lowell house inc. facility in the works near city hall
Lowell Sun article
By Dennis Shaughnessey, firstname.lastname@example.org Article Launched: 10/13/2008 12:12:49 PM EDT
LOWELL -- Lowell House Inc., one of the city's two addiction-treatment programs, is embarking on an ambitious expansion plan that will include building a $9 million clinical and sober-living facility at its current site near City Hall.
The proposed Merrimack Street project, which is a partnership with the Coalition for a Better Acre, would be the crown jewel of a plan that includes moving Lowell House's residential treatment program on Appleton Street to an expanded building at Tewksbury State Hospital, and building a separate sober-living home for men at a yet-to-be-determined location in the city.
"We don't want to say we're the fourth-worst (community) in the state for opiate overdoses and deaths -- we want to say we're the first for finding solutions," said Bill Garr, CEO of Lowell House.
The first floor of the facility would include a 10,000-square-foot clinical facility to house all outpatient counseling programs and administrative offices that currently sit on the site. It could also include community space for anything from group meetings to yoga classes.
Above that would be 23 sober-living apartments, complete with full kitchens, bathrooms and other amenities. Unlike most sober homes, where residents share communal kitchens and living spaces, the apartments will create environments where residents in recovery can live with their families at a slightly reduced price, Garr said.
Lowell House needs to raise $1.
5 million in donations for its portion of the project -- the Theodore Edson Parker Foundation has already promised $250,000 -- while the CBA will be responsible for securing competitive low-income housing tax credits from the state and city grants for the remaining $7.5 million.
"This could really transform that area," said Yun-Ju Choi, executive director of the CBA. "Currently, that building that Lowell House is in is not the most attractive on Merrimack Street. With all the opioid crisis going on in this area, I think this is something the state will be supporting," she added. "... There's a lot of need in the Acre for people recovering from substance abuse."
Some city leaders, however, are skeptical about the location.
"This particular project -- I have concerns about the environment," said City Councilor Corey Belanger, who chairs the council's substance-abuse subcommittee. "How is this location conducive to recovery with a (liquor) store right at ground level and drugs readily available" on nearby streets?
He is not necessarily opposed to the new facility, Belanger said, but he wants to hear a strong explanation from Lowell House officials.
The location holds several benefits for the project, however, because Lowell House already owns the property. Finding another location would almost certainly delay the partnership's timeline -- they hope to break ground in 2018 and possibly open by the end of that year -- and could potentially increase the cost.
"Our experience with sober houses is that once people are in, they're very concerned with maintaining their sobriety. ... They monitor it as peers," Garr said, adding that it is important to Lowell House and the CBA that the new facility be a symbol of a resurgent neighborhood.
"We want this owned by the community and for it to feel that this is open to them and have this, really, be a beacon to recovery," he said.
The partnership is now focused on finalizing the building specifications, securing zoning approval, and applying for state tax credits.
The application process for the state's Low Income Housing Tax Credit program begins this fall. If the project gets wait-listed in the next round of credits, CBA will apply for the following cycle, Choi said.
Meanwhile, Lowell House is soliciting donors for its remaining $1.25 million share of the project. Given the positive feedback he has already received, and the support community organizations have given to similar projects in the area, Garr said he is confident.
"I don't think we'll have a problem," he said. "I think we'll be able to do it."
Follow Todd Feathers on Twitter and Tout @ToddFeathers.