Reflections on Organizing and Community Engagement

September 22nd, 2021 by Pamela Bender

The best moments in my working life have come from working with people to discover their shared power and instilling a sense of agency in them, both as individuals and in the groups we were forming. That has always felt like the work I was meant to do.  So, when MACDC’s strategic plan identified building the power and voice of lower income people and people of color to shape the future of their communities and their own lives I was excited. But, of course, that is easier said than done.

I have spent a lot of time both at MACDC and at NeighborWorks America (it was called Neighborhood Reinvestment when I worked there.) working to help housing organizations either take on community organizing or do it more effectively.  After all those years you would think I would have come up with a step-by-step recipe for CDCs to successfully build community leaders and community power.

1. Start with leadership (at both the staff and board) that believes that community members are partners, with skills and expertise.

2. Add the resources to hire and support a skilled community organizer.

3. Mix in the opportunity to organize around an issue that will make concrete changes in peoples’ lives and in their community.

Rare as they are, these ingredients are just the start of the process – only what is needed to start the work.  Once the work is going everything gets harder. If a CDC is really working with community members in an honest way, language barriers need to be addressed, decisions take longer to make, conflicts arise, more meetings are needed and they need to be facilitated well and, so on and so on.  It is no mystery why CDCs can be skittish about community organizing and struggle to do it well.

MACDC has certainly worked hard to help CDCs take on community organizing. The Ricanne Hadrian Initiative for Community Organizing (RHICO) raised over $1 million to grant to CDCs for organizing work. During the 8 years of the RHICO all the participating CDCs also benefited from technical assistance and peer learning.  MACDC still provides technical assistance and peer learning for organizers to this day.

Sometimes I get discouraged by the fact that after all these efforts, there is not more organizing being done. But, just today, I reminded an organizer that this work takes a long time, and you have to hang in there. I am glad to report that MACDC is hanging in there. This fall we are putting a major focus on community organizing and community engagement.  The Mel King Institute is launching a new program, The Resident Leadership Academy, which will provide training to community members on how to organize and work together.  The program will be officially launched on September 23, but the truth is we are already doing the work.  On October 14, MACDC will release a report on the State of Organizing at an Innovation Forum where we will discuss some of the challenges CDCs face in doing this work and how those challenges may be overcome. In November, the Mel King Institute will roll out the Organizers Core Competencies Toolkit, which is designed to support the professional growth of community organizers and community engagement staff. And December 1, the Mel King Institute will offer an Introduction to Community Organizing training.

When talking about organizing, Myles Horton, a co-founder of the Highlander Center, would paraphrase the Spanish poet, Antonio Machado: “We make the road by walking.”  I am glad to be walking along with MACDC members as we keep moving towards more (and more effective) community organizing and deeper community engagement.


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MACDC Publishes New Guide to Reading a Hospital's Community Benefits Report

August 27th, 2021 by Elana Brochin

MACDC recently published a Guide To Reading A Hospital’s Community Benefits Report. This Guide is a tool for CDCs, CDFIs, and other community-based organizations to better understand their local hospital’s commitments to community health and to foster more collaboration between hospitals and community-based organizations.  


Nonprofit hospitals are obligated by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to devote a portion of their budget towards what is termed, “Community Benefits.” The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office (AGO) oversees Massachusetts hospital expenditures through reports that are submitted annually and made available to the public. In Fiscal Year 2019, Massachusetts hospitals collectively spent over $753 million on Community Benefits. These expenditures represented an average of 2.7% of hospitals’ net patient services revenue. 


Several Massachusetts CDCs have benefited from relationships with their local hospitals, and MACDC seeks to foster more collaboration. There are many opportunities for CDCs, CDFIs and CBOs to connect with their local hospital, including: 

  • Participating in a Community Health Needs Assessment 
  • Serving on a Community Benefits Advisory Board 
  • Receiving hospital support for your programming 


All these opportunities begin with better understanding of your local hospital's priorities and interests. By working the Guide To Reading A Hospital’s Community Benefits Report you can better understand your local hospital’s commitments to community health as articulated in their Massachusetts Community Benefits report. 


Please reach out to MACDC’s Program Director for Health Equity, Elana Brochin, if you’d like to work through this guide together or if you’d like a thought partner in considering how to initiate or strengthen a partnership with your local hospital. 

