A former monastery in Portland’s West End may get new life as a refuge from the city’s high rents.

Developer Josh Soley plans to convert the building at 160-166 State St. into affordable single-occupancy rooms.

Creating new housing in the building is part of a three-phase development Soley envisions that includes low-income apartments in an adjacent lot and a 16-room halfway house on Maple Street.

The developments are intended to fill a need for low-income housing that isn’t being met by developers putting up market-rate apartments and expensive condominiums, Soley said.

“I think there are already plenty of developers doing upscale housing. I think the need for affordable housing is growing and I am looking to build that myself,” Soley said in an interview. “I think the market determines what we need to build. I think there are enough people building $700,000 condos and we could use some real rental apartments.”

The three-story Greek Revival home was built in 1807 as a private residence. It was purchased by the Catholic Church and served as a girls’ school until 1934, when it was turned into a monastery for the The Sisters Adorers of the Precious Blood, an order of nuns founded in Quebec.

The building, with elaborate interior decoration, decorated ceilings and stained glass, served as housing for the nuns until 2018, when the last two residing there moved to a monastery in Manchester, New Hampshire. Inside, the building is a mishmash of large open meeting spaces and tiny bedrooms connected by a grand staircase.

Soley said he plans to replace flooring and renovate bedrooms and bathrooms. He hasn’t received any permits yet, but he hopes to have the building ready to lease by winter. Soley closed on the building in mid-June for $1.66 million.

Josh Soley plans to convert a West End convent into low-income housing. A doorway on the first floor of the convent on State Street. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

He intends to turn the building into 39 single-occupancy rooms with shared bathrooms, kitchens and living spaces. That type of housing is needed for people who cannot afford high rents in the city, he said. He has also considered providing housing for recent asylum seekers from Africa who are temporarily housed in the Portland Expo.

Just behind the building, Soley also plans to build a new low-income apartment building with at least 40 apartments.

His planned developments are a stone’s throw away from a State Street building that Developers Collaborative proposes to convert to rooms for women in recovery from opioid addiction and more low-income housing.

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