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Climate Conversations: A Reflection on Climate Action in the Community Development Field

May 17th, 2022 by Neha Chinwalla

Growing up, I thought climate change was only about protecting the natural world – saving polar bears, hugging trees, and recycling instead of throwing it in the trash. Now, as I wrap up my bachelor’s degree in environmental science at Boston University and my year-long climate policy internship with MACDC, I have a very different perspective.    

The climate crisis is not an isolated issue. Our world does not operate in silos, and the greatest problems we are facing are no different. Housing justice, racial justice, economic justice, and environmental justice are all connected. My time at MACDC has revealed this to me even more. 

From speaking with our members, to collaborating with LISC Boston and New Ecology, to having the opportunity to join policy coalitions, I have learned about the community development field and the important role it plays in making a better future. In particular, I have gained a deeper understanding of green buildings as a way of simultaneously remedying the housing crisis and the climate crisis. As we noted in our testimony in favor of the HERO bill, which would double the deeds excise tax to raise money to address both the climate and housing crises in MA, “Climate and housing are pressing, interrelated issues our Commonwealth is facing today. We have the technical solutions to build more resilient, affordable, and healthy housing; we just need the resources to scale up these efforts. CDCs and other affordable housing providers are leading the way.” 

Similarly, our coalition’s letter to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Ways and Means, requesting $250 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to create the Zero Carbon Renovation Fund, now has 104 organizational signatories, representing over 43,000 units of affordable housing. The two million existing buildings across the Commonwealth contribute almost one third of Massachusetts’ emissions. With this in mind, the Coalition is proposing an allocation of funds to support retrofits of existing buildings to reduce emissions, improve public health, and provide climate resilience.  

Through these coalitions and advocacy opportunities, I have been inspired, working with and learning from passionate experts like Emily Jones, the Senior Program Officer for LISC Boston's Green Homes and Green Jobs Initiative. “For me, climate action means advocating for all people to enjoy a safe, healthy, and beautiful environment where they can meaningfully contribute to a just society and regenerative economy. I advocate because I want everyone to be able to live in a healthy, green home they can afford, and work and play in ways that are healing to the earth,” Emily said. “At its core, I see climate action as a way of furthering racial justice and economic justice.” 

Knowing we have the solutions to decarbonize our building sector and provide healthier homes for more people gives me hope for the future, especially after having the opportunity to work with people across the Commonwealth who are dedicating their careers to this fight. As I go forward with my next steps, moving across the country to pursue my Master of Urban Planning at the University of Washington, I will forever be thankful to MACDC, our members and partners, and all I have learned from living and working in Massachusetts these past few years, for providing me a foundation to join them in creating a more equitable, sustainable tomorrow.  

 

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Housing and Community Development Get a Bump in FY23 Capital Budget- Something to Build Upon

May 17th, 2022 by Don Bianchi

On May 5th, the Baker-Polito Administration released its Five-Year Capital Investment Plan for 2023-2027, which includes its Fiscal Year 2023 Capital Budget. MACDC, as it does every year, reviewed the Capital Budget for housing and for other community development line items of interest to CDCs. You can see our analysis here.

In comparison to FY22, the top line housing budget for FY23 increased by just over $5 million, from $255.6 million to $260.8 million. This understates the increase, as the Legislature enacted, and the Administration signed last December, a bill allocating significant federal funding for housing, including $150 million for supportive housing, $115 for rental housing production, $115 million for homeownership production, $150 million for public housing maintenance, and other related spending. Bottom line- when it comes to the FY23 Capital Budget in relation to prior year capital budgets, we are not comparing apples to apples! 

Selected community development programs also received higher amounts in the FY23 Capital Budget than in FY22. Among these selected programs, the budget increased from just over $114 million in FY22 to just under $131 million in FY23, an almost 15% increase.  MACDC was pleased to see a significant increase in funding for underused properties but was disappointed that the Brownfields Redevelopment Fund continues to be inadequately funded with just $2.5 million. (There is $30 million of unused capital authorization for the Brownfields program). 