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MACDC Report Highlights CDC Initiatives in 2020 to Address COVID-19 Impacts

August 20th, 2021 by
Article by Don Bianchi and Elana Brochin
Report by Liam Baxter-Healey
Our Commonwealth faced unprecedented challenges in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged families and communities.   CDCs helped lead the way in responding to the health and the economic challenges created by the pandemic.
Today, MACDC releases a report “COVID-19 Response Report” which highlights CDCs’ responses to three of the most persistent manifestations of the pandemic:
  • Initiatives to keep residents, and the broader community, safe and healthy
  • Assistance to small businesses facing economic peril from the pandemic
  • Emergency financial assistance to prevent displacement of those enduring a loss of income during the pandemic
CDCs undertook a variety of strategies to ensure the health and safety of the communities they serve.  These included efforts directly targeted to health, such as ensuring social distancing, providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and making wellness calls. Other initiatives included providing food assistance, helping with COVID testing, and helping make connections with mental health services.
To assist the owners and employees of small businesses, CDCs helped entrepreneurs collectively obtain almost $12 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, as well as just under $10 million in grants from a variety of sources. To prevent displacement, CDCs provided cash assistance totaling more than $28 million to almost 9,000 renter households.

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Housing Quality and Health: Revealing the Connections, Addressing the Challenges (Part 5)

August 16th, 2021 by Don Bianchi & Elana Brochin

Revitalize CDC in Springfield improves housing conditions by performing assessments and interventions for adults and children with asthma to safely remain in their home. (Photo credit: Revitalize CDC)

MACDC has long supported its members in their work to improve housing quality. In recent years, MACDC worked with it's members to establish health equity work as a defining characteristic of the contemporary community development movement in Massachusetts. We are now in the beginning stages of an initiative to link these two strands of our work. We would like to engage with as many stakeholders as possible in this process, and, therefore, are publishing this series of blog posts to share out ideas and get your feedback.

Data, Dollars, and Direction

In our first blog in this series, we identified housing quality and safety challenges that plague the Massachusetts housing stock. In our second blog post we examined the ways these challenges directly impact individual and community health outcomes. The third blog in our series examined current Massachusetts programs that address property-level distress. Our fourth, and most recent blog, focused on current efforts to address two broader factors: neighborhood disinvestment and climate change. In this last blog in our series, we will:
  • Surface gaps in existing efforts and propose ways to scale up efforts to improve housing quality and safety, and therefore health outcomes, in Massachusetts.
  • Advocate for an infusion of funds from the American Rescue Plan Act for this important work.
Gaps and Ways to Scale Up Efforts
While there are many initiatives that support housing quality and safety challenges in Massachusetts, there is no coordinated approach, and these efforts lack the scale we need to address the problems. In order to increase the capacity of state and local governments, CDCs, housing courts, and others to successfully improve the safety and quality of older homes across the state, we need to fill existing gaps and scale up our efforts in the following areas:
  • Streamlined and publicly accessible data on housing quality and safety throughout the Commonwealth. For example, we need to have accurate and timely data on the number of homes in MA that still are not lead-safe.
  • Timely data on the impact of existing policy interventions to address housing quality.
  • Demographic data that indicates which populations are most impacted by poor housing quality, including people of color, immigrants, children, elderly, disabled and specific neighborhoods or communities.
  • Data that will help inform decisions by helping both policymakers and advocates to fully understand the gaps.
  • Increased public and private investment in home-specific housing rehabilitation, lead paint abatement, and addressing other housing quality concerns.
  • Increased public and private investment in energy efficiency, renewable energy and building decarbonization, which will:
  1. improve housing quality and lower costs for residents of older homes; and 
  2. contribute to urgent efforts to combat the climate crisis.
  • Increased funding for neighborhood-scale initiatives to address vacant and distressed housing.
  • Better alignment of different funding streams from the housing, energy and health sectors so property owners and public housing authorities can leverage dollars and undertake comprehensive renovations at one time. 
  • Formation of a Task Force comprised of a broad array of public, private, nonprofit, and community members to set goals and monitor progress around housing safety and quality in Massachusetts.
  • Incorporation of housing quality improvements into our long-term resiliency strategy to ensure that our most vulnerable communities are protected from the impacts of climate change, extreme weather, flooding, etc., and development of mitigation plans in advance of when disasters occur.
  • Streamlined systems for integrating housing, energy, climate and health programs and dollars into a coordinated property improvement strategy.
  • Neighborhood and community-level initiatives to address property distress, abandonment, and disinvestment.
  • Engagement of the health sector, including hospitals, to:
  1. champion the effectiveness of healthy housing programs on impacting patient health outcomes; and
  2. implement and support healthy housing programs as part of their Community Health Improvement Plans and Community Benefits programs.
  • Development of policies and tools to ensure that improved housing quality does not lead to escalating rents and displacement.
When utilizing these strategies, we suggest using and improving upon the framework of the existing programs when possible. This includes:
  • Increasing funding for effective programs, such as the State’s Get the Lead Out (GTLO) Program.
  • Ensuring that available programs and funding are accessible to all populations. For example, we should be using and strengthening the infrastructure of community-based organizations which provide support to individuals and families facing language and other barriers.
These strategies, by definition, must be adopted by a wide range of players to be successful. 
MACDC will continue to leverage our role as a thought-leader in the Community Development field and our deep relationships with our members to embed housing quality and health equity work into the fabric of the CD movement. 
Use of American Rescue Plan Act Funding
One crucial and timely opportunity to jumpstart a large-scale effort to improve the Massachusetts housing stock is to use funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). This is a once in a generation opportunity to address longstanding housing quality and safety problems in Massachusetts. Massachusetts and local jurisdictions expect to receive $8.7 billion in funds from the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, established by ARPA. The Governor has proposed spending $1 billion on housing (evenly split between home ownership and rental housing), which MACDC supports. The Legislature needs to build upon the Governor’s baseline proposal by devoting additional funding to improve the quality and safety of Massachusetts’ housing stock. 
As we’ve established in our previous blogs, the presence of lead, poor indoor air quality, and other substandard housing conditions leads to developmental delays in children, respiratory disease, accidents and injuries, and spread of infectious disease, among other serious, preventable health consequences. Therefore, MACDC is advocating that the Commonwealth devote an additional $100 million from the ARPA funds to improving the existing Massachusetts housing stock, with $50 million devoted to making homes lead safe and $50 million for housing rehab, with a healthy homes focus. We see this commitment as a significant first step toward scaling up efforts to fill the gaps that we have identified.
We look forward to utilizing these tools and to collaborating with our partners in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to coordinate initiatives and to improve housing quality in Massachusetts using the Data, Dollars, and Direction framework that we’ve described. Improving housing quality will ultimately provide dignity and physical security to Massachusetts residents and will lead to improved community health outcomes. Devoting $100 million dollars of funding from ARPA will jumpstart these efforts.
While the series of blog posts represents the opinions of and analysis by the authors, our conclusions have been informed by discussions with a working group that we convened to help guide this work. The working group included representatives from the public and nonprofit sectors, each of whom work on and think about housing quality, and health equity, from different perspectives. We owe deep gratitude to each of the members of this working group for their thoughtfulness, engagement, and commitment to this important work.
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Housing Quality and Health: Revealing the Connections, Addressing the Challenges (Part 4)

