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South Bend Common Council Supports Zoning Change For Old Marquette School Affordable Housing Project

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Jakob Lazzaro / WVPE
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South Bend’s old Marquette Elementary School — vacant for the past decade — could be converted into a 46-unit affordable housing development after the Common Council unanimously approved a zoning change Monday night.

Constructed in 1936, the art deco-style Marquette Elementary School building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. In 2017, Indiana Landmarks named the building as one of the ten most endangered in the state after the South Bend Community School Corporation announced plans to demolish it. 

 

The city’s historic preservation commission rejected the proposal in 2017. Now, John Anderson — the president and CEO of Brownsburg-based Anderson Partners Development — wants to spend about $10.5 million to turn the 70,000 square foot building into a 46-unit affordable housing complex.

 

“The bones of this building are really good,” Anderson said. “Ten years vacant isn’t bad, a lot of our projects are 40 to 50 years vacant when we get ahold of them.”

 

The South Bend Community School Corporation currently owns the property but reached an agreement with Anderson earlier this month to give him the building for free so it could be developed.

 

The renovated building would host a mix of units from studios to three bedrooms, with rents ranging from $450 to $1,100 a month. Seventy-five percent of the units would be restricted to applicants at or above half of the area median income, which is about $40,265 for a household and $23,996 for an individual.

 

The remaining 25 percent will be restricted to applicants at or above 30 percent of the AMI. The building will also accept federal Section 8 Housing vouchers, and Anderson said the South Bend Housing Authority will contribute 10 project-based vouchers.

 

Anderson said the renovation would mostly be focused on the building’s interior. The historic art-deco exterior and surrounding landscaping would be preserved — the only major outdoor change is adding additional parking so there’s one space per unit.

 

“We are a buy-and-hold company, so we will develop this project, we will own this project — it will be on our website, everybody will know it’s us,” Anderson said. “We’re not going to develop this, turn around and walk away and let it become whatever it’s going to become.”

 

During public comment, supporters pointed to the citywide need for affordable housing and how the project would preserve the historic building.

 

“Use is key for ensuring the long-term preservation of a building — it has to be used,” city Historic Preservation Commission administrator Adam Toering said. “Please do not let zoning for this property be the reason it is not usable or attractive for redevelopment.”

 

Toering also said he’d lived in affordable housing for years in another city when he was young and single, and that it had “a very lasting impact” on him.

 

“It made my life livable because I could afford to live there,” Toering said. “So personally, it’s interesting to me to see people voice opposition to affordable housing when it’s so close to them. I understand that, but to someone who has lived in affordable housing, that is poignant to me.”

 

On the other hand, opponents raised concerns over property values, increased traffic, on-street parking, impacts on the nearby Marquette Montessori school and worries that the apartment complex would change the character of the neighborhood, which is mostly single-family homes. 

 

Kelly and Terry Haines have lived a few blocks away from the building for 25 years. She said she’s worked in subsidized housing for 31, so she understands the need but also the difficulties that come with it.

 

She said South Bend currently has 2,053 Section 8 apartments,1,036 low-income units such as similar tax credit projects and 2,006 Housing Choice vouchers managed by the housing authority.

 

“We don’t need additional low-income housing in our area,” Haines said. “We already have a large number of rental properties, which have contributed to the property values in our area not increasing at the rate of those on the northeast side or on the south side.”

 

Area resident Jim Champer said the project is being rushed, and that he’s collected signatures from 51 residents opposed to it. He also said he’s heard multiple people will consider selling their homes if it goes through.

 

Still, the council unanimously approved the zoning change.

 

The building is in Councilmember Canneth Lee’s district. He said he understands the concerns of nearby residents and didn’t “take this vote lightly,” but added the investment will uplift the neighborhood and preserve the building.

 

“Do we let another building decay in our community and become an eyesore?” Lee said. “I live right down the street from it — three blocks away. And it has pained me to drive by it every day and see it, this place that I learned so many great lessons from, abandoned. Boarded up. Maintained but not being utilized.”

 

Councilmember Lori Hamann cited the “needs of the city as a whole” and said there’s a “significant shortage” of affordable housing.

 

“And to have a developer come into the city willing to utilize an existing brownstone building — which is what we’ve all been asking for, instead of tearing these buildings down,” Hamann said. “He’s offering to do that.”

 

The project does hinge on Indiana’s affordable housing tax credits, which are very competitive. But Anderson said he’s won them before — in addition to his work as a developer, he’s been a tax credit attorney for 25 years.

 

“I’ve lost track, but I’ve probably closed over 300, 350 tax credit projects,” Anderson said. “We understand the program in and out, as well as other state tax credits. It is competitive. We submitted a really good application, and we’ll see how we did in November.”

 

If approved, Anderson plans to start construction next spring and begin leasing in summer 2023.

 

Contact Jakob at jlazzaro@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @JakobLazzaro.

 

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