A critical question when it comes to addressing racial equity is the diversity of the board, senior staff and staff of an organization. To help provide some insight into whether Certified CDCs in Massachusetts are led by and comprised of diverse boards and staff, MACDC, as a part of the annual state of the sector survey we conduct, the GOALs Report, asks about board and staff diversity. Below are the results from this year’s survey, which was conducted in early 2019 and captures data from calendar year 2018. We plan to collect this data every year so we can track progress.
CDC Organizational Diversity
AVG. POC Board Members
AVG. POC Senior Staff
AVG. POC Staff - *
Greater Boston Suburban Communities
Greater Boston Urban Communities
* Average People of Color (POC) Staff data is rough percentage as MACDC asks for the number of FTEs on staff to the tenth, whereas the POC staff question does not allow any decimalization.
59 state-Certified CDCs reporting out of 61 organizations
Reporting period: 2018
Promoting Racial and Economic Equity through Economic Development: Boston Pilot Program and Small Business Technical Assistance (SBTA) ProgramOctober 30th, 2019
Nuestra Comunidad's now completed Bartlett B Project was a part of the Boston Pilot Program. (Photo courtesy of Nuestra Comunidad)
MACDC has been committed to the movement for racial and economic equity since its inception. To solidify this commitment, MACDC has pledged, in its 2018-2023 Strategic Plan, to contribute to the movement by working in four areas of economic development.
“We will continue our long-standing commitment to expanding small business development as a means of building wealth and community assets. To further reduce geographic inequity, we will help to build thriving neighborhoods and rural communities with stores, services, jobs, amenities, transportation and other assets and opportunities. We intend to help our members deliver effective financial empowerment programs to reduce income and wealth inequality. Finally, we will advocate for public policies that promote greater racial and geographic equity. To advance this vision, CDCs, Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and other community-based groups will need enhanced capacity, access to resources, and stronger public policies.”
Boston Pilot Program
A key initiative in this effort is the Boston Pilot program. In 2012, MACDC and the Massachusetts Minority Contractors Association (MMCA) launched a pilot initiative to achieve higher rates of minority- and women-business participation in CDC-sponsored construction projects in the city of Boston. Four years later, we expanded the partnership (Phase II) to include four more CDCs and to extend the program to Greater Boston.
The original program included six Boston-based CDCs (Madison Park Development Corporation, Dorchester Bay EDC, Jamaica Plain NDC, Codman Square NDC, Nuestra Comunidad, and Urban Edge) that originally enrolled 12 projects in the program and generated collectively more than $61 million in business opportunities for minority- and women-owned businesses (M/WBEs). Four additional CDCs – Somerville Community Corporation (SCC), Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH), Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion (IBA), and Asian CDC – have now joined the partnership and, collectively, have identified 25 projects with total development cost of $634 million, expected to be completed by 2021.
CDCs participating in the program commit to (1) best faith efforts to achieve 30% MBE and 10% WBE utilization on these construction projects, (2) meaningful opportunities for MBEs and WBEs to serve as general contractors, (3) meaningful opportunities to provide professional services to the project (i.e. legal, architecture, consulting, engineering) and (4) to participate in regular meetings that offer peer-learning, trouble-shooting, and networking events with the broader M/WBE business communities to advance the goals of each CDC and the program overall.
While the focus of this program remains on M/WBE participation – projects reporting as of March 2019 reflect rates of 32% MBE and 9% WBE Contractor Procurement percentages – there is consistent evidence that achieving these goals also will result in the hiring of more people of color on these projects, thereby achieving additional value in our efforts to increase the diversity of the workforce and for expanding economic opportunity across our communities.
Small Business Technical Assistance
Another key initiative promoting racial and economic equity is the Small Business Technical Assistance (SBTA) program.
The Small Business Technical Assistance (SBTA) grant program has been successfully serving businesses for over a decade, and MACDC has been the principal statewide advocacy organization promoting increased funding for this program. The program is also supported by the Black and Latino Advisory Commissions both of which embraced the program in 2019 in their first set of priorities and recommendations.
After leading a statewide campaign, MACDC was grateful in July when the Baker administration and the Legislature agreed to increase funding for this program to $3.1 million in FY 2020 – a 50% increase from the prior year – that will empower an outstanding network of “Grantees,” – CDCs, CDFIs, and other community-based groups – to continue to help small businesses grow and thrive in every community. These grants range from $10,000 to $120,000 and allow CDCs and other community-based organizations to provide customized management and operational assistance, financial training, and lending services to small businesses. These resources are targeted to serving low- and moderate-income communities.
