Currents News Staff and Bill Miller
BROWNSVILLE — When Denise Robinson was shown an apartment unit at the Catholic Charities Pope Francis Apartments at Loreto, she knew she had found a new home.
“My eyes got big, and I was like a kid just after Santa Claus came,” said Robinson, who in mid-April settled into one of the 135 units. “I didn’t ask to see another one. I said, ‘Oh, thank you, Lord Jesus!’ ”
Bishop Robert Brennan and Bishop Emeritus Nicholas DiMarzio joined Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens (CCBQ) in dedicating the eight-story complex with a ribbon-cutting on Thursday, April 28.
This site, 2377 Pacific St. in the Brownsville area, was once home to Our Lady of Loreto Parish. Structural problems forced the demolition of the church in 2017.
About half of the apartments have already been leased for low-income and formerly homeless senior citizens like Robinson, who struggles with back and hip ailments.
Robinson and her new neighbors now have access to Catholic Charities Neighborhood Services, including an on-call nurse, health counseling, and case management. Amenities include 24-hour security, a fitness room, two large community rooms, and laundry room.
Rooftop solar panels cut the building’s utility bills and its carbon footprint, in accordance with the environmental leadership expressed by Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Sí.”
Bishop Brennan said that as the new head of the Diocese of Brooklyn, “you find yourself taking bows for work that other people did.
“And so,” he continued, “I’m proud to pick up the baton from Bishop DiMarzio and all of the work that went into the planning and all of the construction of this project.”
CCBQ broke ground on this affordable housing project in January 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic struck two months later, but construction continued while other projects in the area stalled.
That’s because affordable housing projects were exempted from the lockdowns, said Tim McManus, senior vice president of CCBQ’s Progress of Peoples (POP) Development Corporation. This organization develops affordable housing for Catholic Charities.
Although construction at the Pacific Street site continued, it was not without pandemic problems, McManus said.
“Everything we know about construction and real estate development changed because of COVID,” he said. “We had to adapt to new ways of doing things. Case in point: we had to learn how to do things remote.
“We had specialty software that the general contractor would [use to] walk around and do video tours so we could actually inspect without coming here, without the risk,” McManus added. “If someone from the outside came in and had COVID and infected someone on the site, we would have had to shut down for three weeks, potentially more.”
Including the rooftop solar panels added to CCBQ’s experience of developing clean alternative energy solutions. CCPOP launched its Laudato Si’ Corporation in 2021 to do just that. CCPOP now runs several solar arrays in the CCBQ housing portfolio.
Like Robinson, new resident Michael Freeman was ecstatic to have a new home
“I’m just so happy,” he exclaimed, verging on tears. “I want to scream and shout. But I don’t want to embarrass myself.”
Freeman, who spoke during the dedication, explained later that he became homeless during the pandemic, He fell into depression when family members died of COVID. He entered homeless shelters, but Catholic Charities quickly helped him find a new home.
“What you [CCBQ] guys are doing, please keep doing it,” he said. “Because I’m not the only one; many other people out here need help. And I know they will be just as grateful as me.”