LCW Approach

The mission of LCW’s Real Estate Development is to:

Improve the physical condition of Lawrence neighborhoods by transforming derelict, contaminated or underutilized properties into the positive, valuable and beautiful community assets called for by residents.

Why Lawrence?

Lawrence is a post-industrial Gateway city 26 miles north of Boston, striving to reinvent itself by way of a hard-working immigrant population, a cadre of committed civic leaders, beautiful historic infrastructure, and an entrepreneurial spirit in all community sectors.  It is the youngest and most heavily Latino city in New England, with a median age of 31 and nearly 80% of residents of Hispanic origin.

The City was created as small and highly efficient industrial machine, and once boasted 100,000 residents packed into its 7 square miles, working in the mills that rivaled Manchester, England in productivity of woolens, cotton, and other textiles.  Because of its unique history, Lawrence has never had an indigenous elite to fight for it or reinvest in it; the vast majority of human and financial capital has nearly always flowed out of the City to the surrounding towns and south to Boston.    

Lawrence is an embodiment of all the social and economic challenges faced by similar as well as larger urban centers in our state and nationwide: managing economic change (as well as regional economic dynamics) and immigration, combating poverty, healing dysfunctional educational and workforce systems – but at a population of 80,000 (and growing) it remains small enough to make a difference.

The real estate development work that we take on is directly transformative, turning abandoned and derelict buildings and lots into high-quality and highly productive spaces providing affordable homes for residents, office for local nonprofits and businesses, and space for community programs, events, and activities that feed neighborhood vibrancy and support resident aspirations.  Project design and use is planned with LCW resident members, and implemented in conjunction with the City and other partners to coordinate infrastructure and green space improvements as part of larger plans to reknit the urban fabric.  Typically, we work to unlock the most difficult-to-develop properties in a given area of focus – ones that are mired in tax title and legal issues, burdened with contamination, or of a scale and level of deterioration that is daunting to other developers.  Unraveling these problem properties takes time (and a certain comfort with risk), but results in a highly visible symbol of renewal that generates substantial new or increased tax revenue for the city and often catalyzes other private market investment in an area, creating a ripple effect.

Over the past two decades since its rebirth, LCW has grown its portfolio fivefold, from 43 to 230 permanently affordable high-quality housing units.  However, during this time period, housing demand in Lawrence has only intensified.  A 2015 Housing study commissioned by the City showed that during the past two decades not only has population grown more than 20% while housing production has grown only about 2%, but also that more than 40% of Lawrence households are severely cost burdened, spending more than half of their income on rent.  This trend shows no signs of abating, as population and rents continue to rise, and Lawrence continues as a magnet for new immigrants.

Family health and wellness is increasingly becoming a prerequisite to economic success in the twenty-first century, as the leading causes of disability in the working population have changed dramatically over the last 100 years. While infectious disease played a much greater role a century ago, cardiac disease, cancer, diabetes, and asthma play a greater role today. Depression and stress are emerging as serious concerns and threaten to cause even more disability in the future. This is an even greater concern for low-income workers, who suffer disproportionately from many of these health problems.

An increasing body of evidence shows that environment, especially at the level of homes and neighborhoods, plays a key role in causing and potentially combating debilitating diseases such as pediatric asthma, Type II diabetes, and coronary heart disease. Asthma is an acute concern for children in particular; in Lawrence, approximately 1,300 children under the age of 18 are hospitalized each year due to asthma attacks. The pediatric asthma rate for the City of Lawrence as a whole is 12.2 percent, nearly double that of the neighboring town of Andover and well above the national average. [1]

Therefore, LCW designs housing to support family wellness, providing a healthy living environment for both children and adults. The systems, finishes, and treatments of some of the homes include:

  • Energy recovery ventilation – maintaining proper mechanical ventilation in a tight enclosure while maintaining interior relative humidity during the winter season.
  • Maintainable surfaces – floors that don’t hold dust, mites, or become a medium for mold growth.
  • Elimination of significant thermal bridging: avoiding “cold spots” around windows that can be points of condensation, which can breed mold growth.
  • Zero or low VOC material – interior finish materials with zero or low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) to maintain a high standard of indoor air quality.
  • Plants indoors and outside – in partnership with Groundwork Lawrence, LCW provides shade trees, community gardens, and additional plantings to encourage open space use, cool the air, and facilitate the removal of airborne particulate pollution.

