Local residents, small business owners and church leaders formed the Coalition For A Better Acre in 1982, in response to a city-sponsored plan to raze the Acre’s Triangle neighborhood.
Along with poverty, the Acre has suffered most of the problems that poverty deals people, from joblessness and crime to disinvestment and absentee landlords. The "Acre" section of Lowell that's been a point of arrival for immigrant communities since Irish and Greek immigrants settled there more than a century ago. More recently it's been Latino; and now it's becoming one of the largest Cambodian settlements in the United States.
CBA emerged from an urban renewal plan in 1982 that would have leveled much of the Acre and dispersed its residents. The community mobilized, beat the plan, then recognized that the opportunity for long-term improvement lay in coming up with their own plan for the neighborhood and doing whatever they could to make it happen. Thus, CBA created and executed its own plan to eliminate blight with one key difference. CBA’s plan minimized the potential of displacing Acre residents and involved residents in the redevelopment process, creating their vision for a healthy neighborhood and helping dozens of them to purchase and rent units created in the process. Step 1 was to win site control of large tracts (vacant lots and dilapidated buildings) within the Acre neighborhood. Step 2 was to revitalize and redevelop them for residents of modest means, the Acre’s residents from the neighborhood’s inception.
The CBA was a key partner and catalyst to the city’s 1999 Acre Urban Revitalization and Development Project (Acre Plan), which has to date leveraged over $94M in public and private investment in the Acre Triangle.
Since inception CBA’s Real Estate department has developed 425 rental units, giving families of moderate means the opportunity to live in quality affordable housing. CBA’s Home Ownership programs have helped 220 low-income families purchase homes. Fifty of these homes were also developed by CBA as part of CBA’s Acre Triangle revitalization initiatives.
All totaled, CBA has facilitated more than 475 low- and medium-priced housing units, including the 270-unit North Canal Apartments complex, a low-income project built by the private sector and then left to decay. CBA got control, renovated the buildings, and they now offer residents quality, reasonably-priced housing.
CBA recently completed two more rental projects: The Acre Apartments, a 22-unit development in the former St. Joseph High School at 760 Merrimack Street, and the Unity Place Apartments, a new 23-unit apartment building replacing two blighted and abandoned buildings at 478 - 486 Moody Street. These two projects are part of a comprehensive redevelopment of the Upper Merrimack Street neighborhood that CBA, in partnership with private and public funders, has undertaken over the past decade, leveraging over $80 million in investments since 2002.
Over the past 15 years, CBA also:
- Established the Acre Family Day Care (now its own independent non-profit), which trains local women for careers in family day care and human services
- Provided leadership, job and environmental clean-up skills training throughout the Acre and City of Lowell
- Provided start-up financing for a manufacturing incubator in the Acre that has created more than 200 local jobs in the neighborhood.
In just the last few years, CBA also:
- Opened an after school homework club for middle school age children – the Learning Zone - in collaboration with the Lowell Housing Authority
- Partnered with Lawrence CommunityWorks, its sister CDC in Lawrence, MA, and created Mill City Community Investments, a certified community development financial institution and community loan fund for homeowners and mall business owners in the Merrimack Valley.
- Created the Home Preservation Center, a foreclosure prevention counseling and assistance center, that helps 300-400 households (annually) avoid home foreclosure or minimize the negative impacts on them should a foreclosure occur.