By Yadira Betances
---- — LAWRENCE — This spring, 18 families are expected to move into new homes thanks to construction of a 4-story building at 108 Newbury St. by Lawrence CommunityWorks.
It is one of four projects the non-profit community development organization is currently working on to provide quality rental properties and homes for first-time buyers in the North Common neighborhood.
”When I look at Lawrence, I don’t see it the same way other people from outside the city do or others who have given up,” said Jessica Andors, executive director of LCW. “I see it as a very vibrant city with people who have overcome tremendous odds to come to a city rich in history, infrastructure and a fighting spirit. You don’t turn your back on those assets.”
Andors said 15 years ago 30 percent of the properties in the neighborhood were vacant and abandoned. That figure has decreased to 15 percent thanks to the work done by Lawrence CommunityWorks and private investors.
She said the area made up of low-income working families with 90 percent of its residents being Latino. Home ownership in that area is only 11 percent, compared to 32 percent of residents who own their homes in the city, Andors said. The goal is to increase the number to 20 percent in the North Common area and 40 percent throughout the city.
North Common is bounded by the Spicket River on the north and east; the mill district to the south and Jackson Street to the west. It encompasses Methuen, Essex, Jackson, Orchard, General, Brook, Island and Mill streets. Forty-six percent of its residents are at the poverty level, compared to 31.5 percent in the rest of the city.
Lawrence CommunityWorks also purchased an empty lot at 26-30 Milford St. for $50,000 and a vacant lot at 128-132 Union St. for $30,000 - both from the city of Lawrence.
In addition, the agency purchased the former Ippolitto Furniture showroom in the former Duck Mill at 4 Union St. in 2008 for $1.63 million.
The agency is seeking tenants for the 18, two- and three- bedroom rental units at 108 Newbury St. Rent will be determined by family size and income and applicants must meet the income restriction set by the federal and state government.
Andors said the lot on Milford Street, which is located off Brook and Union streets, will have two duplexes built on it and the empty Union Street lot will have four duplexes.
The agency had known about the vacant lot on Milford Street for several years. When the city put it on the market, it jumped at the chance to buy it.
”When we’re able to raise the money to invest in Lawrence, the benefits are great because you’re turning a lot that can be used for illegal activities or dumping, into homes, and that’s priceless,” Andors said.
Lawrence CommunityWorks is still waiting to close the sale on the 5-story, former Duck Mill at 4 Union St. which it plans to turn into 73 rental units and 10,000 square feet commercial
”It’s your typical abandoned mill building. We have to strip it down to the bare bones before we can do anything,” Andors said.
The building is no less beautiful with wide open spaces separated by columns, featuring high windows with separated panes. Many of the windows are broken, boarded up or covered in plastic and there is peeling paint throughout the mill along with water damage.
Armand Hyatt, general counsel for Lawrence CommunityWorks said rebuilding 4 Union St. will bring new life to that area.
“We saw it as an opportunity to create vibrancy in a place that has been overlooked for many years,” Hyatt said of 4 Union St. “Reviviendo (Spanish for reviving) is the code word; to bring life there and restore the historical significance of the building while giving people a place to live.”
Rachelly Suriel, assistant project manager in the real estate department at Lawrence CommunityWorks said the more buildings neighbors see going up, the greater impact the organization will have.
“Visibility is key because it makes our work tangible,” Suriel said. “It gives a lift to the neighborhood when properties are taken care, people take ownership and feel proud.”
Lawrence CommunityWorks has been working to revitalize the North Common neighborhood by building duplex for home ownership and rental units.
”There’s a tremendous appetite in the city for people who want to own their home homes and others who want quality rental property,” Andors said.
Staff members and volunteers from Lawrence Community Works met with neighbors in the North Common area who told them they wanted better rental property and others who wanted to own their own homes. In the past 10 years, they have invested more than $50 million by building 119 properties, said Lisa Kozol, director of real estate for Lawrence CommunityWorks.
In return, they have paid $220,000 in taxes annually to the city through its 12 projects and 139 units, Kozol said.
”We’re stabilizing the neighborhood by having home owners take care of their property and wanting to see their neighborhood thrive,” Kozol said.
”This is the mission of our organization and it’s wonderful to see people own their own homes; it feels great,” Andors said. “It feels great because it’s a very concrete change.”