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Passion, pride on display at Duck Mill

Posted on January 31, 2017

The Duck Mill has been renovated into 73 affordable apartments.

LAWRENCE --- The grand opening of Duck Mill at Union Crossing began with Lawrence Community Works (LCW) board member Armand Hyatt raging against a newspaper article from Boston which called Lawrence the “city of the damned.”

“It’s a crock,” yelled Hyatt, who then suggested what the reporter could do with the story. The crowd – which filled the community room and stood 10 deep out in the hall – roared with laughter and the grand opening ceremony for Duck Mill was off and running.

The passion Hyatt and other speakers showed during the hour-long event was not unusual for LCW, which always seems to hold events that are part ribbon cutting, part community rallies, and part "Norma Rae". There was passion and an overflow crowd when they opened the nearby 60-unit Union Crossing mill rehab in 2011 and there was the same atmosphere on Thursday, Jan. 26 when they cut the ribbon for 73 new affordable apartments at Duck Mill.

“So here we are at yet another site of this ‘American carnage,’ ” LCW Executive Director Jess Andors said sarcastically as she took the podium to serve as master of ceremonies. Then, her voice rising as if meant to carry far beyond Duck Mill’s walls, Andors countered the political narrative that our cities are nothing but a hellscape by talking about the good things Lawrence has done and what it takes when you tackle one of Lawrence’s hulking mills and turn it into housing that will help people build better lives for years to come.

“If we let fear and loss completely stain our perspective, we will destroy our possibilities,” she said. “We will blind ourselves to the gifts right in front of us. This building would have never happened if we looked around in bitterness. Instead, we focused on building relationships and trust with the city officials, residents and investors.”

Part of the overflow crowd at the opening of Duck Mill.

After that, speaker after speaker rose to the occasion to talk about what was special about LCW’s latest effort to bring safe, decent housing to Lawrence, in this case turning the 125,000 square foot Duck Mill into seven one-, 37 two-, and 29 three-bedroom apartments for families, all affordable at or below 60 percent of area median income.

“Every time I come to Lawrence, I see great things being done and projects like this cannot not be done without an engaged federal government,” said U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas. “We’re going to fight like the dickens to make sure that these programs stay in place.”

“Thanks to Union Crossing and now Duck Mill, over $50 million in private and public investment has been brought to this part of Lawrence,” said state Senator Barbara L’Italien. “This is going to be a vibrant area of the city.”

MHP has provided over $16 million for the financing of over 800 apartments in Lawrence, much of it with Lawrence Community Works.

“These are homes that working families will live in, which continues LCW’s great legacy of providing opportunities for the people of Lawrence,” said Susan Terry, associate director for the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). “Duck Mill is also an example of how critical the federal low income housing tax credit program is to funding buildings like this.”

DHCD provided much of the funding for this project through its various housing programs as well as awards of federal and state low-income housing tax credits. Federal and state historic tax credits were also used. The Massachusetts Housing Partnership is providing $3.3 million in long-term financing and the City of Lawrence provided $400,000 in HOME funds. Chase Bank and Eastern Bank did the construction loan, and Boston Capital was the tax credit investor. MassDevelopment played an integral role with grant funding for brownfields cleanup.

Andors said staying positive and building relationships is what got Duck Mill done.

Andors took time to salute all the partners who helped make Duck Mill possible and partners returned the favor by praising LCW for making Lawrence a better place.

“I just do what Jess tells me,” joked Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera, who then noted that the crane people saw when they drove into town is a sign that more Lawrence mills will be reborn, following in the footsteps of Duck Mill, Union Crossing, the Wood Mill, Washington Mills, Malden Mills and the Riverwalk complex.

“We’ve done $16 million in loans in Lawrence for over 800 units, a lot of it with LCW and we’d like to do more,” said David Rockwell, MHP’s director of lending. “A big reason why we’ve done so much with LCW is that while they have done a lot of great things developing housing in Lawrence, they have never strayed from their mission.  They have always spent the time doing the community organizing and the neighborhood meetings and programs for people, the tireless work that brings the community together and that’s the foundation that attracts capital investments. We should never forget the value of the community organizing LCW does.”

For more information about this development and MHP’s financing programs, contact David Rockwell at 857-317-8550 or Nancy McCafferty at 857-317-8556.