It is important to recognize that the small increases referenced above are far below inflation and even further below the increasing costs for construction.   

When it comes to affordable housing funding, we need more, much more, to meet the needs of the Commonwealth’s residents. This is why MACDC is advocating with the Legislature to use the once in a generation opportunity presented by the availability of the remaining ARPA funds to support the following: 

  • $200 million for emergency rental relief, to prevent the displacement of the thousands of MA households still impacted by the economic devastation caused by COVID; 
  • $320 million to expand homeownership opportunities and close the racial homeownership gap; 
  • $150 million for rental housing preservation and development, and additional supportive housing for priority populations, to address the crisis in affordable rental housing; and 
  • $100 million for a new MA Healthy Homes Initiative, to address the tens of thousands of homes in MA still containing dangerous levels of lead paint and address other housing conditions that pose a serious threat to residents’ health and well-being. 

MACDC is thankful to the Baker-Polito Administration for its funding of critical affordable housing and community development programs, and for being a partner to MACDC and CDCs in our efforts to create opportunities for all Massachusetts residents. It will be up to the next Governor, the Legislature, and all of us to ensure that we do everything possible to address the unmet needs for affordable housing and inclusive community development, on behalf of all of our neighbors across the Commonwealth. 

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DHCD Rental Round Awards Announced in Gloucester

April 21st, 2022 by Don Bianchi

On April 14th, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy and DHCD Undersecretary Jennifer Maddox joined state and local officials in Gloucester to announce awards for 15 affordable rental housing developments, located in 14 communities. 

The Commonwealth awarded $63 million in direct subsidy funding along with federal and state low-income housing tax credits, which will generate additional equity of over $200 million. This funding will support the development of 697 units of rental housing, including 629 homes affordable to low and extremely low-income households. 

Six of the projects were sponsored by MACDC Members. Collectively, these six projects will create or preserve 233 rental units, including 212 affordable homes. 

  • Rindge Commons Phase 1 is a new construction transit-oriented project located in Cambridge, sponsored by Just-A-Start. When completed, this project, built to Passive House standards will provide 24 homes, all affordable, along with retail space. 
  • Hilltown CDC’s Chester Commons, located in Chester’s town center, involves the historic rehabilitation of 15 units, all affordable. 
  • NewVue Communities will undertake adaptive re-use of an historic structure, Fitchburg Arts Community. This project, located in proximity to the Fitchburg Arts Museum, will provide 68 units, including 47 affordable units. 
  • Library Commons 2 will provide 41 homes, all affordable. Way Finders is sponsoring this project, located near downtown Holyoke. 
  • Island Parkside Phase 2, a new construction project located in Lawrence, will provide 40 homes, all affordable. The sponsor, Lawrence CommunityWorks, intends to build the project to Passive House standards. 
  • Harborlight Community Partners is the sponsor for Maple Woods, a new construction project for seniors located in Wenham. The project will provide 45 units, all affordable. 
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Climate Conversations: Homeowners Rehab’s Sustainable Affordable Housing

March 28th, 2022 by Neha Chinwalla

Finch Cambridge (New Ecology Photo)

 

Boasting spacious open floor plans, large (and triple-glazed) windows and closets, community rooms, and a rooftop terrace, Homeowners Rehab’s Finch Cambridge is a beautiful, and affordable, place to live. Beyond the physical features of the 98-unit apartment building at Fresh Pond, Finch is the first Passive House certified affordable, multifamily housing development in Massachusetts, equipped with high-efficiency heating and cooling, sustainable finishes, a 105kW Solar PV system, and Energy Star appliances in every unit.  

