury project. As proven by what has and is currently taking place across Northwestern Pennsylvania, the affordable housing projects many communities fight to keep out, could be the inclusive infill and adaptive reuse answer that breathes life back into a community while preserving its unique identity and sense of place.

Villa Maria Apartments is an example of another H.A.N.D.S. adaptive reuse housing project. (H.A.N.D.S.)

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at