by Steve Dwyer
With all its environmental complexities, a former textile mill is a tricky re-development play, for starters. Having the wherewithal to retain historic aspects of the property is yet another challenge.
But tackling these two challenges and wringing results is exactly what’s taking shape in Lawrence, Mass. MassHousing recently committed about $17 million in financing to assist an affiliate of Trinity Financial to create an affordable housing community.
The project will be built on four adjacent land parcels within the city’s 34-acre Arlington Mills Smart Growth Overlay District, containing two interconnected mill buildings with 100 units, a small, former incinerator building with two units, a water pump house and a parking lot.
Affordable housing end use a trend whose time has come, and a lot of the visioning can be owed to other advocates of an idea. In this case, New York City is renowned to be a forerunner of the affordable housing trendline.
In New York City, there are several case examples, and of them is The Hour Apartment House III in Queens, a 25,000-square-foot, sustainably designed building that serves a dual purpose: It serves as headquarters for the non-profit Hour Children and provides much-need affordable housing to formerly incarcerated mothers and their children.
Proof is in the pudding as The Hour Apartment House III is working out so well that it garnered a 2015 Big Apple Brownfield Award.
In Lawrence, Mass., Trinity Financial is transforming the former Van Brodie Mill into 102 units of mixed-income housing within a smart growth district. The adaptive-reuse project will preserve the historic mill, while remediating a brownfield site. The completed project will contain eight studio apartments, 25 one-, 56 two-, and 13 three-bedroom apartments.
Van Brodie Mill, which originally manufactured yarn for wool and flannel, dates back to 1919 but by the 1950s the company shut down, where it was parlayed into manufacturing packaged breakfast cereals and rations for the military.
The former mill is expected to “be an important new housing resource for working families in Lawrence,” said Tom Lyons, MassHousing’s active executive director. “This transformational project will put a former brownfield back into productive use, while advancing regional economic development and enabling families to live affordably and prosper in greater Lawrence.”
The new apartments will serve residents with a broad range of incomes. Of the 102 units, 16 will be for very low-income households earning at or below 30% of the area median income (AMI), 67 will be for low-income households earning at or below 60% of the AMI, and 19 will be dedicated for workforce housing for households earning between 61 and 80% of the AMI. The AMI for Lawrence and the surrounding area is $87,600 for a family of four.
MassHousing is supporting the redevelopment by providing more than $17 million in affordable housing funding, including a $14 million conduit bridge loan, $1.2 million in permanent financing, and $1.9 million in workforce housing funds.
It’s all motivated by a plan to infuse new life into a historically significant asset while creating much-needed mixed-income housing in Lawrence, deemed a Gateway City, or midsize urban centers that anchor regional economies around the state.
This redevelopment advances the Mass. state administration’s goal of creating up to 1,000 new workforce housing units affordable to middle-income households through MassHousing’s $100 million Workforce Housing Initiative.
Since the inception of the initiative in 2016, MassHousing has committed or closed workforce housing financing totaling $49.7 million, to 23 projects, located in 13 cities and towns. To date, the Workforce Housing Initiative has advanced the development of 2,111 housing units across a range of incomes, including 538 workforce housing units.
The organization has financed or administers the subsidy contract for 16 rental communities in Lawrence, totaling 1,965 housing units and an original loan amount of $103 million. The agency has also provided $120.5 million in financing to 1,341 Lawrence homebuyers or homeowners.
The project is entirely in line with what Lawrence, Mass. needs to advance from a civic growth standpoint, which is scaling up on affordable housing end use, perhaps with more initiatives to come. Looking for past shining examples of success is one way to move the needle in the right direction. One way or another, MassHousing is exhibiting this requisite vision.