“A Community Network, Powered by People”
Lawrence CommunityWorks (LCW), a community development corporation, weaves together community planning, organizing, and asset-building efforts with high-quality affordable housing and commercial development to create vibrant neighborhoods and empowered residents. By facilitating conversations and action on community priorities, LCW engages partners and a network of youth and adult residents in opportunities to move themselves and the city of Lawrence forward.
The Founding: Roots in Community Organizing
Lawrence CommunityWorks was founded in 1986 under its original name, Heritage Common Community Development Corporation, by a local group of affordable housing activists. Since 1981, they had been organized and working as a nonprofit entity named Immigrant City Community Housing Corporation seeking to develop 140 units of high-quality affordable housing on a large tract of land within the North Common neighborhood. The site had become blighted by the demolition of hundreds of residential units in triple-deckers and other structures as part of an urban renewal plan. Recognizing that the City’s Request for Proposals failed to ensure an adequate low-income component in the redevelopment process, Immigrant City devised and executed an organizing strategy involving the civil rights of several displaced residents to compel the City to re-institute the process. Ultimately, Immigrant City won the competitive selection process to become developer of the much-needed housing, as the real estate market crashed and development conditions worsened drastically.
The community-based group sought ways to enhance its effectiveness to deal with the many challenges ahead. Under the visionary leadership of its President, Leonard F. Raymond, the Directors of Immigrant City organized and formed our present-day CDC, thus augmenting its development options and providing an ongoing capacity for residents and local business participants to address other pressing neighborhood issues to engage more fully in a broader mission of community development. This organizing effort was successful in two respects: the establishment of our CDC and the completion of 140 beautiful and affordable limited-equity cooperative residences known as Heritage Common. Special thanks go out to Len Raymond, Armand Hyatt, Isabel Melendez, Pat Smith, Father Bob Guessetto, Modesto Maldonado, Ana Colon, Rev. Jim Keller, Jacques Fournier, Charles Crowley and Angela Harty, the founders of our beloved organization.
The Early and Growing Years
After changing the organization’s original name to Lawrence Planning & Neighborhood Development Corporation to avoid confusion with the family housing development, the Board of Directors of the CDC, expanded its territorial boundaries beyond the North Common neighborhood, both westerly and northerly, and undertook as projects the successful acquisition and major renovation of two residential sites within the newly-expanded boundaries a 38-unit housing complex, Berkeley Place Apartments, and a 5-unit wood-frame building, Bradford Apartments. Our current organization still owns and manages both properties as affordable housing. During these early and middle years, LPNDC sought to address other issues important to the community and operated a successful arson prevention program to combat the arson terror that raged through Lawrence prior to and during that period. This was the first step by the organization to actively engage youth in community development work, as the “Junior Firefighters” worked in conjunction with the City’s Fire Department.
Crisis in Leadership and a Dramatic Turn-Around
The organization continued into the 90s with a strong Board, but its capacity on the staff level dwindled. A number of both paid and volunteer executive directors did their best to build the capacity of the organization, but the CDC continued to flounder. By 1998, the organization was in crisis and had little capacity, beyond the core board leadership and its one remaining staff person—Ana Levy, a skilled and resilient property manager. This situation was exacerbated by funding problems, as the CDC had been defunded by both the city and the state, and the confidence of private funders had dissipated. In the spring of 1999, the core members of the CDC Board faced an uncertain future.
Meanwhile, during 1998, community development professional Bill Traynor, a Lawrence native, began working in the North Common neighborhood with three graduate students from MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning. They had designed a community organizing effort to engage residents in building a neighborhood association and developing a plan for redevelopment. Calling this effort “Reviviendo” (Re-Birth), Bill, Kristen Harol, Tamar Kotelchuck and Jessica Andors had great success engaging residents in a range of organizing and planning activities and in starting a new afterschool and summer program for youth.
Ultimately, the success of this work led the board members of LPNDC to turn to Bill, to propose that he take on the challenge of reinventing and rebuilding the organization. On July 12, 1999, Bill, Kristen, Tamar, Jessica and Debra Fox, a well known and experienced affordable housing development expert, moved into the organization’s storefront office at 197 Essex St. to begin a remarkable turnaround and reinvention of the CDC, now known as Lawrence CommunityWorks, Inc. The new team made quick and productive use of an extraordinary level of board activism and volunteerism, including countless hours of professional expertise in banking, real estate law and information systems. They were soon joined by Alma Couverthié, a remarkable community organizer, who helped establish a CDC rooted in community organizing and resident engagement.
Today, Lawrence CommunityWorks had a membership of thousands of Lawrence families, an energetic board and professional staff, and has generated over $70 million in new neighborhood investment, including 162 units of affordable housing on 15 abandoned and vacant parcels, a new community center, three new playgrounds and a range of family asset building and youth development efforts, impacting over thousands of families in Lawrence. Most important, Lawrence CommunityWorks has become one of the major forces for equitable development and economic justice in Lawrence, and one of the most dynamic and effective CDCs in Massachusetts.