MACDC also has advocated for a related Microlending and Community Development Capital Program, which was reauthorized through the 2018 economic development bond bill at $1.25 million. The Microlending program enables program partners to leverage more federal and private funding. For example, the national CDFI program requires a dollar-for-dollar match, and the Small Business Administration Micro Loan Program requires a 15% local match. This program helps Massachusetts leverage more of these funds. This year, the Baker Administration is making $250,000 available through this program and we will be advocating to increase that number next year.
Massachusetts needs a strong network of community-based small business programs in order to address decades of structural and systemic racism that has led to the racial wealth gap in Massachusetts and across this country. By advocating for the Small Business Technical Assistance and Micro Lending programs, we hope to contribute to closing that gap and helping more people of color and immigrants build their business, create wealth and expand opportunities for communities of color across the state.
The Mel King Institute’s Public Housing Training Program is taking steps to ensure racial equity is intertwined in its trainings/activitiesOctober 30th, 2019
After two years of trainings, the Public Housing Training Program is updating its Resident Leader Training curriculum. A group of residents, trainers and partners has come together to make the curriculum more interactive and more grounded in resident experiences, and to add a stronger racial equity lens.
The Mel King Institute for Community Building launched the Public Housing Tenant Training Program in 2016 with the purpose of increasing the voice of residents as stakeholders in decision-making in public housing management and administration. Trainings are conducted by Sarah Byrnes, Manager of the MKI Public Housing Training Program, along with co-trainers and residents. Since its first training in 2017, across the Commonwealth, the Public Housing Training Program (PHTP) has trained more than 250 residents, equipping them with the knowledge they need to fully participate in the oversight of their housing authorities.
The current Resident Leader curriculum focuses on skills such as outreach, conflict resolution, and running meetings in order to help tenants start or sustain tenant groups. “After two years of conducting trainings, it became clear that we needed to be more explicit about our values around racial inclusion,” says Sarah. “Public housing communities are often wonderfully diverse, and many residents are looking for tools to make sure that their tenant groups include everyone. This will impact the way they do everything from outreach to running meetings.”
The first step in the process was a Racial Equity Train-the-Trainer session, so that the curriculum committee could seek shared understanding around race and racism in the United States. With participants from a variety of cultures, races and nationalities, the conversation was spirited, informative, and sometimes challenging. The group learned about racism as a manifestation of both prejudice and power, about the four levels of racism, and about the history of white supremacy. The two-day session included time for race-based affinity groups, which the residents enjoyed so much that they decided to keep meeting monthly in online affinity groups!
While the group is still defining what a “racial equity lens” means to them, these conversations laid the groundwork for a shared definition. Sarah believes that in addition to centering inclusion, as mentioned above, “A goal for the curriculum is that it will also empower facilitators to confront implicit biases when they show up, and to convey our lessons about race, racism and white supremacy as needed.” More residents will also be invited to participate in the online affinity groups as follow up to the trainings.
Currently, the team is making plans to offer a training based on the “spiral” framework. This framework centers resident experiences and helps residents see common patterns in those experiences as a basis for building inclusive networks. After testing out this framework, the group will return to the conversation about racial equity in order to adapt the spiral framework and other materials into a cohesive whole. They expect to start using the new curriculum early in 2020.
Ever since the civil rights movement gave birth to the community development movement in the 1960s, racial justice has been at the core of our work. At times, this commitment to racial fairness and equality has been front and center in our work; other times it has receded as practitioners have focused on getting deals done, securing contracts, implementing programs and managing the day to day business of implementing community development efforts. And throughout our 50+ year history as a field, we have struggled to recruit and retain professional staff that reflect the communities in which we operate.
In recent years, MACDC has undertaken a variety of efforts to address these shortcomings – from making racial equity an explicit core value of the organization, to requiring all staff to attend anti-racism training, to sponsoring a variety of initiatives designed to help people of color enter, advance and lead the community development field, and pursuing policies and programs that seek to address long-standing racial inequities in housing, employment, business and elsewhere.
However, as part of our strategic planning process, it became clear that we were not doing enough and more important we were not making adequate progress. We heard repeatedly from internal and external stakeholders that diversity, equity and inclusion had to be a core priority for our organization and our field. As a result, our new strategic plan, adopted in 2018, identifies racial equity as one of our core priorities for the next five years. We see this work as infusing every aspect of our organization including our staff, our board, our membership and all four major program areas where MACDC is active: member services, the Mel King Institute for Community Building; policy and advocacy; and research and innovation.
This special edition of the Notebook contains several articles by MACDC staff members about how we are working to advance diversity, equity and inclusion within the community development field and how we are attacking the deep and persistent racial inequities that pervade our society.
