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5-neighborhood revitalization has `taken shape'.

Byline: Richard Nangle

WORCESTER - Storefront rehabilitation, 45 new affordable housing units, work-force training, after-school programs and small-business development - all of it is evidence to city leaders that a year of targeting low-income neighborhoods for improvements has been worth the effort.

The city's Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Area program completed its first year on June 30 with programs in five targeted areas that reflected a local consensus on physical, social and economic needs.

"It's taken shape, really. We've had a lot of program development and we're getting a lot of good cooperation from the lead agencies for each of the five areas," said Dennis E. Hennessy, the city director of neighborhoods and housing development.

The Storefront Improvement Program component saw three rehabilitations, with another eight in the planning stages. More federal money is anticipated for infrastructure and streetscape improvements in the hopes that more store owners will participate. The city's storefront architect is drawing up a set of design standards for each NRSA commercial corridor, with street and sidewalk amenities, in an effort to complement and encourage private investment.

In return for the help, participating store proprietors will grant hiring preference to people who live in their neighborhoods. City officials are working with local colleges on that front.

Meanwhile, the city Division of Neighborhoods and Housing Development is looking to replicate the employment training and placement program it completed this year with the UMass Memorial Health Care system and the East Side Community Development Corporation. Sixteen residents of these NRSA neighborhoods were trained in phlebotomy and put to work in the UMass health care system.

While 45 affordable housing units have been built, sales have lagged because of the slump in the housing market. Nine housing rehabilitation projects are expected this year. The city identifies code violations and provides information to the affected homeowners through the city DNHD's Homeownership Center. Bay State Savings Bank has committed $100,000 to the program, which will be combined with federal Community Development Block Grant funds.

The city received a $500,000 Massachusetts Lead Abatement program grant that targeted 87 units of housing. City officials said the program outpaced every similar effort statewide by the end of March. The city expects to learn in the fall whether its application for an additional $3 million in lead abatement funds through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will be successful.

During the first year of the NRSA initiative, $625,761 in CDBG money was contracted to the lead agencies and requests for funding in the second year total $734,200.

The city has made a four-year commitment to each of the five areas, which make up a quarter of its population and are 75 percent made up of low- and moderate-income residents. "These are the most needy areas of the city," Mr. Hennessy said.

The following are some highlights of the first year's efforts:

Lincoln Street NRSA - East Side CDC

Four storefront applications.

24 affordable rental and ownership housing units with the completion of 149 Belmont St. and Bell Hill 3 initiatives.

South Worcester NRSA - South Worcester Neighborhood Improvement Center.

Four Southbridge Street property owners have expressed interested in the storefront program.

Seven residents have applied for housing rehabilitation.

Three of the 12 condos at 315 Cambridge St. are owner-occupied, and three sales are pending.

Grafton Hill NRSA - Oak Hill Community Development Corporation

Oak Hill CDC provided work force training and placement assistance to 156 people and placed 30 in jobs.

The CDC secured $200,000 to lend out for housing rehabilitation.

Beacon NRSA - Main South CDC

Storefront improvement at 927 Main St. is completed, and improvements at 799-803 Main St. are in progress.

Chandler Business District - Worcester Common Ground

Eddy's Market Project, at Pleasant and Piedmont streets, completed with six affordable housing units, allowing the market to invest more than $50,000 of improvements in the ground-floor retail operation.

Contact Richard Nangle by e-mail at rnangle@telegram.com.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Aug 11, 2007
Words:654
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