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Latest Housing Trend: Spiffed-Up Psychiatric Institutions

By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express (subscribe)

DANVERS, MA--They used to have nicknames like "loony bin", "human rat trap", and "scariest building in the world", while housing hundreds of people with mental illness, many of whom wanted nothing more than to get out.

Now, they are luxury apartment and condominium complexes, with long waiting lists of people wanting to get in -- at premium prices.

In the latest trend to hit the housing market, developers are buying up old, dilapidated psychiatric institutions and transforming them into desirable properties, the Associated Press reported.

Examples include the former Octagon tower at the former New York City Lunatic Asylum, which now boasts 500 spacious rental units, and the former Traverse City State Hospital in Michigan, which is being reborn as "The Village at Grand Traverse Commons" which will provide studio apartments, condominiums, offices, and retail shops.

Development on the 200-acre site of the former Dammasch State Hospital, south of Portland, Oregon, has been dubbed "Villebois", which translates to "village near the woods." According to its website, state lawmakers mandated that at least 10 acres of the Dammasch campus include community housing for people with mental illness.

"Community housing at Villebois will include homes, where residents live 'family-style' with assistance from on-site staff, and multi-family housing, where a greater level of independence can be enjoyed in a supportive environment. All of the community housing at Villebois will be consistent with the design and size of surrounding properties and maintained with homeowner association standards."

Some people believe that the spirits of those who were incarcerated in the facilities still haunt them, the Associated Press noted.

"Old asylums become new haunts for home-seekers" (Associated Press)

Then: "Octagon Tower" (Roosevelt Island Historical Walk)

Now: "The Octagon"

Then: "Traverse City State Hospital" (Historic Asylums)

Then: "Historic Postcards of Traverse City State Hospital" (Historic Asylums)

Now: The Village at Grand Traverse Common

Then: "Dammasch State Hospital"

Now: Villebois -- A Village Near The Woods

Then: "Danvers State Hospital" (Historic Asylums)

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I don't think I could live in a building that used to be an institution. I don't know about haunted, but those places have a 'feel' that doesn't go away with renovation.

If it were one of the older institutions I'd be first on the waiting list for an apartment. I saw them renovating Our Lady's in Ireland while I was exploring it, and I was very jealous of the people who got to live there. I am not very "scared" of the feel. Only Oregon State Hospital has ever felt truly "creepy" to me and I think that was because it was in operation while I was photographing it.

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