August 9th, 2021 by Don Bianchi & Elana Brochin

Revitalize CDC in Springfield improves housing conditions by performing assessments and interventions for adults and children with asthma to safely remain in their home. (Photo credit: Revitalize CDC)

MACDC has long supported its members in their work to improve housing quality. In recent years, MACDC worked with it's members to establish health equity work as a defining characteristic of the contemporary community development movement in Massachusetts. We are now in the beginning stages of an initiative to link these two strands of our work. We would like to engage with as many stakeholders as possible in this process, and, therefore, are publishing this series of blog posts to share out ideas and get your feedback.


Current Initiatives Targeted at Neighborhood Disinvestment and Climate Change 

In our most recent blog, the third in our series, we examined current programs focused on addressing property-level distress. These programs including ones that confront lead hazards in homes, poor indoor air quality, and other unsafe housing conditions. In the current blog, we focus on current efforts to address two broader factors: neighborhood disinvestment and climate change. Attention to these “underlying conditions” is necessary for efforts to address property-level distress to succeed. 

Addressing neighborhood disinvestment:

As noted in our prior blog, many lower-income neighborhoods in Massachusetts—most notably, but not solely, in the state’s Gateway Cities and some rural communities —struggle with the challenges of weak real estate markets, with low rents and declining or stagnant home values. In these neighborhoods, too often property owners lack economic incentives to invest in these structures for long-term sustainability, making neighborhood-or community-wide interventions necessary. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problems associated with neighborhood disinvestment. As author Alan Mallach from the Center for Community Progress noted in his June 2020 Report: Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst: Addressing the Aftermath of the COVID-19 Pandemic in America’s Struggling Neighborhoods, “one thing we can expect is that the effects will be much more severe in struggling cities, lower income neighborhoods, and communities of color.” 

Fortunately, there are a number of promising programs and interventions: 

Local Code Enforcement as Neighborhood Stabilization: Municipal governments can enforce the State Building Code and Sanitary Code, to incentivize owners to maintain their properties, and sanction those who do not do so.  This can be challenging, as many lack the resources to identify problem properties and maintain current records. Fortunately, Massachusetts will receive approximately $.5.3 million in Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), that will address both lost revenue and pandemic-related costs, and thereby strengthen the capacity of local governments to enforce codes.  