[1] Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Pediatric Asthma and Air Quality in the Merrimack Valley, p. 129

In a city that struggles with major contamination – from lead paint and asbestos to industrial waste – green development practices improve the health and sustainability of both the buildings and the community.

Better health translates into lower health-related expenses for our families. In addition, the energy-savings results of such practices greatly reduce ongoing housing costs for residents and commercial tenants, increasing long-term affordability. The cost to taxpayers for treating polluted water and disposing of solid waste will also be substantially reduced in comparison with conventionally-designed buildings.

To the extent that LCW housing can become a model for other local redevelopment projects, its impact can be magnified.

Buildings consume approximately 60% of the energy used annually in the U.S. With the current scientific consensus on climate change, it has become incontrovertible that we must create and operate our buildings on an energy buget of between a half and a third of their current demand if we are to stabilize the Earth’s climate and achieve a level of energy independence necessary to secure national and regional economic health.

With the approach (and possible arrival) of global peak oil production, we must expect increased volatility in the price of energy – just as we experienced in the early 1970’s when we as a nation reached a peak production capability and lost the ability to control the price of oil by regulating production.

Therefore, LCW is making a contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and has resolved to insulate its residents, especially those on limited incomes, from the uncertainty and volatility of energy price increases.

Below are some strategies that LCW employs to achieve energy efficiency and independence for price security and climate stabilization:

  • Invest in an enhanced thermal envelope (create tight, well-insulated buildings) to minimize energy consumption
  • Install efficient devices and appliances (lighting fixtures, day lighting and motion controls on lights, recover energy from out-going ventilation, select the most efficient appliances – especially refrigerators, clothes washers (small horizontal axis machines), and clothes dryers (smaller condensing dryers that don’t require venting to the exterior)
  • Reduce solar heat gain from the summer months
  • Provide high efficiency heating and cooling systems
  • Supply solar thermal harvesting for residential hot water
  • Build in on-site power generation

Developed open space for families, in the dense urban environment that is Lawrence, is a rare commodity. That’s why LCW’s “Reviviendo” strategy in the North Common neighborhood priortized and targeted vacant lots and brownfields for redevelopment into parks and playgrounds.

Since 2002, with our partner Groundwork Lawrence, we have now developed almost three acres of passive parks, playgrounds and community gardens now contributing to an increased quality of life for families and children.

Our Open Space Partner – Groundwork Lawrence

In 2000, as the new LCW was getting off the ground, we recognized that we needed robust community partners to enact the ambitious “Reviviendo Vision” for the North Common. With funds from then Fleet Bank, LCW provided support to Groundwork Lawrence, then a project of the Merrimack River Watershed Council, to establish itself as an independent non-profit organization. Groundwork Lawrence is an open space preservation, design, and community development corporation that is a part of an international “Groundwork” network of groups working in urban areas in the US and the UK. In less than a decade, Groundwork Lawrence emerged as the flagship Groundwork entity in the United States. Through an extraordinary partnership, LCW and Groundwork Lawrence have worked side by side to tackle some of the toughest land use issues in the city, turning vacant land, brownfields, and long neglected alleyways into developed open green space.

Here are some of our major accomplishments:

  • Scarito Park
  • Reviviendo Family Housing Park
  • Berkeley Place Park

Increasing unit production is one part of the answer; the other part lies in increasing resident incomes and employability, so people can better afford the housing they need.  This requires sustained investments in both the People and Systems approaches that LCW utilizes as levers of change.  All of our people-based work – the network organizing, financial education, homeownership education, ESOL and workforce training, youth development, and leadership development – as well much of our leadership of or key participation in local collaboratives engaged in school improvement and various aspects of economic development – is partly supported by the flexible capital we earn as fees on our real estate projects.  The larger, more consistent, and more numerous our real estate projects are – the more we can operate at scale in this arena – the larger our investment and impact can be in these other critical arenas, and the less we need to rely on constant fundraising to achieve results.