Twin Cities Community Development Corp. has transformed a paper mill into 40 affordable housing units in Leominster, Mass.
Twin Cities Community Development Corp. has transformed a paper mill into 40 affordable housing units in Leominster, Mass.

An old paper mill has added a new page to its long history in Leominster, Mass.

Originally built in 1893 and out of use since 1961, the mill has been transformed into 40 affordable housing units by the Twin Cities Community Development Corp. (CDC).

"This building was like the haunted house you had to walk by," says Marc Dohan, executive director of Twin Cities CDC. The large and unsightly property was identified as the single largest barrier in connecting its neighborhood to downtown Leominster.

Dohan's organization worked on redeveloping the old box factory for five years. Twin Cities CDC acquired the site from an owner who had been using the property as a storage facility.

Located along a steep hillside, the building was in rough shape, requiring extensive renovation and engineering to protect it against the intruding slope. Part of the effort included driving giant screws into the earth beneath the building to straighten out and reinforce the structure.

Inside, Twin Cities CDC created a mix of one-, two-, three-, and four-bedroom units to serve the neighborhood. Developers wanted to make sure larger apartments were included in the design for the many families with children in the neighborhood. All the units are reserved for households earning no more than 60 percent of the area median income (AMI), with eight units targeted to those at or below 30 percent of the AMI.

Adjacent metal buildings that had trees growing out of them were demolished.

In addition to being Twin Cities CDC's first development in Leominster, the project is the group's first smoke-free building. Officials thought it would be a good feature because of the number of children living in the development. The team preserved as much of mill's features as they could, and the building's original 8-foot tall columns can be found in most of the apartments, providing a unique touch inside.

Designed by Davis Square Architects, the development is expected to earn LEED certification.

Water Mill Apartments includes community space, a playground, and parking. It also houses some office space for Twin Cities CDC.

To finance the $15 million development, Dohan and his team structured a deal with multiple funding sources and no traditional permanent debt, which was necessary to keep the rents low.

Massachusetts Housing Investment Corp. (MHIC) provided about $7.8 million in low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) equity through one of its multi-investor funds, says Peter Sargent, MHIC's director of capital development. There was also a "side-by-side" LIHTC investment of $1 million from Avidia Bank, the bank's first LIHTC transaction. The tax credits were awarded by the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).

State and federal historic tax credits provided another $4.1 million. The state added another $1.3 million from the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program, and another $1 million came from the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Trust Fund administered by MassHousing and DHCD.

Other funding partners include TD Bank, Community Economic Development Assistance Corp., MassDevelopment, NeighborWorks America, Massachusetts Historical Commission, city of Leominster, and Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"Everyone rallied around this project ferociously," Sargent says.

People wanted to see this project happen in Leominster, a small industrial city caught between the eastern and western part of the state.

"We've not only created great affordable housing but a neighborhood project that links downtown to the neighborhood," Dohan says.