Finch Cambridge, located between the Alewife and Cambridge Highlands neighborhoods, is a model project for sustainable design, community-building, and high-quality affordable housing. HRI is committed to the development of more sustainable, affordable housing. “HRI, for over 25 years, has been trying to incorporate sustainability and energy conservation efforts into our development any time we can, in terms of new construction and occupied or major rehab,” said Director of Development Jane Carbone.  

Many of HRI’s projects are LEED Platinum certified and all are Enterprise Green Communities certified, two commonly used standards for energy-efficient, healthy design. In doing so, HRI is aligned with the City of Cambridge’s efforts to decarbonize. They work closely with the City throughout their development process. “We’re pretty mindful of what the City of Cambridge’s goals are for the reduction of carbon emissions,” Carbone said.  

Cambridge’s efforts are part of a broader movement to electrify buildings and improve energy efficiency. HRI has recently signed on to the U.S Department of Energy’s Better Climate Challenge, pledging to reduce their portfolio-wide scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% within 10 years. Part of the emissions reductions are incorporating renewable energy in their buildings and assessing where solar PV placement is optimal.   

One of HRI’s other projects is a damaged three-story apartment building. “The triple-decker that we are working on had a fire in November 2020,” Project Manager Eleni Macrakis said. “We are looking to do a gut renovation. The fire damage wasn’t too much, but the water damage from the fire department was expensive [to address].”   

To renovate the triple-decker, HRI stripped it down to the studs and is rebuilding it even better with all-electric systems, upgraded kitchens and baths, sustainable finishes, and solar. “The outside cladding was intact, so we are creating a thicker envelope on the inside so that we’re building out a stud wall and insulating the wall. The goal is to get to as close to net-zero [as possible],” Carbone said.  

To those that are hesitant to support new developments, HRI points to their successful track record to earn the community’s trust. While development of affordable housing often faces opposition as a result of NIMBYism, residents in Cambridge have been more supportive of HRI’s developments because of the sustainability aspects. “People who don’t like development generally were supportive of Finch,” said Will Monson, Senior Project Manager. “They knew it was Passive House and knew what we were trying to do.”  

“People have seen the impact in their own community of flooding and heat events. Those events are so close to home that people not only support but require us to achieve those levels [in response]. I think it helps our projects if we’re doing all of the climate measures,” Carbone said. Beyond assessing the buildings’ energy use and sustainable features, HRI also develops resident programs that promote healthy living for the community.  

With the measures they are taking to design climate-resilient, energy-efficient buildings, HRI is paving the way for the future of affordable housing. “With climate change and these measures, a lot of it is data collection,” Carbone said. “It’s important that we show folks that this can be done and there’s a way to collect the data to show it can be done. Then we share that knowledge so other people can learn from our experiences. That’s very important to move this agenda along.”   

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Madison Park Development Corporation Creates a Pathway to Generational Wealth

March 9th, 2022 by Don Bianchi

On March 8th, MACDC’s Senior Policy Advocate Don Bianchi attended an event, “Madison Park Next Door: Opening Doors to Building Wealth,” at Hibernian Hall in Roxbury. The event celebrated Madison Park Development Corporation’s innovative program, which offers its residents downpayment assistance of up to $100,000 for home purchases in Boston, and up to $50,000 for purchases outside the City of Boston. 

At the event, Madison Park’s CEO Leslie Reid touted the program, which has to date provided downpayment assistance to 9 families, and counseling to more than 200 families. As Leslie noted, homeownership is a journey, and she introduced a new homeowner assisted by the program, who spoke about her journey.  Dwayne Watts, the CDC’s Resident and Community Engagement Manager, offered concluding remarks, noting that he tells people on their homeownership journey, “the most important piece is making sure you invite me to your barbecue.” 

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Climate Conversations: NOAH & Climate Resiliency ~ An Opportunity to Revamp for the Future

March 7th, 2022 by Neha Chinwalla

Photo from NOAH

 

Environmental justice and resiliency are hot topics today in the climate action conversation, but they haven’t always been. Around 25 years ago in East Boston, Neighborhood of Affordable Housing, Inc. (NOAH) planted the seeds for integrating the values of environmental justice into the urban environmental issues they were fighting for.  

