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Acre Triangle Neighborhood

The Acre Triangle Neighborhood Revitalization

The Coalition for a Better Acre began its work in the Acre Triangle neighborhood in 1982 with an entrepreneurial group of concerned neighbors who acquired and rehabbed distressed properties, cleaning up the neighborhood house by house and block by block.

Triangle Homeownership and Triangle Rental
The Acre Plan

CBA Implementing elements of the Acre Plan

In response to the opportunities created by the Acre Plan, the Liberty Square and Suffolk Street Projects were borne.

Liberty Square Project
Suffolk Street Project
Rock Street Light Industrial Incubator

Triangle Homeownership and Triangle Rental

A group of residents, clergy, business people and non-profit leaders came together in the early 1980’s to implement a resident inspired vision for renewal of the Acre Triangle neighborhood and the Acre community. By late Spring 1982, CBA was formed with a focus on cleaning up the Acre Triangle – a troubled section of the Acre neighborhood – by targeting every troubled lot and abandoned property in the Triangle. Through this focused work, CBA combined new infill construction and rehabilitation of existing abandoned buildings with providing affordable homeownership opportunities to area residents. CBA used funding from Aetna Insurance, the City of Lowell, and the Lowell Historic Commission to renovate a total of 37 units - 24 homeownership units and 13 attached rental units on Adams, Lagrange, Marion and Broadway Street. This project (Triangle Homeownership), which was completed in 1987, increased homeownership rates in the Triangle from 1% to 25%. CBA continued this focused work in the Triangle with the Triangle Rental Project in the 1990’s by rehabbing four historic buildings on Broadway, Suffolk, Fletcher and Market Streets.

The Acre Plan

During 1999 and 2000, CBA and the City of Lowell successfully worked together to craft a comprehensive development plan for a distressed area in the Acre neighborhood. The plan was created under a little-used urban renewal state law that allows the city to use the power of eminent domain to take private land for uses outlined in a properly developed plan. The law requires that the city select a target area and convene a Citizens Advisory Committee to participate in the planning process.

The Citizens Advisory Council and the city found an inappropriate mixture of land uses in the area. Industrial and warehouse lots abut residential areas; commercial areas are scattered and poorly defined. The plan proposed that industry relocate to one side of the Acre, that commercial development along principal streets be encouraged, and that many vacated lots be dedicated to affordable housing.

Liberty Square Project

The Liberty Square Project had the following elements:

The Liberty Square Housing Project, a joint venture of Lowell Restoration and CBA, 50/50 shared ownership entity. Lowell Restoration is privately owned company led by two Lowell leaders, Nick Sarris and George Bahrakis.

  • In December of 2000, CBA purchased the “London Tailor” building at the corner of Broadway and Suffolk Streets. This run-down building was one of the first prominent structures encountered when a person drives into the Acre Plan area from downtown Lowell via Broadway.
  • CBA purchased (at a nominal price) from the City the 163 Broadway and 34 Marian Street properties that are located next to the London Tailor building. CBA renovated both structures, putting 9 affordable rental units into the two buildings and then tore down another abandoned building to create off-street parking for the tenants. With these acquisitions and renovations, CBA transformed a highly visible gateway block into attractive structures with 15 affordable rental units.
  • At the entry point into the Acre Plan area from Thorndike Street and the Lowell Connector is the Ryan Building. The building had been only modestly maintained over the years, but is now a signature building. It was renovated to retain the five commercial units currently in the building and create 18 affordable, family apartments in the building.

This public-private partnership led to the transformation of two additional gateway blocks in the Acre neighborhood.

Suffolk Street Project

In addition to providing affordable homes and apartments, this project revitalized a group of tax-title properties with a history of neglect. To enhance their impact, the new buildings were designed with historic details including decks and entrance porches.

In 2000, CBA began discussing the creation of affordable housing solutions in The Acre neighborhood with Residents First Inc., the organization created by the Lowell Housing Authority to accomplish affordable housing development. The two organizations created a plan for five new, two-unit homes on Suffolk Street and together found funding, conducted the overall project development, hired architects and contractors, and oversaw the work completed. The homes were for first-time homebuyers and the rental units were reserved for Section 8 families.

The dual purposes of the project were to create affordable homeownership opportunities for lower income households, as well as create rental options for very-low-income families. The rental units are part of the project-based voucher program, offered by local housing authorities as part of the Section 8 program, which reserves certain units for Section 8 families (meaning the assistance is tied to the unit, not the family). The local housing authority refers eligible Section 8 recipients to the owner of the unit.

Home designs were carefully planned and are replicas of historic homes in the neighborhood. They are side-by-side, bungalow-style duplexes that have approximately 1,200 square feet of living space with a kitchen-dining area, living area and one-half bath on the first-floor, and three bedrooms and one full bath on the second floor. Each unit has two off-street parking spaces as required by existing zoning ordinances, front and rear porches and a small yard. Construction of these homes was completed in December 2004.

The homes were sold to first-time Lowell Housing Authority homebuyers who were at or below 60 percent of the area median income and qualified for standard conventional financing. The buyers used the projected income from the rental unit to assist in qualifying. Potential buyers were also required to take a homebuyer education course through a local partner, Merrimack Valley Housing Partnership. Once a pool of eligible buyers was identified and their qualifying factors in place, Residents First conducted a lottery to select a buyer for each home.

In 2003, CBA completed two additional units of homeownership housing, each with a with rental unit, on Fletcher street in the Triangle neighborhood and sold these to low income first time homeowners, as well.

Rock Street Light Industrial Incubator

In 1994, CBA purchased 95 Rock street, a $42,000 square foot industrial building and created a manufacturing incubator in the Acre neighborhood. With federal Office of Community Services funding, CBA subsequently made an equity investment in a local business, UnWrapped, which located at its Rock Street facility. Today, Unwrapped is a going concern employing over 100 workers, the majority of whom live in the Acre neighborhood. They manufacture Made in America label products such as military gloves, grocery chain reusable shopping bags and upholstery futon covers.