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Lowell non-profit teams with developer, city to create 33 apartments

Posted on November 24, 2004

A local non-profit has teamed with a for-profit developer and the city to bring 33 units of affordable rental housing to the city’s Acre neighborhood, thanks in part to long-term financing from the Massachusetts Housing Partnership (MHP).

Coalition for a Better Acre and Lowell Restoration Inc. have combined to rehabilitate a four-story brick building at 63 Fletcher St. into 22 rental units on the upper three floors, and 4600 square feet of first-floor commercial space.

The effort, known as Liberty Square Housing, included the renovation of two smaller nearby buildings, and the razing and replacement of a third, creating 11 more rental units.

Lowell Restoration Inc. is no stranger to rehabilitating historic city buildings, having restored the Bon Marche department store and converting the old post office into a juvenile court “We like to look for buildings with architectural detail and a lot of character,” said Nick Sarris of Lowell Restoration Inc. “These are exciting projects, bringing historic buildings back to life.”

MHP is providing $1.1 million in long-term fixed rate financing to Liberty Square. This effort demonstrates MHP's ability to support mixed-use development. MHP is funding similar efforts at Egleston Crossing in Roxbury, 133 Chandler St. in Worcester and the   Robertson Mill in Taunton.

“Whenever you combine a local non-profit with the expertise of a for-profit developer and the support of the city, you have a recipe for rebuilding a neighborhood,” said Clark Ziegler, executive director of MHP. “The Acre has always been a gateway for generations of immigrants and working class families looking to gain an economic foothold. This ensures that tradition will continue.”

The Liberty Square effort also received strong support from Lowell. The city paved the way with its support of a 1999 urban renewal plan, and supported it directly by providing $500,000 in city HOME funds.

In addition, the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) provided HOME funds and low income and historic tax credits that will generate over $4 million in equity. Fannie Mae is the tax credit investor, through MMA Financial. Liberty Square also received $700,000 from the state’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Banknorth was the construction lender.

Liberty Square consists of four one-bedroom, 23 two-bedroom, three three-bedroom and three four-bedroom apartments. Rents will be affordable to households making up to 60 percent of median income, which is $48,000 per year for a family of four. Eight units have been designated for households making 50 percent of median income through a project-based Section 8 contract with the Lowell Housing Authority. Two units have been set aside for formerly homeless households, with rents at 25 percent of median income.

Established in 1982, Coalition for a Better Acre has helped develop or rehab over 360 units of housing for low and moderate-income residents in and around the Acre.

At opening ceremonies on November 18, new Liberty Square resident Dolores Britto spoke of what the housing means to her. Previously homeless, she had spent the last 18 months living with her two daughters in shelters in Boston, Brockton and Lowell. “These homes give people like me and others a chance,” she said.

MHP is a non-profit state organization that uses loan funds from the banking industry to provide financing for rental housing, at no cost to the taxpayer, providing some of the units serve low and moderate income families.  MHP has now made over $6 million in loans for the financing of over 250 rental units in Lowell. 

Bank transactions like the recent Bank of America-Fleet deal trigger the statute that funds MHP. Earlier this year, MHP reached an agreement with Bank of America on a $406 million loan and an $18 million cash grant. MHP’s loan pool is now nearly $1 billion. Since 1990, MHP has provided over $360 million in loans for the financing of over 11,000 units of rental housing.

In addition, MHP’s Community Housing Initiatives group helps communities get affordable housing efforts started. MHP also offers the SoftSecond Loan Program for low and moderate-income first-time homebuyers. Since 1990, this program has helped over 7,700 households purchase their first home.

For more information, call (617) 330-9955 or go to www.mhp.net.