“The term of environmental justice began to be a term of substance that was applied to urban areas, as opposed to just ‘save the polar bears.’ When that began to catch on in the bureaucracies, federal and then the state, we were quick to embrace it,” Philip Giffee, Executive Director of NOAH, said. “East Boston is a neighborhood that is a peninsula and cheek by jowl with Logan International Airport. That has been a challenging relationship.” 

East Boston’s residents’ battle with Logan International Airport has been longstanding. The development of the airport took parks and housing away from East Boston. Asthma rates also skyrocketed, as combustion has an especially negative impact on air quality during the take-off and landing of aircraft. A grant from the City of Boston is supporting NOAH’s efforts to assess the impact of the airport on the environmental health of the neighborhood. Through the grant, NOAH is using sensors to identify the air quality of 40 businesses, schools, residential homes, and nonprofits are affected by the airport. The work is done hand-in-hand with East Boston residents. 

“We never do anything on our own. We work with the people who work here,” Latifa Ziyad, East Boston Resiliency Planning Coordinator for NOAH, said. With the community’s needs always at the forefront, NOAH has become more involved in climate resiliency work. 

“The environmental justice piece began to motivate a lot of people in the neighborhood,” Giffee said. “We began to move into climate work when superstorm sandy hit New York. Sandy could have hit Boston. We saw the damage it could have caused.”  

As part of its resiliency work, NOAH hosted summits to create a larger platform to talk about solutions to the pressing issues in East Boston: the airport, storm surge, and sea level rise. Ziyad also sits on an advisory committee on heat. She emphasized that heat kills, especially vulnerable populations such as children, older people, and more often than not, people of color.  

What centers NOAH’s resiliency work is building a stronger community, one that will provide residents the services to bounce back better from disturbances. “We know climate work dovetails poverty. It wouldn’t be as much a threat if people had the mechanisms to cope with it. We focus on building social cohesion, and climate is an aspect of it but it’s not an exclusive focus,” Ziyad said.  

“We look at what preventions we can put in place, and then how we react in the midst of the event, and after the event, how do we recover, not to the point of where we were before the storm or stressor hit, but actually use it as a chaotic moment to launch ahead,” Ziyad said. "We know a lot of the systems we were involved in before were already broken anyway. It becomes an opportunity to not only heal, but revamp for the future.”  

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Launch of Neighborhood Stabilization Program Brings Vision to Fruition

March 7th, 2022 by

On March 4th, MassHousing announced the launch of the DHCD/MassHousing Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP), with $6.4 million available in the first funding round. The funding is available to municipalities, CDCs, and other nonprofit organizations that are working to address disinvestment and blighted conditions in their communities.  

This announcement is a culmination of the vision that MACDC and MassINC had in the fall of 2018, when we brought together stakeholders across the Commonwealth to address the persistent disinvestment in areas with weak real estate markets, in Gateway Cities and in small towns. These initial convenings resulted in the release, in January 2019, of a Report, Building Communities of Promise and Possibility State and Local Blueprints for Comprehensive Neighborhood Stabilization. 

 The Massachusetts Legislature responded by provided $750,000 in funding, in the FY2020 State Budget- and in two subsequent years- for technical assistance to aid municipalities grappling with distressed and abandoned properties, leading to the formation of the Neighborhood Hub, a multi-agency partnership to support neighborhood revitalization.  Under MassHousing’s capable stewardship, with the guidance of an advisory group comprised of public agencies and nonprofit organizations- among them MACDC and MassINC- the Neighborhood Hub is providing intensive technical assistance in five Gateway Cities. These locally-designed and implemented strategies to address distressed properties rely on an innovative partnership, among municipal government, community-based organizations, and MassHousing. 