Receivership: Receivership is a tool by which the Court can appoint a person or organization to temporarily manage a property (occupied or vacant) to enforce the state Sanitary Code and respond to an irresponsible or absentee landlord.  For occupied buildings, Receivership can address needed repairs and prevent a building from deteriorating, to provide better living conditions for tenants. For abandoned properties, the MA Attorney General’s Neighborhood Renewal Division is a resource for municipalities in utilizing Receivership. Many CDCs have supported these efforts. For example, OneHolyoke CDC has acted as a Court-Ordered Receiver in Holyoke, and Worcester Community Housing Resources has operated a Receivership loan fund in addition to serving as Receiver itself in some cases.   

Liabilities to Assets (LTA) Program to Address Abandoned Homes: The MA Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) is administering a $7.5 million, five-year pilot program to work with a CDC, NewVue Communities, to acquire and rehabilitate more than 40 abandoned homes in North Central Massachusetts, and then sell the homes to low-and moderate-income homebuyers. An energy efficiency consultant recommends steps that can be taken during the rehab to make the homes more efficient and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center will help to defray the cost of some of the upgrades. Despite numerous challenges (often due to the deteriorated condition of many vacant properties), LTA provides a promising model for a broader statewide initiative. 

The Commonwealth’s Neighborhood Stabilization Initiative is modeled on LTA. MACDC, working with MassINC, MassHousing, and other public and nonprofit partners, has launched an initiative intended to put vacant housing back on the market, restore poor quality housing to good condition, and improve the quality of life in struggling neighborhoods and communities across the Commonwealth.  While there are several components to this initiative, implementation of The Neighborhood Hub, supported by more than $2 million in state funds, and staffed by MassHousing, is well underway. The technical and financial assistance to improve capacity on the local level will soon be accompanied by state capital dollars to support property rehabilitation. 

Other Initiatives to Address Neighborhood Disinvestment: 

  • CDCs in Gateway Cities, and in small towns, have long taken an active role in neighborhood stabilization initiatives.  Their housing development efforts and housing rehab programs are often part of a neighborhood-wide strategy.  
  • While limited, affordable homeownership development efforts in these weaker market areas have several goals: providing low-and moderate-income first-time homebuyers with affordable homeownership, providing these homebuyers with the opportunities to build wealth, and stabilizing disinvested neighborhoods. As an example, the State’s Commonwealth Builder Program, administered by MassHousing, provides funding for both new construction and adaptive reuse to turn vacant factories or schools in Gateway Cities into affordable home ownership opportunities. 
  • The MA Public Health Association is partnering with Neighbor to Neighbor on an initiative to improve housing and transportation in Springfield and Worcester. They are currently convening residents to get their input, and then will decide on advocacy strategies.  

Addressing climate change: 

Climate change impacts many aspects of our lives. Efforts to combat climate change, and its impact, are underway in Massachusetts, including passage of legislation to dramatically reduce climate emissions. Nonetheless, the harmful impacts of a warming climate are already being felt, in homes and neighborhoods across the Commonwealth.  

The broad scale of the climate crisis, and its already devastating impacts on residents and communities, require urgent, comprehensive, and aggressive strategies.  Currently, there are several such initiatives: 

Energy efficiency and renewable energy: 

Energy efficiency programs mitigate the impacts of climate change, including extreme temperatures.  These programs additionally lower utility costs to enhance affordability and can directly address health hazards, such as windows containing lead-based paint and poor ventilation. 

Massachusetts is in the process of developing its 3-year Energy Efficiency Plan, for calendar years 2022 through 2024, funded by utility ratepayers and guided by a public process overseen by the MA Department of Public Utilities (DPU). Under the current 3-year Plan, the Mass Save Program offers income eligible households in 1-4 family homes no- and low-cost energy efficiency upgrades. Furthermore, through the LEAN Multifamily Program, owners of multifamily projects where at least 50% of the households have incomes at or below 60% of area median income can access no-cost energy upgrades.  

CDCs have used available resources to provide energy efficiency retrofits: 

  • In Calendar Year 2020, CDCs reported energy retrofits on 1,135 units in their rental portfolios. The combined dollar amount of these energy retrofits was $5.3 Million. 
  • In the communities they serve, in CY 2020, CDCs provided funding for energy efficiency improvements for more than 1,500 homes, for a combined amount of $3.9 Million. 

