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Major upgrades coming to Salem apartment complex

August 27, 2021

Salem Heights rendering

A nearly half-century-old apartment complex serving low- and moderate-income residents in Salem has launched a major update that will improve conditions for tenants and extend the life and long-term affordability of the facility.

The $40 million overhaul involves extensive exterior renovations and varied improvements to the individual units and common spaces at Salem Heights, a connected pair of high-rise towers with 281 one- and two-bedroom rental units on Pope Street near Salem Hospital.

The state-supported project, which got underway in early August, marks the first comprehensive upgrade to Salem Heights since it was acquired in 2003 by the nonprofit Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH).

"We are really excited to see these renovations begin," said Dena Xifaras, the organization's senior vice president of ownership and operations. "This will enhance the lives of 500 tenants who have been very patiently waiting for these upgrades to their community buildings and their units."

Salem Heights apartments include 274 units for households earning up to 60 percent of area median income, or up to $80,520 for a family of four - of which 28 must be set aside for households earning up to 30 percent of area median income. Seven "workforce housing" units are designated for households earning up to 120 percent of area median income.

Boston-based POAH also operates an adjacent 127-unit rental building that is part of Fairweather Apartments, an overall 321-unit group of senior affordable housing in Beverly, Danvers, Peabody and Salem."Salem is a wonderful community and it's important that people employed in the city -whether in service industries, retail, hospitals, or schools - are able to live in the community where they work," Xifaras said, adding that many families could not afford to do so without subsidized housing complexes such as Salem Heights.

MassDevelopment issued $55 million in tax exempt bonds for the project, while the state Department of Housing and Community Development issued federal tax credits that generated $41. 7 million after Boston Financial assembled local banks to purchase them, according to Xifaras. To maximize tax credits, POAH increased from 255 to 274 the number of units for households earning up to the 60 percent of area median income (the added 19 units had previously been workforce housing). And to secure the tax credits, it extended by 30 years its commitment to charge affordable rents for those apartments, which was to have expired in 2033. Mayor Kimberley Driscoll and US Representative Seth Moulton, a Salem Democrat, were among those attending a groundbreaking for the project Aug. 12.

"Salem Heights is not just a tall building in our community- it's home to 500 of our Salem neighbors, including 100 children," Driscoll said in comments relayed by her office. "I'm very grateful to POAH, MassDevelopment, and the Salem Heights tenants for their shared commitment to ensuring quality, healthy, and affordable housing in our city."

"This project will provide a more accessible, safer, and pleasant home for hundreds of Salem families, seniors, and other residents," Driscoll added.

Salem Heights was constructed in 1973 and acquired by POAH when it was at risk of being converted to market-rate housing. The nonprofit agreed to keep it affordable as a condition tor financing that helped fund the acquisition and a $3 million renovation.

The complex has since undergone other upgrades, including modernizing its elevators and heating plant, but Xifaras said it was in need of a significant overhaul.

The project includes replacing the buildings' aging brick exterior with insulated paneling; new window and roofs; a new ventilation and cooling system; plumbing upgrades; expanded outdoor patio space and landscaping; and a new playground, along with individual apartment upgrades. Fifteen units will become accessible.

Tenants will continue to be housed in the complex during construction, which is set for completion in December 2022.

John Laidler can be reached at