With this week’s launch of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, funding will now be available for the rehabilitation of distressed properties in weak market areas across the Commonwealth, in urban areas and in small towns. NSP grant funds will be awarded up to $250,000 per unit, and $2 million per project.  

 MassHousing has scheduled three Neighborhood Stabilization Program information sessions for interested applicants.  Anyone interested can register by clicking one of the dates below: 

Questions can be directed to MassHousing at neighborhoodstabilization@masshousing.com.

This is a good example of how thoughtful and inclusive engagement, good research, collective advocacy, and a responsive government can directly impact the lives of families and communities.  Of course, the work is just getting started, and arguably the most challenging work- house by house, neighborhood by neighborhood- is just beginning. MACDC looks forward to being actively engaged in this work, so look forward to periodic updates.  

The NSP launch complements our effort to establish the MA Healthy Homes Initiative, with $100 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding, currently under consideration in the State Legislature. This investment of federal funds would make homes, and neighborhoods, healthier and safer. For more information on MHHI, you can reach out to Elana Brochin at elanab@macdc.org or Don Bianchi at donb@macdc.org. 

 
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MACDC and 20 Members take Racial Equity Pledge

February 18th, 2022 by Nadine Sanchara

The Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations (MACDC) and 20 of its members have so far committed to a Racial Equity Pledge that affirms their commitment to work internally and in partnership with others to make their organizations more diverse, equitable and inclusive.  MACDC launched the Racial Equity Pledge at its Annual Meeting in November 2021.

“We are excited to be working with our members to help each other and push each other to be what we aspire to be – diverse, inclusive, equitable and effective organizations working to eliminate racism in all its forms,” said Joseph Kriesberg, President of MACDC.  “This will be our North Star as we work to turn our pledges into actions.”

In the summer of 2020, during the surge in civil rights actions following the killing of George Floyd and other people of color, CDCs, individually and collectively, joined with others to speak out against injustice and to reflect on their own practices and culture. Community organizers from CDCs across the state came together to push for more racial equity within the CDC movement. They asked MACDC’s leadership to embrace a racial equity pledge to be shared with its members.

MACDC’s board voted to establish a committee to work with the organizers to develop this pledge and a plan for implementation. The MACDC Board of Directors encourages its members to discuss the pledge with board members and staff and sign the pledge as a step toward our collective effort to make our movement and our organizations more diverse, inclusive, and equitable.

“The Racial Equity Pledge was created for our members, by our members to encourage action. Together we are learning, growing, and challenging ourselves, through a transparent and inclusive process. Equity is at the core of our work. Understanding how racial inequities manifest in our organizations, programs, policies, and neighborhoods is essential in community building,” said Shirronda Almeida, Director of the Mel King Institute, a program of MACDC.

Emilio Dorcely, CEO of Urban Edge and a board member of MACDC, was involved in the pledge from its inception said, “it is an honor for me to be part of the team that created the MACDC racial equity pledge. Flexible and adaptable to agencies across Massachusetts, our pledge, combined with our collective power and determined drive can make our field more equitable and inclusive.”

By signing this pledge, organizations agree to embrace four values:

  1. committing to learning and addressing the different levels of racism so they can take action to dismantle those inequities;
  2. their staff should be diverse, equitable, inclusive, and representative of the communities they serve;
  3. their board should be diverse, equitable, inclusive, and representative of the communities they serve; and
  4. authentic representation in programming/services.

Pledge adoptees also commit to implementing at least one specific action toward advancing each of these values within the next year.

“The intention of this pledge is to provide a roadmap for MACDC member organizations to identify and commit to specific, actionable steps toward racial equity within the context of their community and mission. As organizers we will work with our respective organizations to create change, and the collective action represented by the pledge is what is needed to break down the systems that have created and enabled racial inequity to persist. It is exciting to see the work that has already begun with The Neighborhood Developers and several other organizations across Massachusetts,” said Sharon Fosbury, Director of Community Building at The Neighborhood Developers.