Other initiatives address the need for energy efficiency and renewable energy: 

  • The MA Clean Energy Center, a state economic development agency, provides information, referrals, and resources for everything from weatherization to renewable energy technologies. 
  • Resonant Energy, LISC Boston and MACDC have launched the Solar Technical Assistance Retrofit (STAR) program, designed to remove barriers and dramatically increase the adoption for solar PV across the Commonwealth. 
  • LISC Boston, MACDC, and New Ecology have formed the Clean Energy Cohort, a peer learning group for affordable housing professionals to network, learn, and share information.  


LISC Boston, MACDC, and New Ecology are using our established partnership as a springboard to launch the Decarbonization of Affordable Subsidized Housing (DASH) project. In FY2022, DASH will focus on two main areas: (1) education and technical assistance for CDCs and others in the affordable housing field on the need to decarbonize the affordable housing sector via deep energy retrofits and electrification of new and existing buildings, and (2) policy advocacy to remove barriers, provide incentives, and drive resources to the affordable housing sector so owners can meaningfully accelerate decarbonization. 

The goal of DASH is to get affordable housing a proverbial seat (and meal) at the electrification and building decarbonization table. Toward that end, we intend to surface – and start generating potential solutions for – the financial, technical, and knowledge barriers that are getting in the way of affordable housing fully participating in an all-electric, carbon free future. 

Policy advocacy: 

The Housing and Environmental Revenue Opportunities (HERO) coalition is a diverse coalition of environmental and housing advocacy organizations that are pushing for major new state investments to address the affordable housing and climate crises. HERO urges the Massachusetts State Legislature to enact legislation that would double the current Deeds Excise Tax, upon the sale of real property in Massachusetts, to generate approximately $300 million in new revenue each year, to be split evenly between Affordable Housing and Climate. 

This new revenue would create or preserve additional housing for 18,000 working-class homeowners and renters over 10 years; finance hundreds of millions of dollars in competitive, flexible grants to localities for climate resilience and mitigation; and assist between 3,500 and 6,500 additional extremely low-income families per year with housing vouchers or project-based rental assistance. 

Through a combination of property-level interventions, along with a commitment to and expansion of these programs aimed at addressing climate change and neighborhood disinvestment, we can move the needle on housing quality and associated health outcomes in Massachusetts. In our fifth, and final, blog post, we will suggest ways we can scale up and better align current efforts addressing both underlying conditions as well as property-level distress. Our goal is to identify how a more coordinated, data-driven and better resourced approach can tie together disparate threads to create healthier homes, resulting in healthier communities and healthier residents of those communities. 


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How the Mel King Institute’s Public Housing Training Program is helping one tenant group to bridge divides amongst residents

August 6th, 2021 by Nadine Sanchara

The public housing residents in Salem have a strong tenants organization, and while they face many challenges, the Mel King Institute’s (MKI) Public Housing Training Program is preparing them to work together towards their common goals. 

In a recent interview with the Mel King Institute, Sue Kirby, the President of the tenant group’s board, said she found the MKI training on race, prejudice and bias to be very important. She highlighted the importance of having this foundation from the beginning. 

“I like that the training starts off by focusing on involving all the residents in the tenant group, and helps us understand and overcome the racial dynamics that can divide us against each other. If you can get tenants thinking that way right off the bat, that’s what’s going to make a difference in the long run,” Sue said. 

The Public Housing Training Program, now known as the Resident Leadership Academy, provides trainings for residents of public housing (and now residents of Community Development Corporations) to support their full participation in the oversight of their housing developments.  

Sue is an experienced organizer, and is also on the board of the Salem Housing Authority. She led one of our trainings last December, and then participated in one with nine other Salem residents this past February. Sue said she especially liked that the training addresses the balance of power at the Housing Authority, and how important it is to involve everybody. 

“As a result of the training, I feel like our tenant groups are speaking the same language. We use the materials to help us make decisions and that takes the ego out of things. Our groups have been fortified and we’ve taken a leap forward in getting things done. There’s less tension in the building and people are more ready to claim ownership of the tenant group instead of staying disengaged or hostile,” Sue stated.  

Sue noted that the Salem Housing Authority has a new Executive Director, and one of her [the ED’s] priorities has been to improve the relationship with the tenants. The tenant group has a meeting with the ED once every month, where they are able to voice their concerns. There have been some improvements to their building, and there are other longer-term issues that are taking longer to be resolved. 

One success she noted was the efforts being made to connect Spanish-speaking residents and make materials more accessible for them. She said Spanish-speaking tenants have experienced some language barriers in the past, but the Housing Authority’s documents are now being translated into Spanish and they also have Spanish robo calls. The tenant group was also recently able to get some translation headphones, so that Spanish-speaking tenants can participate in in-person meetings and events. 

