Today that is all you will find on the cleared vacant lot at 49-55 Rock St. in the city’s Acre neighborhood.
Come back next year at this time and you’re sure to find a radically different scene. Kids playing, grass growing, a jack-o-lantern standing guard on the front porch.
Thursday morning, city and state officials joined Habitat for Humanity of Greater Lowell and their sponsors in breaking ground on the organization’s first project in Lowell since the construction of three duplexes on Harmony Way in the city’s Back Central neighborhood in 2004.
Two duplexes will be built on the lot, donated to Habitat for Humanity by the city, providing a homeownership opportunity for four families.
“It is the build of a house, the build of a home, the build of a family, the build of a community,” said Habitat for Humanity of Greater Lowell Executive Director Brenda Gould. “When a family thrives a neighborhood thrives and the community is strengthened.”
Jim Silva, President of the Habitat for Humanity of Greater Lowell Board of Directors said the organization has built 24 homes in the region since 1991 in Bedford, Billerica, Reading, Westford and Lowell.
“We are proud to be back in Lowell,” he said, praising the leadership and vision of City Manager Bernie Lynch, Assistant City Manager Adam Baacke and his team at the Department of Planning and Development, Mayor Patrick Murphy and the entire City Council.
Those chosen to own the homes are not given them for free; they are granted and must pay back a 0% 30-year mortgage. Applicants are vetted to determine they do have a steady income and are required to invest 400 hours of sweat equity in building their home.
Silva said the organization is able to build affordable housing through partnerships with cities and town and sponsorships from businesses.
Sponsors for the Rock Street project include: Netscout, Cisco, RE/MAX Prestige, Progress Software, Litle & Co.; IBEW 103; and Greater Lowell Technical High School.
During the recent economic downtown, the worst recession the nation has seen in decades “the dream of homeownership has been beyond the reach of so many,” said state Sen. Eileen Donoghue, applauding Habitat for Humanity for remaining focused on their mission of making that dream a reality.
Donoghue also recognized city officials for continually moving forward with efforts to strengthen the city “block by block.”
“I notice a lot of suits in the crowd . . . I thought we were going to get down to work,” he said, eliciting laughter from those gathered.
Murphy presented Habitat for Humanity of Greater Lowell with a citation congratulating them on the new project, a great partnership that will assist the city in its goal to revitalize the Acre neighborhood.
This project and others will provide “strong, stable, affordable housing throughout the city to strengthen our neighborhoods throughout,” Murphy said.
City Manager Bernie Lynch said the city is proud to partner with Habitat on this project, the latest of many that have been part of the urban renewal of the Acre over the last 15 years, a movement that has brought millions of dollars in public and private investment into the neighborhood.
Former Mayor Jim Milinazzo, a member of the Habitat Board of Directors, often whispered in Lynch’s ear that the city should partner with the organization.
“I didn’t have to be convinced that much,” Lynch said, adding the decision to ask the City Council to approve the donation of the Rock Street parcel to Habitat was a “no-brainer.”
Excitement for the project spreads beyond city, state and Habitat officials.
John Sheehan, Director of Technical Studies at Greater Lowell Technical High School, whose students will be chipping in some muscle and knowledge to the project, said he expects they will walk away with a strong sense of “personal fulfillment.”
Sheehan said he is hopeful the school’s association with Habitat will “he a long-term partnership that will result not only in a physical building, but so much more.”
“These new homes will change many lives, create jobs and give four families the chance for home ownership,” said Henry Kucharzyk, of ACTION (Acre Coalition to Improve Our Neighborhood).
City Councilors Bill Martin and Marty Lorrey and former Mayor Jim Milinazzo were also in attendance at the groundbreaking.
For more information about Habitat for Humanity of Greater Lowell, visit http://lowellhabitat.org/