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The Acre's Back and So Am I: One Family's Story

 

When Jose Morales was growing up, Moody Street was in sharp decline, with vacant buildings falling into disrepair and families moving out. As a result of CBA’s dramatic makeover of the Moody Street corridor over the past 10 years, Jose and his wife Eliana are choosing to raise their young sons in this revitalized neighborhood, living in the renovated St. Joseph’s Elementary School where Jose was once a student.

Jose Morales, 27, a former teacher who is a new recruit for the Lowell Fire Department, has lived his entire life in the Acre neighborhood. He is filled with both pride and amazement when he looks around the Moody Street neighborhood he now calls home with wife Eliana and sons Phoenix and Griffin.

“This is not the same Moody Street that I grew up with,” he says. “It looks beautiful now, with all the new buildings, the landscaping, the playground. It’s a whole new neighborhood. The Acre's back and so am I.”

The adaptive reuse of the former St. Joseph’s Elementary School is one of the showpieces of a comprehensive redevelopment of the Upper Merrimack neighborhood that CBA has undertaken over the past decade in partnership with private and public funders.

“This transformation of the Moody Street corridor over the past two decades is literally rebuilding and giving new life to a neighborhood that had been crumbling and deteriorating around us,” says CBA Executive Director Emily Rosenbaum. “CBA has successfully leveraged over $80 million in investment since 2002, making the neighborhood attractive, safe and desirable as we created hundreds of good-paying construction jobs for the area.”

The revitalization of neighborhoods through property development is supported by many other citywide CBA initiatives – from crime prevention initiatives such as “Lights On, Crime Off” to resident empowerment initiatives such as NeighborCircles – to stabilize neighborhoods.

Residents have compared CBA’s success in the Moody Street corridor to the popular “Extreme Makeover” television show, but on a larger scale, transforming not just a single house, but an entire neighborhood. In 2002, CBA completed renovation of the former St. Joseph’s convent at 517 Moody St. for CBA offi ces. In 2006 and 2007, CBA invested $14 million in property improvements to the 267-unit North Canal Apartments, including new kitchens and baths, fl ooring, high-effi ciency heating systems, and landscaping and paving.

The renovation of St. Joseph’s Apartments was completed in 2008, transforming former classrooms into 15 stunning new apartments. CBA invested local Community Development Block Grant funds to develop a spacious playground, including a basketball court, on the property next door to the apartments.

The Morales family was one of the fi rst to move into the newly renovated building. Eliana Morales adores their apartment, with its graceful high ceilings, brilliant natural light, and gleaming fl oors. She loves living less than fi ve minutes from her work as office manager at St. Patrick’s Church.

"It is a good place to raise a family. We love living in this neighborhood,” she says.

Over on Merrimack Street, CBA gave the former St. Joseph’s High School a new lease on life, transforming the historic building into beautiful, affordable housing for 22 families. The Acre High School Apartments opened in December 2010, offering on-site parking, all utilities included in rent, central air conditioning, an elevator, community room, and on-site laundry facilities.

Construction was completed in December 2011 on the new Unity Place Apartments at 482 Moody St.. The exciting new development replaced two of the city’s most notorious blighted buildings with 23 one-, two-, and three-bedroom units of smart, green affordable housing.

CBA’s long-term investment in the neighborhood is generating further improvements by developers who can now count on a return on their investment. On one side of Unity Place, a developer renovated the troubled 12-unit property into a beautiful private dormitory for University of Massachusetts Lowell students, while on the other side another local developer completed renovations to the shuttered Nuestra Senora del Carmen Church and rectory.

CBA has worked collaboratively with neighborhood and government interests in the successful revitalization of the Moody Street Corridor, earning the respect and praise of city and state officials. “All we have to do is look around to see the success of CBA: quality affordable housing, a playground, and residents and business owners proud and excited by the transformation of their neighborhood,” says Lowell City Manager Bernie Lynch. “CBA’s long-term investment is providing smart, sustainable, affordable housing for the residents of Lowell while protecting the public-private investments of the neighborhood."