The group continues to work diligently towards their goals. Now that COVID restrictions are easing and the weather in nicer, the group has held its first post-pandemic in-person event: a well-attended barbeque. 

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Housing Quality and Health: Revealing the Connections, Addressing the Challenges (Part 3)

July 26th, 2021 by Don Bianchi & Elana Brochin

Revitalize CDC in Springfield improves housing conditions by performing assessments and interventions for adults and children with asthma to safely remain in their home. (Photo credit: Revitalize CDC)


MACDC has long supported its members in their work to improve housing quality. In recent years, MACDC worked with it's members to establish health equity work as a defining characteristic of the contemporary community development movement in Massachusetts. We are now in the beginning stages of an initiative to link these two strands of our work. We would like to engage with as many stakeholders as possible in this process, and, therefore, are publishing this series of blog posts to share out ideas and get your feedback.

Part 3: Current Programs Addressing Property-Level Distress

In our prior blog, we provided a snapshot of current housing quality and safety problems that negatively impact resident and community health.  For each of these problems, we identified the unsafe housing conditions, the resulting health and safety problems, and the impact on at-risk populations.  

 We now turn to an examination of current interventions to address these housing quality problems. Because of the broad dimensions of current efforts, we will cover these efforts in two blogs, the third and fourth in our series: 

  • This blog, our third, will examine current programs focused on addressing property-level distress, including programs to confront lead hazards in homes, poor indoor air quality, and other unsafe housing conditions. 
  • Our following blog will focus on efforts to address broader factors, without which, initiatives to address property-level distress are destined to be inadequate: neighborhood disinvestment, and climate change. 


The fifth and final blog post in our series will identify gaps and advocate for increased investment in and alignment of housing quality and health programming and funding. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) – which will bring more than $8 billion dollars into the Commonwealth of Massachusetts – is a once in a generation opportunity to invest in creating affordable housing, and also to invest in improvements to the quality and safety of Massachusetts existing housing stock, which is among the oldest in the nation. Through investing $100 million in healthy housing and de-leading programs, we can improve the housing stock and improve the health and well-being of residents across the Commonwealth. 


Programs to address lead hazards: 

The Massachusetts Lead Law requires the removal or covering of lead paint hazards in homes built before 1978 where any children under 6 live. A landlord can be held legally responsible if a child living in a unit they own becomes poisoned from lead.  It is illegal under MA law to evict, or refuse to rent to, a family with a young child; this is enforced by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). Yet, 50 years after passage of the Lead Law, we have not come close to addressing the hazards, and landlords routinely discriminate against families with children- underscoring the need for new legislation. 


There are public programs, including the State’s Get the Lead Out Program (GTLO) administered by MassHousing, and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Lead-Based Paint and Lead Hazard Reduction Demonstration Grant Programs that aim to accelerate lead removal from residences.  Local agencies, both public and nonprofit, administer these programs. For example, Worcester’s lead abatement program assists property owners with costs associated with lead abatement and conducts studies to protect children and families from health hazards in their homes. 

The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) offers training to build capacity to address lead hazards and ensure safe lead abatement.  It provides training for renovation, repair, and painting contractors on how to work safely in housing with lead-based paint and comply with EPA's Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) Rule, and HUD's Lead Safe Housing Rule. It also provides Moderate Risk De-leading training to certify contractors, agents and property owners that want to remove lead in Massachusetts on their own.  


Programs to address poor indoor air quality: 

The Environmental Epidemiology Program (EEP) within the State’s Bureau of Environmental Health (BEH) provides information about asthma and the environment and helps to educate the public about the variety of environmental exposures that can trigger asthma attacks. BEH conducts annual asthma surveillance of children ages 5-14 by gender, grade, school, and community in Massachusetts. 


Regulations and incentives to make multi-unit buildings smoke-free can reduce exposure to secondhand smoke which causes asthma, poor blood circulation, heart disease, and lung cancer. For example, as of 2018, all Public Housing Authorities funded by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development are required to implement a smoke-free housing policy. The Massachusetts Smoke-free Housing Project provides support to tenants, landlords, and condominium owners and associations to understand the benefits and challenges of making homes smoke-free.1  


On the local level, public agencies, nonprofits, and healthcare institutions have joined forces to address indoor air quality. The Boston Public Health Commission runs a variety of programs focused on various aspects of home health and indoor air qualityThrough the Boston Asthma Home Visit Collaborative, Community Health Workers conduct home visits to assess the environment for asthma triggers, share information on resources to reduce or eliminate them, and work with the family to create an Asthma Action Plan.  BPHC also offers a training program to help landlords make their properties smoke-free. 

