The revitalization of Lowell was not an accident.
From mill buildings reborn into housing and office space to the immensely successful first-time homeowner program to affordable housing options, they all were made possible through federal funding.
The potential loss of federal funds through sequestration was the hot topic when Sen. Ed Markey met with city officials Thursday morning.
“It is absolutely critical,” Assistant City Manager for Planning and development Adam Baacke said about Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds while talking to Markey.
The funding is used to provide safe, decent housing and improve the quality of life and provide economic development opportunities through a variety of projects in low to moderate income neighborhoods. The funds, which Baacke said are so valuable because of their flexibility of use, have been pivotal in recent years to funding the City Manager’s Neighborhood Initiative.
Each year since 2009, City Manager Bernie Lynch and his administrative team have chosen one city neighborhood to target for improvement over a one year period. Improvements have been seen so far in Centralville, the Lower Highlands, Back Central and this year in the Acre/East Pawtucketville.
Baacke also stressed the importance of federal historic rehabilitation tax credits to a post-industrial city like Lowell. In 2000, the city had 3 million square feet of vacant mill space. Today it is nearly full. That would not have been possible without the tax credits.
“Three million square feet is three John Hancock Towers, in Lowell,” said Markey. “That is an amazing story; I will absolutely protect with my vote and my voice those tax credits.”
Middlesex North Register of Deeds Richard Howe told Markey about the Merrimack Valley Housing Partnership’s First Time Homeowner’s program. During the foreclosure crisis, homeowners who completed the program were virtually untouched, as their neighbors lost their homes to foreclosure; a wise use of federal funding.
Markey and city officials took a ride out to the city’s Back Central neighborhood, meeting on Chambers Street, to look at a project Mayor Murphy is championing — constructing a path for walking and biking along Hale’s Brook that can tie-in to Chelmsford’s Bruce Freeman Rail Trail.
“Lowell is a city with a 21st century plan,” said Markey. “I’m going to be back many, many times.”
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