Tag Archives: Union Hill neighborhood

A new day dawning for Worcester’s Union Hill neighborhood!

By Lorraine Michele Laurie
Photos: R.T.


Take a ride or walk up Harrison Street to where it intersects with Providence Street.  Look at the parking lot on the corner with the black cyclone fence.  On it is a large green sign with” City of Worcester” printed at the top in white letters.  Underneath it in larger letters are the words “Union Hill Revitalization Project.”  Below that it says “Housing Rehabilitation, Streetscape Improvements, Commercial Investment, Public Safety.”  Now, look around Providence and Harrison Streets and see what it says on the sign gradually becoming a reality in the surrounding neighborhood. 

The program was the focus of a press conference and brief tour held on the afternoon of August 17 in the Worcester Academy Alumni House parking lot at 51 Providence Street.   According to Mayor Joseph M. Petty “The Union Hill neighborhood of just two or three years ago is not the Union Hill of today.” The Mayor had made the neighborhood a priority of his administration because he saw “a neighborhood that had slid into disrepair.” What he was referring to was the local elementary school, Union Hill School on Chapin Street, being designated as a Level 4 school, neglected houses – some with numerous code violations and a growing crime problem.

What is responsible for this gradual change in Union Hill is a unique partnership with the City, HUD, Habitat for Humanity, Worcester Academy, Oak Hill Community Development Corporation and local residents, businesses and property owners.  


The most visible sign of improvement is the streetscape program taking place on Providence Street and Harrison Street.  With most of the money coming from Community Development Block Grant funds from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, the program involves resurfacing the roads, replacing sidewalks with a combination of concrete and bricks and handicapped accessible corners and the planting of trees.  New features are the bump out curb extensions installed to make crossing easier.

Also very apparent is the decline of crime.  The Worcester Police Department and Chief Gary Gemme created a “Community Policing District” in 2013.  Police Officers patrol the area in cars and on foot.  Shot-spotter and Crime Watch members have greatly assisted in the crime prevention efforts.  Public health initiatives involve school health partnerships and healthy food education.

Housing stabilization and creation will get a big boost from this special forming of partnerships.

An extensive sweep of the housing stock in the neighborhood was done by members of the  Inspectional Services, Fire and Police Departments.  The City worked with landlords to bring the properties up to code.  Nine owner-occupied homes will be rehabilitated on Providence and Harrison Streets and five new units of housing will be created on Aetna and Arlington Streets. 

Nearby Worcester Academy, located at 81 Providence Street, recently donated 21 Aetna Street to Habitat for Humanity Metro-West/ Greater Worcester.  The existing house will be taken down and a duplex will be constructed in its place.  Tim Firment, Executive Director of  Habitat , announced that his organization will also sponsor “A Brush with Kindness Week “ and assist a property owner on Harrison Street with porch and landscape work. Also, in an ongoing effort to help homeowners, Worcester Academy has also made available $300,000, administered by the Worcester Community Housing Resources, for home improvements in the neighborhood. 

According to Ronald M. Cino, Head of School, “Worcester Academy is improving the quality of life for the Union Hill neighborhood by making significant contributions to education, recreation, housing, safety and economic development. Worcester Academy has completed the acquisition of the old St. Vincent’s property.  In addition to sharing use of Morse Field, an award- winning lighted synthetic field on the property with neighborhood residents, schools, and community groups, Worcester Academy is converting the hospital’s generator building into a first-rate performance center that will open late this fall.”

Oak Hill Community Development Corporation, located across the street from Worcester Academy at 74 Providence Street, has been involved in housing since 1972.  According to Mullen Sawyer, Chief Executive Officer, Oak Hill CDC ”worked closely with neighborhood stakeholders and funders to create a 21st century investment plan and funding mechanism to serve this neighborhood: Investing in Union Hill Plan.  This Plan outlines holistic strategies to preserve and develop housing, promote and sustain business and workforce development while improving neighborhood economics and quality of life.  The commonwealth has accepted our Plan and awarded Oak Hill CDC nearly a million dollars in new state rebates to spur public to private investment of this Plan.”

In addition to housing, streetscape, private investments and public safety and health, revitalization is taking place at Union Hill Elementary School.  The school which was designated a Level 4 school is now a Level 1 school.  It is undergoing renovations thanks to State funding. New windows have been installed and other exterior and interior improvements will take place.

As the press conference was taking place, neighborhood children were seen across Providence Street.  City Manager Edward M. Augustus, Jr., who had referred to the broken window theory in his speech, said “This City has not forgotten this neighborhood.  There are a lot of kids who call this place home.  We need to make sure they know they’re important to us.”

State Senator Michael Moore praised the City by saying “These ongoing and carefully executed investments will continue to help to bring vitality and desirability for current and future residents alike.  I want to commend Mayor Petty, City Manager Augustus and all the departments who have come together to breathe life back into this part of the City.”

