By Eddie Fitzgerald

Reprinted from Sun Journal New Bern, North Carolina September 13, 2016

Craven Terrace $27.1 million project shows signs of progress

Work is starting to show results at the much anticipated and sometimes controversial Craven Terrace renovations.

New Bern, like many cities, has sought a solution to its antiquated public housing projects for years. City and elected officials have visited places like Wilmington and Wilson to see how those cities have turned public housing projects into mixed-income housing.

But in New Bern, desires have run from tearing down the two housing projects, Trent Court and Craven Terrace, to renovating them and adding mixed-income housing as a way to keep the culture and history and affordable housing.

Brian Poulin, co-owner of Evergreen Partners of Florida that is leasing and renovating Craven Terrace, said the massive renovation project, scheduled to take two years, started in April with the first apartment units. When completed, the transformation will be a big difference in the appearance of the 1940s-’50s era buildings and property, he said.

Thursday morning about 65 workers were in the rows of buildings at Craven Terrace involved in every stage of rehabilitation. Some of the workers were residents who were given jobs.

Jeff Hoskins of Mutual Builders, Inc. out of Smithfield, who is the project manager on the Craven Terrace renovation project, said when his company works on public housing rehab projects it likes to give temporary jobs to residents there or in the area who want to work.

The workers have already completed renovations on about 41 units of the 319 being renovated, Hoskins said.

Before the work is completed, seven buildings housing 42 apartment units in a flood zone will be demolished on the backside of the Craven Terrace property facing Cedar Street. That area will make way for a parking lot and landscaping, Poulin said.

Evergreen Partners has spent enough time renovating buildings to know all the issues the Craven Terrace project may face and so far no unforeseen problems have arisen, Poulin said.

“The renovation is extensive enough everything is being replaced,” he said. “Over the years there have been mild rehabs but this is the first major gut rehab since the buildings were built.”

Hoskins walked through an upstairs, two-bedroom unit in the Y Building where work has not yet started. The dark stairwell opens on a small living room, two cramped bedrooms, and a kitchen with an undersized stove and refrigerator. A bathroom that looked overwhelmed by a tub, toilet and sink was at the back of the living room. The only sign that contrasted to the 1943 construction was a small, girl’s bicycle left behind leaning against the wall.

On Hamilton Road, Hoskins entered another 1943 apartment that had been gutted, showing an electrical box with three generations of electrical connections jumbled together that will be replaced. Workers were in the process of replacing walls and windows, luxury vinyl tile floors and Knock Down ceilings, new plumbing, a heat and air-conditioner pump, a new kitchen with full-size, 30-inch range, and an 18-cubic-foot refrigerator.

Two rows of buildings away, Marion Gibbs was in the new laundry at the Craven Terrace community building waiting for her clothes to dry. Her apartment has already been renovated, she said.

“I love it,” Gibbs said. “It’s beautiful. Everything is new — the whole place.”

Gibbs said she really enjoyed her self-cleaning stove and new refrigerator.

At the end of the K Building, Hoskins opened the door to one of the 17 designated Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant apartments. A spacious kitchen with a drop-in oven range and two-door refrigerator and new cabinets greeted him. Large, new windows lit the large living room and two bedrooms, and the bathroom was large with a tub that was handicap-accessible.

Hoskins said the final touch to the Craven Terrace renovations will be an extensive landscaping project that includes new trees and shrubs. The project is scheduled to be completed at the end of 2017, he said.

A deal between U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Evergreen Partners to rehabilitate Craven Terrace at a cost of $27.1 million was closed Dec. 18, 2015, after the project had been repeatedly delayed by negotiations to the point of a potential lawsuit being filed against the New Bern Housing Authority.

The Housing Authority owns the title to the Craven Terrace land, and Evergreen was given a long-term lease (a minimum of 15 years) to the property.

The transaction to close the deal was accomplished through HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration Program, or RAD, and was made possible by leasing Craven Terrace to a private entity Evergreen Partners.

Poulin said all transactions with properties like Craven Terrace take time.

“There are a number of complex finance and securing sources that need to be tackled to make it happen,” he said.

The Craven Terrace project is the first time Evergreen has worked with RAD, Poulin said.

RAD is a tool that allows a contractor to partner with private and alternative financial sources to acquire the funds to renovate and repair public housing, he said.

Other than RAD, Evergreen has used all of the financial sources being used now, while doing similar work on more than 6,000 apartments throughout the country, Poulin said.

The construction cost for the Craven Terrace renovations is about $20 million. The remaining “soft” costs ($7.1 million) is for architectural and engineering plans, applications and fees and cost of closing the deal.

“We are going to manage the property probably 15 years and oversee it,” Poulin said. “New Bern can expect clean, safe market-rate-type housing.”

Residents of Craven Terrace will not see an increase in rent due to the renovations from what they are now paying, he said.

“Every resident who wants to remain, can if they are willing to follow the rules and regulations of the property,” Poulin said. “Our goal is to make the property a home for folks, not a place of last resort. Hopefully they will accept that with the renovations and management style.”

Poulin said he was pleased with the project and looked forward to its completion.

“It’s been great,” he said. “The transformation of the units is amazing. People will be amazed at what the units look like, given where they started. We have a great contractor (Mutual Builders, Inc.) and architect (Ross Deckard of Raleigh). We’re on schedule and the product is turning out fantastic.”