The Springfield Healthy Homes Program is partnership among Revitalize CDC, Baystate Medical Center, Health New England, and the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts. The program connects Springfield residents to services that address a variety housing quality and safety concerns that impact health, including asbestos, asthma triggers, carbon monoxide, and pests, among othersHospitals throughout Massachusetts participate in programs that aim to decrease home asthma triggers. For example, Boston Children’s Hospital’s Community Asthma Initiative conducts home visits to identify asthma triggers and provides tools for asthma mitigation, including vacuums, bedding encasement, and integrated pest management services. 


Programs to address other unsafe conditions in homes (and keep safe homes in that condition): 

Responsible Property Management: In multifamily properties, sound property management practices are essential to providing a safe living environment. One resource for property managers, the New England Affordable Housing Management Association (NEAHMA) provides training to encourage best practices. Through quality property management, proactive maintenance, and timely upgrading and replacement of building systems, properties in good condition can be maintained as such.  


Code Enforcement: Code regulations and enforcement of existing housing quality requirements are a tool for ensuring adequate housing quality and safety. Through the Massachusetts State Sanitary Code, and other laws and regulations, all homes, including those in the private market, are subject to certain minimum standards of health and safety. Tenants in Massachusetts have legal protections from landlords who are not responsive to tenant complaints, including the ability to withhold a portion of the rent or move out, even if there is a lease or rental agreement in place. These rights are described in the MA Attorney General’s Guide to Landlord and Tenant Rights 


Housing Rehabilitation Programs: Several CDCs and many municipalities administer Housing Rehabilitation Programs using public funds such as federal CDBG funding to address code violations and improve living conditions. Hilltown CDC administers its Housing Rehabilitation Program for several towns in its rural region, making funds available to property owners as zero interest deferred-payment loans, with repayment due upon sale or refinancing of the property, and forgiven over time Revitalize CDC in Springfield administers a home improvement program for veteransand others, with a focus on making their homes safe, healthy, accessible, and energy-efficient. 


MassHousing administers a Home Improvement Loan Program, with loans of up to $50,000 to address home repair needs.  MassHousing also assists first-time homebuyers to address home repair needs when their home is purchased through its Loan Program for purchase and rehabilitation. 


The Home Modification Loan Program is a state-funded program that provides loans to homeowners and small landlords to fund changes to keep people with disabilities and elderly individuals in their homes, through improvements such as installing grab bars which can allow elderly residents to safely live in their homes. 


The programs and interventions discussed in this article have addressed health and safety problems in thousands of homes, and dramatically improved the lives of countless families.  In our next blog, we’ll describe existing programs that address two broader problems that must be addressed if we are to sustain property-level improvements: neighborhood disinvestment and climate change. We will then detail the ways in which, through greater program alignment and a significant investment of ARPA dollars, we can improve housing quality and safety for current Massachusetts residents and generations to come. 


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Mel King Institute Public Housing Training Participants Form New Tenant Groups

July 21st, 2021 by Nadine Sanchara

In spring of 2020, just as COVID was ramping up, Judy O’Kulsky began knocking on her neighbors’ doors at the public housing development where she lives in Belchertown, MA. Judy was able to get her neighbors involved in a newly forming tenant group. As of July 2021, the group has held an election, adopted by-laws, and is on the brink of being “officially recognized.” 

Judy took several trainings with the Mel King Institute’s (MKI) Public Housing Training Program (now known as the Resident Leadership Academy) last summer, fall and spring. The Program provides trainings for residents of public housing to support their full participation in the oversight of their housing developments. She has also worked closely with the Mass Union of Public Housing Tenants in getting her LTO up and running. 

In an interview, Judy said getting people on board was slow at first. In many housing developments, residents are held back by fear and sometimes by a sense of hopelessness. After holding many conversations with residents, Judy and others have been able to overcome these barriers and involvement has been good. Eleven people from the Belchertown development participated in the MKI training on how to start a tenants’ organization.  

“As a result of the training, people are excited to get a tenants organization up and running. The training has breathed new life into this place. We’re pretty darn amazing to be able to get this far during COVID! If we can get a tenants’ organization up and running during COVID, there’s nothing we can’t do,” said Judy. 

Over in Greenfield, MA, the residents at the Elm Street development have also started an official tenant group. Along the way, the group experienced some roadblocks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In an interview with MKI, Greenfield resident L’aura Jordan said the tenant group had some months of inactivity. Participation is relatively low at virtual meetings since many residents do not have access to, or knowledge about, the technology required to attend the meetings.  

