An independent news publication of
United Way of Lancaster County


Chestnut Housing launches Milburn Apartments project

Supporters gather for a ceremony kicking off the rehabilitation of 607-09 Rockland St. into “Milburn Apartments” on Thursday, March 21, 2024. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Becky McWilliams vividly remembers the fire that gutted 607 and 609 Rockland St. in southeast Lancaster on June 16, 2020.

She ran out of her apartment at 601 Rockland St. to help people get out of the two buildings and make sure everyone was accounted for. Three occupants were taken to the hospital.

Those attending the kickoff were invited to write messages of welcoming and post them on the door. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

On Thursday, McWilliams was on hand for a ceremony marking the start of a $2.2 million project to bring the damaged properties back to life.

Chestnut Housing is restoring them to create “Milburn Apartments,” an eight-unit affordable housing complex for households at risk of or transitioning out of homelessness. Construction is expected to take about 15 months, the nonprofit’s executive director, Chad Martin, said.

Chestnut Housing is an affiliate of East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church. Milburn Apartments is part of the expansion plan it developed in 2020, when it set a goal of expanding its affordable-housing portfolio to 100 units, up from the dozen it had at the time.

It now has 22; Milburn Apartments will bring the total to 30. An upcoming $3.3 million project at the former Strawberry Hill Restaurant, which Chestnut Housing is acquiring from the city Land Bank, will add eight to 12 more, as well as office space and a community hub.

“We’re on our way,” said Sue Waterfield, the nonprofit’s board chair.

From left: Sue Waterfield, Chad Martin, Mayor Danene Sorace.

McWilliams, who now lives on St. Joseph Street, said she’s glad the Rockland Street properties are being restored. It was her first time back since the fire: “We just need to get closure here,” she said.

Milburn Apartments is Chestnut Housing’s largest project to date, and the first to use public funding. Federal dollars from two grants are covering half the cost: $550,000 in American Rescue Plan Act Funds from Lancaster city; and $550,000 in federal HOME funds awarded through the city and the Lancaster County Redevelopment Authority.

An elevation showing the plans for the south side of 609 Rockland St. Note the porch and three new entrance doors. Click to enlarge. (Source: Chestnut Housing)

Also supporting the project are the High Foundation, which donated $200,000; and M&T Bank, which provided $25,000 through the state government’s Neighborhood Assistance Program, which awards tax credits for eligible donations. Another $400,000 came from private donors.

In all, Chestnut Housing has raised $1.725 million, or a little over three quarters of the project budget. That will keep the loan portion of the financing low, allowing Chestnut Housing to offer affordable rents.

It is targeting people who make 50% or less of Lancaster County’s median income. The rents will be 50% to 60% of market rate, Martin said.

Todd Friesen, lead pastor of East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church, offers a blessing. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Many of Chestnut Housing’s tenants come via referrals through its partnerships with housing nonprofits such as Tenfold and Community Action Partnership; prospective tenants can also email Chestnut Housing directly.

The project is a “perfect example” of ARPA’s local impact, Mayor Danene Sorace said.

It’s also fitting, she said, that the building, like Milburn Park next door, honors Violet Milburn, a beloved southeast Lancaster matriarch who died in 1991. For years she cared for neighborhood children, raising money for annual block parties with food, games and raffles.

“Violet’s legacy lives on,” the mayor said.

Chestnut Housing board members, supporters and local government officials gather for a photo after the ceremony. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)