American Legion Building Could See Possible Re-use

The old American Legion Building on Shurtleff Street – across from City Hall – certainly had its heyday in Chelsea, but that heyday is long gone and the building has became mostly vacant and has fallen into disrepair.

The key piece of property in one of the most important squares in Chelsea has been a looming question mark as surrounding areas have seen revival.

Now, though, it appears the question mark could be transformed into an exclamation point as a local non-profit has its eyes toward converting the old building into veterans housing – what some are calling a “poetic” reuse of the old building that was originally meant to serve returning veterans.

The Neighborhood Developers (TND) – which has overseen the blockbuster revival of The Box District on Gerrish Avenue – is in the process of seeking permits from the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board to put a 10-unit veterans housing development in the building, along with support services that will be offered on-site.

“TND plans to bring new life to this historic building, by completing historically-sensitive renovations, and by providing housing to veterans in need,” wrote TND Director Ann Houston in a project summary submitted to the Record. “Only 8 percent of the general population can claim veteran status, but nearly one-fifth of the homeless population are veterans. TND believes that every individual has the right to decent housing. We will identify individuals experiencing homelessness who we believe can be successful in a permanent housing setting, and we will give first preference to housing veterans. As residents of the American Legion, these veterans will have their own apartment, will live in a supportive community setting, and will be provided with active case management support to ensure their success in maintaining permanent housing and contributing positively as neighborhood residents.”

Houston went on to explain that the tough economy has taken its toll on returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan. She said that around 28,000 Massachusetts residents have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, and many have returned to a terrible job climate.

“These veterans are returning home to face the challenges of a tough economy,” she wrote. “Since the beginning of the ‘Great Recession,’ Massachusetts has lost approximately 153,000 jobs and unemployment has risen from 4.5 percent to 9.4 percent. Veterans have been disproportionately affected by the economic downturn. Nationally, the jobless rate for all post-9/11 veterans rose nearly 2 percentage points, to 12.1 percent, between 2010 and 2011. The unemployment rate for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan is even higher – 14.3 percent.”

The proposal calls for a live-in counselor to be in the basement floor, along with offices that will house special veterans services for use by those living in the development. The residents will share a kitchen, which will be located in the basement.

Houston said they would be partnering with Paul Sullivan Housing, which will provide the veterans’ service portion of the project.

While TND made an initial public appearance before the ZBA this week, they have also scheduled a public meeting to introduce the project and answer questions that residents and neighbors might have.

Those meetings will take place as follows:

•Thu, July 19th, 6:00 PM: Public Information Session (TND Office, 4 Gerrish Avenue)

•Tue, July 24th, 6:00 PM:

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