L’aura also said that some members of their group do not have much experience and understanding of organizing, and that can be a challenge. Despite these challenges, L’aura was happy to report that as a group, they are having important conversations about bridging divides amongst tenants. She said the MKI training has helped them to brainstorm about steps they can take, and that that hearing from other participants at the trainings about their experiences and about what worked for them was very helpful.  

“I’m really grateful that I have had the chance to participate in the trainings, and I hope I can do more, because it has given me tools and awareness that have made a huge difference in how I approach my work in my community,” said L’aura. 

We also interviewed Randi Parks, a Greenfield resident who serves on the Greenfield Housing Authority board. Randi reports that the MKI training is helping residents to learn the system so that they can change, and then help others to change. Randi said she learned a lot about housing through the training, and it helped her to gain the confidence to speak up and act. 

“Everything I know about housing and the board is all because of the Mel King Institute. I wouldn’t have had any other way to learn it. I used to be scared and just sit back and listen at the board meetings, but I realized that I don’t have to do that anymore. I have more backbone because I get what’s going on now. It makes a lot of difference when I know what’s going on.” 

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MACDC Members Stepped up and Responded to the Pandemic, investing $842M in Local Communities – The MACDC GOALs Report

July 20th, 2021 by

2020 was a year unlike any other, and (we hope) will not be replicated any time soon. The human cost of the COVID-19 pandemic has been catastrophic, with more than 3 million people dying worldwide, and well over half a million deaths in the United States. The economic fallout from the pandemic has been no less severe. In Massachusetts, the unemployment rate jumped from 2.9% in March 2020 to over 16% the following month; one year later, it still stands at 6.8%, with many more uncounted.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, the health and economic toll of the pandemic has fallen disproportionately on Communities of Color, starting with the first wave of the pandemic, where an analysis cited in the Boston Globe showed that the mortality rate surged higher in MA cities, towns, and ZIP codes with larger concentrations of poverty, economic segregation, People of Color, and crowded housing. The disproportionate economic disparities persist. 

While CDCs responded quickly and creatively to meet the pandemic-related needs of their communities, it is unsurprising that many regular CDC activities were significantly disrupted in 2020. Many CDC construction projects were delayed by construction bans and other disruptions, so much so that 54% of the homes originally projected to come online in 2020 were delayed until 2021. The result is lower than usual housing production totals in this year’s report, and a corresponding reduction in construction jobs and investment dollars. Many regular CDC programs were also disrupted by public health restrictions. 

CDCs found new ways to serve the needs of their community’s most vulnerable residents. Forty-four CDCs conducted wellness calls and other efforts to ensure resident and community health and safety, and 42 CDCs assisted with food delivery. 

Twenty-six CDCs continued long-standing efforts to support small business entrepreneurs, in old and new ways, helping these entrepreneurs access almost $12 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans and close to $10 million in grants, providing an essential lifeline to these small business owners. To help community residents struggling to pay rent for apartments in the private market, CDCs provided cash assistance totaling $28.2 million in 2020, an increase of $10 million from 2019.

CDCs redoubled their efforts to make their organizations reflective of the communities they serve.  In 2020, 36% of senior staff at CDCs were People of Color, up from 29% in 2019, and the number of CDCs hiring racial equity consultants increased by almost 50%.  

Some have called CDCs “second responders” to reflect the role they play during a crisis as they help people survive, recover, heal, and rebuild. Never has that been truer than in 2020. While the numbers and stories in this short report cannot tell the full story, we hope they give our readers a sense of how CDCs rose to the occasion during this most difficult and trying of times.

Read and download the report here.

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Energy Cohort Meeting Examines Combining Federal Historic Tax Credits with Passive House

July 20th, 2021 by Don Bianchi

Retrofitting vacant and underutilized historic buildings to Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) standards leverages an existing building’s embodied carbon, which combined with low carbon and carbon storing materials, can transform our historic buildings into carbon sinks - a good thing! With careful consideration, the Federal Historic Tax Credit Program (FHTC) can provide an additional source of funding for these ambitious Passive House projects. 


At its July 15th convening, the Energy Cohort, a peer learning group co-convened by LISC BostonMACDC, and New Ecology, featured a presentation by Heather Clark of the Rocky Mountain InstituteCurrently under construction, Moran Square, in Fitchburg, is one of the first affordable, PHIUS, Historic Tax Credit projects in the U.S. The site includes a historic firehouse, a vacant lot, and historic three-story building. The presentation covered how the team managed to meet the rigorous historic requirements of the FHTC Program, while achieving ambitious PHIUS and low carbon construction goals. 


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