The City of Lowell Massachusetts is located 26 miles north of Boston; the commuting time to Boston from Lowell is roughly 45 minutes. Because of the housing crunch in the Boston area, many people have moved to the City. (City of Lowell 2005-2010 Strategic Plan p15)
The City of Lowell has been home to many immigrant groups coming to the United States for a better life, transforming what was once farm country to a dense urban neighborhood. For more than 180 years, starting with the Irish who built the canals that fed the mills, to the French Canadian farmers who came down from Canada to work in the Mills, to the Greek and Syrian and myriad other immigrant groups, newcomers have struggled but eventually succeeded economically and socially. Lowell’s newest immigrants, primarily Latinos and Southeast Asians, sharing the same dreams as those who have come before them, have added to the cultural quilt of the Acre, bringing their own traditions, businesses and restaurants to this diverse neighborhood.
Lowell currently has a population of 105,167, of which 39,407 are members of minority groups. Since 1980, Lowell has experienced significant growth in its Southeast Asians and Latinos populations. Lowell’s current estimated Asian population is 21.3% and the Hispanic or Latino population is 16.2%. Over 20% of the city’s population is foreign born and 40% of families speak a language other than English at home. (Data is from the 2000 US Census and a January, 2008 study prepared for CBA by Claritas, Inc. and Boggini Realty Advisors.
Only 11.3% of the city’s population has a bachelor’s degree or higher, leading many people within the labor market to work at low-wage jobs. The manufacturing industry is the highest employer in the area, employing 24% of the city’s population. The wages paid to manufacturing employees are much less than many of high-tech jobs within available within the Greater Boston area.
Currently, 58,528 (or 57.8%) residents within the city earn less than 80% of the area median income. Based on information supplied by Claritas Inc., we have determined that the Median Household Income (MHI) in Lowell is $45,020. Based on the report, 15% of the households earn less than 30% of MHI, 26% earn less than 50% of MHI and 30% earn less than 60% of MHI. In addition, Lowell has recently been found to have the sixth highest housing wage in the county. A recent report entitled “Out of Reach 2007-2008”, released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition in Washington, D.C., lists Lowell as the sixth-highest city in the nation in terms of housing wage. An estimated 57% of renters in Lowell do not earn enough to afford a two-bedroom unit at fair market rent, according to the report. With Lowell’s proximity to Boston and other high cost areas but relatively low wage rates (and high immigrant population leading to lower earning potential), the problem of Lowell residents being unable to afford housing is a serious one. Affordable housing development is critical to help mitigate this problem within the City of Lowell.
The old-fashioned neighborhood seems to have disappeared from just about everywhere. Fortunately, Lowell is one of the few exceptions with its many neighborhoods: The Acre, Back Central, Belvidere, Centralville, Downtown, Highlands, Lower Highlands, Pawtucketville and South Lowell. While Lowell maintains many of the amenities of a larger city, it prides itself on its small-town feeling. Neighbors know neighbors. People say hello to one another. Twelve energetic neighborhood associations create and share programs for cultural and social enrichment. And while many cities struggle with their ethnic and cultural diversity, in Lowell it is a source of strength.
Two of the neighborhoods that CBA currently focus on are the Acre and the Lower Highlands. Both of these neighborhoods share similar socio-economic characteristics. Both are home to large immigrant populations: in the Acre more than 24% are immigrants from Southeast Asia (mostly Cambodians), 26% are Hispanic, many of them immigrants from Central America and the Caribbean. In the Lower Highlands 35% to 50% of the residents are of Asian descent. Educational attainment in the both neighborhoods is very low, especially as compared to statistics for the City of Lowell. In addition, 37% of all households earn below the 80% area median income and poverty line, earning less than $15,000 a year. Quality affordable housing is in high demand in these neighborhoods. In fact, the majority of CBA’s properties, 341 units of 380 units, are in the Acre neighborhood.