City Councilor George Russell whose District 3 covers a good part of Union Hill said “we should not look at it as Mission Accomplished and instead look at it as the beginning of a long road to hopefully revitalize the entire area and most importantly make folks feel good about investing and living in the neighborhood.”


State Representative Daniel M. Donahue sums it up this way “ The community policing district has created a new feeling of safety, our local elementary school has gone from failing to a level 1 and we are making strategic investments in infrastructure and stabilizing our owner occupied housing stock.  This could only be accomplished by working together, from our local police to our teachers to community leaders and residents to the different levels of government, we have come together to make change.”

Oak Hill CDC – making a big difference in my Worcester inner-city neighborhood (for almost 40 years!)

By Sue Moynagh

Twenty years ago, there was a house on my Worcester street that was a major eyesore, a real problem property. You know the story: absentee landlord lets the property slide into serious disrepair, tenants long gone, and so the house becomes a prime spot for crime in the neighborhood. I could see it from my apartment. I would watch pieces of siding pull off during wind storms and fly up the street. Windows were broken, and gradually, the house became a nest for squatters, prostitutes and drug dealers. There were other such houses in the Union Hill neighborhood, and these places are likely to be found in every city, but this place was “in my face,” visible from my parlor window. Every time I walked by, I could smell the garbage from the front hallway, as the door was almost always open. Who wants to live and raise their family next to that?

Then one day, I heard that Oak Hill Community Development Corporation (CDC) had bought the place and they were going to rehab it for first-time home buyers. I watched workers carry out tons of garbage and broken furniture. Windows and siding were replaced. The property next door, an abandoned lot, was made into parking spaces and a backyard with trees and grass. I went over for the open house and met the family who would purchase this place, but I also wanted to know more about the CDC that performed this miracle.

In 1999, I attended a few community meetings hosted by this agency. They were developing other properties, and wanted resident input on the proposed plans for the old, fire- gutted synagogue on Providence Street, as well as another badly neglected three decker house. I was intrigued and impressed, so I became a member of the Oak Hill real estate committee. In time, I joined their Board of Directors. I saw this as a great opportunity to become involved in turning my neighborhood around.

Now, in 2012, Oak Hill CDC has been a presence in this community for about 40 years. They have developed 184 units of affordable housing primarily in the Union Hill section, by rehabilitating burned out, run- down, and foreclosed properties. Most of these are historic three- deckers that probably would have been targets of arson and eventually torn down. They have also built some duplexes for first- time homebuyers. I have been in many of these homes, and again, I am impressed by the work. Owners are required to live inside these homes for a number of years before selling to another first- time home buyer. The hope is that these new residents will care about the neighborhood and become involved in making the community their own.

The CDC is involved in Community Engagement as well as real estate improvement. Last summer, I attended a Resident Leadership training hosted by Oak Hill CDC staff and board members. We met weekly to learn how to develop skills to work at the grassroots level. Although I have been involved in community work prior to this training, I learned quite a bit that has been useful to me as an activist. There are also monthly community meetings that include a crime watch. The Board Chair has been active in youth engagement, and there is a community garden that allows neighbors to grow their own healthy vegetables. This is just a sample of the contributions Oak Hill CDC has made to the neighborhood.

Is everything perfect? No, of course not. There is still much work to be done. There are still “eyesore” buildings that will require work. Fewer than half of the available unitsin the Oak Hill service area are owner occupied, and some absentee landlords have to be taken to court before they actually improve their properties. Community Development Corporations usually provide homeowners with assistance in making their buildings safe and suitable for tenants. There are other problems to deal with, such as crime and litter, but Oak Hill (and other CDCs and community based agencies) work with residents to take a proactive approach to making their area safer and cleaner. People have to get involved!

Oak Hill Community Development Corporation has definitely been an asset to the Union Hill neighborhood. They partner with other agencies, businesses and institutions to assist in bringing about positive changes. It is slow but sure work, but if enough residents care to change things for the better, the CDC will provide the resources to make this happen. I am grateful to Oak Hill for their work, and will continue to be a part of their team.

Winter days in Union Hill

By Sue Moynagh

I love the change of seasons in New England, each season having its own special characteristics and activities that keeps life here interesting. I love winter! Yes, I even love snow and the bitter cold winds that numb your face and bring tears to your eyes as you slip and slide over the streets of Worcester. Growing up in my neighborhood, Union Hill, winter weather brought changes to our daily routine, but it was fun. Whether inside or outside, children of my generation knew how to keep themselves busy through the winter chill.

I can’t help but notice that there are fewer children enjoying the great outdoors these past winters. I suppose many are indoors in front of the TV or computer and others are partaking of the numerous after- school programs available. With many backyards converted over to parking lots, kids have to do their playing in parks. I miss hearing the voices of kids playing in the snow in my neighborhood. This is not a criticism, just a comparison of my generation and today’s youngsters. Kids today usually have more organization in their activities, as members of sports teams, for instance, and there seems to be less spontaneity. Continue reading Winter days in Union Hill