Green and affordable housing for seniors, designed by RKTB, opens doors to former site of iconic church


After years of planning and community engagement, Pope Francis Apartments of Loreto, a new supportive affordable housing community for low-income seniors and previously homeless New Yorkers, has opened on the former site of a beloved Catholic church in the Brownsville neighborhood. Brooklyn. RKTB Architects, PC, the design firm behind the eight-story energy-efficient and eco-friendly multi-family residence, recently partnered with non-profit developer-operator Catholic Charities of Brooklyn & Queens to announce the substantial completion of the work and celebrate the move-in of the residents.

The 83,000 square foot Pope Francis Apartments, with 135 affordable apartments plus support services, community spaces and on-site laundry, represent several innovations for affordable housing design and development. RKTB, which had previously worked with the same nonprofit to develop an adjacent site, drew on its decades of housing experience for the New York metropolitan area to consult on zoning strategies that would help make the project financially feasible.

The architects also prioritized sustainable design methods, including the integration of solar panels on the roof to reduce reliance on grid electricity. Perhaps most importantly, they have worked closely with the Catholic Charities of Brooklyn & Queens and the residents of Brownsville to ensure sensitive treatment of what had been a sacred site and to provide an outcome that enhances and strengthens the community.

“Notre-Dame de Lorette Church previously occupied the site,” says Nelson Vega, associate director of RKTB and one of the project managers. “After the Brooklyn Diocese closed in 2009, people rallied around various efforts to save the church. Brownsville lost a significant part of its local heritage during demolition a few years ago. We considered it part of our mission to help redevelop the site in a way that would help heal the community.

Affordable and green

No stranger to the neighborhood, RKTB understood the challenges facing the redevelopment – the company had already completed the Monsignor Anthony J. Baretta apartments next door (with a design based on the company’s own highly durable affordable infill prototype) for the same group of customers. To ensure the site would benefit Brownsville and rebuild a fractured community, the architects realized they first had to help Catholic charities design a solution that would be financially viable.

Refocusing the development on senior housing, Vega and RKTB design director Carmi Bee, FAIA began designing a much larger residence than originally designed to take advantage of a recent change in zoning rules. of New York, the affordable independent residence program for seniors. “By combining these allocations with redistributed rights from the adjacent ‘Phase 1’ Baretta Apartments site, we were able to maximize the developable floor area from just 25,000 to over 80,000. This made the project feasible for Catholic charities. as they envisioned it, with plenty of affordable housing and on-site services for the community,” says Vega.

“We were also able to get an exemption from parking requirements in zoning bylaws by keeping existing spaces at ground level,” says Bee, who adds that city zoning rules requiring underground parking for housing development affordable must be changed. “That doesn’t make sense, especially since many developers and architects building affordable units are aiming for greener, eco-friendly projects like Pope Francis’ apartments.”

Bee points out that the new residence meets the criteria for Corporate Green Communities, a comprehensive green building framework specifically designed for affordable housing. In addition to rooftop solar power installations, Pope Francis’ apartments in Loreto also feature a thermally efficient envelope to reduce heating and cooling energy and costs, as well as water-efficient and energy-saving light fixtures in energy with LED lighting, and low and VOC-free materials and finishes.

At the service of the community

According to Bee and Vega, the real satisfaction comes from knowing that, in a big way, Pope Francis’ apartments are filling the huge void left by the demolition of the beloved Church of Our Lady of Loreto. In accordance with the wishes of the diocese, the ground floor includes two community rooms, one for the residents of the building and another for the greater community. On-site services operated by Catholic Charities include 24-hour security and case management services for senior residents, and shared facilities include laundry facilities, bike storage, and a lobby lounge.

The design also features aesthetic choices intended to restore and enhance neighborhood pride. Externally, the facade is articulated in segments that reference the adjacent Baretta apartments, creating a reassuring coherence and using a palette of materials that complements the architectural context of the block. To tie the project back to its literal roots in the community, mural photographs of Our Lady of Loreto adorn the side of the building at street level as well as the elegant lobby, while the large statue of “Our Lady” which previously adorned the entrance to the church has been retained and reinstalled on the site.

Additionally, the architects strove to design spacious layouts and specify materials and finishes that would give the affordable residential units something close to a “market rate feel”.

“You don’t want apartments to seem cheap, even if they are,” says Bee. “At the end of the day, you have to provide people with an environment that will be uplifting and work well. Residents who can be proud of their home extend that sense of pride to the wider community.

For more information or for interviews with the architects, please contact CC Sullivan

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