MACDC has taken the pledge as we believe it is important to keep ourselves accountable from the inside. To jump start our learning and mutual accountability, we have hosted meetings both for those members who have adopted the pledge already and those considering it. Through the Mel King Institute, we are also offering member-only workshop opportunities to support members in the implementation.  For more information, and to see who signed on so far, visit the Racial Equity webpage.

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Commonwealth Launches Homeowner Assistance Fund

February 10th, 2022 by

The Commonwealth has launched the Massachusetts Homeowner Assistance Fund (Mass HAF), a federally funded housing assistance program funded through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).  The goal of Mass HAF is to prevent foreclosures and displacement of homeowners who are at least 3 months behind on their mortgage payments because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

MACDC, and other housing advocacy organizations, played an important role in advising the Commonwealth on program design and implementation. The Program establishes a central role for housing counseling in assisting homeowners with their applications, and is utilizing a network of other community-based organizations to get the word out far and wide, including to hard-to-reach communities and those with language barriers. 

Homeowners can check their eligibility and apply online. If homeowners need assistance in applying to the Mass HAF Program, in-depth counseling, or legal services, they can contact a local housing counseling agency (HCA). Homeowners can determine the HCA serving their area using the HCA finder tool. 

 

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Climate Conversations: Urban Tree Plantings & Youth Empowerment at Groundwork Lawrence

February 7th, 2022 by Neha Chinwalla

Photo from Groundwork Lawrence. 

 

For almost 22 years, Groundwork Lawrence (GWL) has focused on brownfields and park redevelopment, tree canopy coverage, and youth empowerment.  

“We center everything around the community so that the community is really telling us, not us telling the community, where their concerns are,” Deputy Director Lesly Melendez said. One of the community’s greatest concerns is high utility costs.  

Increased tree canopy coverage offers a solution to this concern. Areas with fewer trees have higher utility costs, while more trees lead to lower heating and cooling costs with more natural climate control. Trees also help combat Urban Heat Island Effect, which occurs when land cover is dominated by surfaces like asphalt that absorb heat 

One of the programs GWL leads is the Green Streets program. Launched in 2004, the initiative aims to increase the urban tree canopy across Lawrence by providing free trees to residents and businesses. The GWL team ensures trees are planted in appropriate areas across three Lawrence neighborhoods: the Arlington/Campagnone North Common, the O’Connell South Common, and Colonial Heights. With funding from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental AffairsGreening the Gateway Cities program, GWL planted almost 800 trees in the densest areas of Lawrence in 2021. 

GWL focuses on educating the community on the benefits and services provided by trees and greenspaces, while also offering paid opportunities for youth to engage around climate action. They have four youth program crews under their Green Team: So Fresh (urban agriculture and food), So Green (trails, parks, trees), So Community (community engagement and outreach), and the newest, So Reduce (recycling, upcycling, composting). During the summer of 2021, GWL expanded its program to 40 youth team members and 8 youth leaders.  

GWL is continuing to adapt and respond to the needs of the community during the pandemic. GWL has returned to offering nutrition programs in Lawrence public schools. Looking ahead to this year, GWL is aiming to match the programming additions they made in 2021 and continue to grow their efforts.  

We’ve grown as an organization in terms of staffing and programming. Now, it’s about really digging deep and putting those roots in the ground,” Lesly said, “and making sure we’re doing what the community really wants us to be doing.” 

For Lesly, the work is about much more than planting trees. Born and raised in Lawrence, Lesly’s favorite part about her job is having the opportunity to give back to a community that has given her so much. 

“As a kid, I saw some of these parks in such horrible conditions,” Lesly said. “Now, being able to be a part of a redevelopment of a park or creating a new park space, for not just this generation but generations moving forward, is probably the thing that excites me the most.” 

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