SCI Teams with WalkerThomas and Civico Dev.
Worcester, MA – The recent completion of 24 and 30 Stanton Street in Worcester has created shared housing; restored and upgraded dilapidated buildings for health, sustainability, and function; and preserved rich neighborhood history for the next century.
The Stanton Loop Revitalization Project started in 2016 as a collaboration between Sustainable Comfort Inc. (SCI), Civico Development, and WalkerThomas, with SCI acting as the general contractor.
The initiative began as an effort to preserve Worcester’s historic triple-decker neighborhoods, built at the turn of the 20th century. While these three-story apartments no longer house the working class families of New England’s Industrial Revolution, Stanton Loop hopes to give more people a healthy place to call home in Worcester. To date, five triple-deckers have been completely renovated.
As a graduate of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, SCI President Albert LaValley says, “It’s rare for people to actually stay in Worcester after they complete their degree. There isn’t a ton of housing for recent graduates with entry-level salaries who don’t have a family but still need a way to split costs. Worcester needs to compete for young people if it wants to continue to grow. As the city works to entice more graduates to stay, the demand for affordable, shared housing will only increase.”
Upgrades to 24 and 30 Stanton Street are projected to save tenants an average of $800 per year. The savings residents pocket from reduced utility bills can be used to pay off their student loan debt, save to start a family or buy a home, or reinvest into the local community as business owners, employees, and patrons — helping to improve Worcester’s economy overall.
Providing efficient and modern amenities is only one part of attracting residents to shared housing. Building a sense of community — something these triple-deckers did so well historically — remains of equal importance. Taylor Bearden, CEO of Walker Thomas, says, “If we restore enough of these properties, making design decisions that help to establish a vibrant community, we can help to create a neighborhood vibe that entices residents to stay long term.”
The Stanton Loop development team plans to purchase and restore more clusters of homes throughout the area to strengthen this neighborly attitude. The hope is that by improving residential housing block by block, individuals and the entire community will prosper.
Homes built over 100 years ago contain remarkable hand craftsmanship — architecture that truly stands the test of time. However, triple-deckers like 24 and 30 Stanton Street also come with fire hazards, energy inefficiencies, and outdated layouts.
LaValley says, “We expect older properties to have mold, lead paint, and possibly asbestos we need to abate. However, our biggest safety concern is usually fire. Because of the way triple-deckers are framed, fire spreads very quickly to the rest of the building. To prevent this, we do something called fire-blocking that makes it very difficult for a fire to spread to other units. We also replace old-style wiring and strip out lead paint.”
In addition to safety upgrades, 24 and 30 Stanton Street feature low-flow water fixtures; high-efficiency heating, cooling, and domestic hot water equipment; and new windows and air sealing so that moisture, pests, and energy are not exchanged between apartments.
SCI Project Manager Nathan Lataille says, “We use low-VOC products and add ventilation to help keep indoor air quality healthy and make the home more energy efficient. Most of these homes are not insulated at all, so we use the Mass Save energy efficiency program that is offered through the utility companies and helps economically insulate the homes from the basement all the way to the attic.”
The newly remodeled triple-deckers also contain two bathrooms, an eat-in kitchen, and two or three bedrooms, including a large master with a walk-in closet. Bearden says, “Triple-deckers often have awkward layouts, limited cabinetry and storage, and a single bathroom. We make tweaks to how existing spaces are used — turning the dining room into a living room, converting the kitchen into an eat-in kitchen, and adding a second bathroom.”
We know from experience that the majority of people moving into our housing will be unrelated housemates. We create spaces that are comfortable and more suitable for these residents’ needs.”
Preserving Worcester History While Updating for the Future
Preserving and restoring the integrity of historical buildings are of utmost importance in Stanton Loop. It also makes these buildings more sustainable—reusing what can be saved and replacing other features for safety and efficiency when necessary.
Marc Levitt is a documentarian who is currently shooting a historical film called Triple Decker: A New England Love Story—a project SCI has been honored to be a part of. Levitt explains, “The story of affordable housing is complex. I’ve spoken with very sincere developers like Sustainable Comfort who are doing what they can to preserve these buildings for the next 100 years. I have a lot of respect for them. They’re doing what they can within the limits they’re facing to keep these homes as they found them.”
While carefully working on 24 and 30 Stanton Street, SCI carpenters were amazed at the quality of workmanship and detail that went into the construction of these centennial homes.
LaValley says, “Part of any renovation requires taking the building apart. Our carpenters witnessed the work that someone in their position had done 100 years ago and have developed tremendous respect for the care and craftsmanship that went into it. We wanted to acknowledge this and maintain some of the character of the building and the details. We took a lot of time to restore the pass-through and the double-sided cabinets in the kitchen as well as reused many of the beautiful pine clapboards we stripped from outside structures.”
Encouragingly, local residents are pleased with the juxtaposition of old and new. Lataille says, “We’re making the neighbors happy because they no longer have to drive by a condemned home that’s falling apart or to look at porches falling off homes. Beyond exterior aesthetics, we take construction measures to reduce the energy consumption of these homes. It’s something good not only for the current tenants of the building, but also for the future owners and our environment.”
An Overall Positive Impact on the Stanton Loop Neighborhood
Joe Volpe, a neighbor who lives in the triple-decker next to 24 and 30 Stanton Street, has nothing but great things to say. He has high hopes that future renovations in his area will restore the neighborhood to the way he remembers it from his childhood.
Volpe says, “I’m 74 years old, and my parents bought this home back in 1954 when I was about 10 years old. At that time the triple-decker homes were owned by the families that lived there, and they took meticulous care of their properties. Over the years, people passed away and absentee ownership occurred with the owners just collecting rent and not maintaining the homes. Many of the properties are now in disrepair and need a lot of work to restore. Sustainable Comfort has done a tremendous job of getting the homes back up to environmental code, and it’s started to take the neighborhood back to what it used to be.”
Volpe is also impressed with how conscientious the SCI team has been about cleaning up after themselves during construction. He says, “Sustainable Comfort has been very good to me. I had a great relationship with the company and with the crew that worked there every day, understanding full well that there are always going to be disruptions on a construction site like trucks and noise. I let them use my driveway for deliveries to make things easier for them. When they’re done, they clean it all up for me and make it the way it was before they used it.”
While the Stanton Loop revitalization project has been positive for most, some residents feel differently. Asking residents to vacate their homes is one of the most difficult aspects of renovating. To make this transition easier for everyone, SCI offers relocation assistance and the ability to reapply to lease the apartments once construction is complete.
LaValley says, “We work pretty hard at being good neighbors. We shovel our neighbors’ sidewalks when there’s a snowstorm. We clear debris from demolition as quickly as possible. We’re wary of noise and extra people at a construction site. We provide resources and complimentary services to tenants who need to move. Time spent contributing positivity to our community is important to us.”
Investing in the Future
Being a responsible part of the community is a core aspect of SCI’s founding principles. That’s why Stanton Street properties are renovated with longevity, safety, sustainability, historical preservation, and comfort in mind.
Bearden says, “A lot of people who get into real estate do it because you can make a lot of money quickly. They look at development strictly transactionally. I’m not a believer in this, because at the end of the day, all residential real estate is someone’s home. When we do a project, we make decisions in the interest of the long-term health of the neighborhood—not extracting profit.”
LaValley agrees that investing wisely has a greater return for everybody in the long run. He says, “My hope is that we can continue to develop small pockets of neighborhoods like this throughout the city. It increases property values in the area and incentivizes the other owners in that area to do some repair work and do a good job of maintaining their properties. We have found that a lot on Stanton Street.”