As the current and future board chairs of MACDC, we wanted to share a bit about how the Board of Directors is looking in the mirror and seeking to apply a racial equity framework to how we operate. In 2017 and 2018, the MACDC Board participated in the NeighborWorks America Excellence in Governance program as way to strengthen our overall board governance. We identified diversity, equity and inclusion as one of the areas where we needed to improve. We worked with our NeighborWorks coach to develop a specific action plan to improve the diversity of our board and to change our board culture in ways that would make it possible for everyone to fully and authentically participate. We also committed ourselves to developing a deeper leadership pipeline to provide more opportunities for emerging leaders of color to demonstrate their talents.
One of the first things we did as a group was to participate in the YWCA Racial Equity Dialogue Series. This program involves five, two hour sessions with the board and staff where we learned about each other, gained a shared analysis and language for discussing racial equity and covered important topics like micro aggressions, implicit bias, and historic/structural racism. The sessions uncovered important areas for us to focus and brought us closer together as a group and as colleagues.
We were able to immediately put these sessions to work on April 25 when we met with Governor Charlie Baker as part of our annual lobby day at the State House. We had given the Governor the book “The Color of Law” at the MACDC Convention in October 2018 and he had expressed a desire to discuss the book with us at a future meeting. Sure enough, we had a terrific conversation with the Governor about the book, housing segregation and discrimination and what we need to do. Board members were able to speak from the heart and really challenge the Governor to take action. We believe this was made possible by the trust we had in each other, thanks to the YWCA sessions. As you’ll read about later in this notebook, the Governor has taken some important steps since our meeting to close the racial homeownership gap in Massachusetts.
As a woman of color from Boston and a white male from rural Western Massachusetts, we share a deep commitment to this work. We enjoy a certain level of privilege as professionals and community leaders. The success of our efforts will always be measured by our moral compass. It is imperative that whenever we are able to speak truth to power that we remind our privileged leaders of their responsibility to ensure equity for all Americans.
We believe racial equity is relevant to community and economic development work, and we are united in our commitment to make sure that MACDC lives up to its aspirations and founding values. It is time for us to address racial inequality and put in place the policies and incentives needed to transform our communities to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.
We encourage you to read the articles in this newsletter, to share with us your reactions, thoughts and suggestions, to work with us when you can and to challenge us when we fall short. Thank you!
The Community Development Mentoring Program: Building inter-racial professional relationships and supporting the pipelineOctober 29th, 2019
“The Mentoring program helped bring us to a deeper level I wish more people would have. It allowed me to be honest and candid in a way that I couldn’t have been with other white people. It was refreshing to hear (my mentor’s) thoughts and opinions. It helped me shape and look at things differently too.” Mentee
MACDC launched the Community Development Mentoring program in 2005 to address the retention and advancement of professionals of color in the field. Mentoring participants come from across the field: CDCs, intermediaries, banks, law firms, municipalities, universities, consultants, planning agencies, nonprofits and foundations - a true representation of the community development field. The program is administered by MACDC and CHAPA, the young professionals’ program, and it lives within the Mel King Institute’s the Alliance for Racial Equity. The program runs for 9 months and will begin the next cycle’s application process in Spring 2020.
Initially engaging only mentees of color, a few years ago we shifted to include white mentees and added an overall racial equity lens to the cohort learning sessions. This was in part, to connect the program to the mission of the Alliance for Racial Equity, the coalition which houses the effort. The Alliance has individual and organizational members, including CHAPA, who co- administers the program. One of the key principles of the Alliance is that Leaders and others within the community development movement acknowledge the existence of race and racism in our organizations and communities and demonstrate the will and the commitment to address these issues.
As community development staff we need to understand the history of racism in the US, and in the communities we serve, and be able to articulate its impacts upon our work. The racial equity learning, networking, and professional relationship building create a space for dialogues on race and support the mentoring pair to learn, grow and challenge assumptions. The learning is reciprocal and includes building awareness of race on the intrapersonal, interpersonal, institutional and systemic levels and our roles on each level. In our recent report evaluating the program impact, conducted by Diane Gordon, who interviewed several program alumni, we found the following outcomes:
- The program is meeting the expectations for both mentees and mentors;
- The program has had a direct and positive impact on participants;
- The most impactful element was the match and one on one time; and
- For interracial pairs the program had a profound impact on their relationship and their ability to have honest conversations about race
Feedback on the cross racial relationships revealed deepened connections:
“I came to understand why some people lacked confidence given everything that’s been thrown at her. Sharing of different perspectives was immensely valuable. Having someone you care about, you learn about those issues at a deep level - it changes things. I see expressions, manifestations of racism in different ways now.” Mentor
“My relationship with my mentor is one of the most meaningful relationships I’ve been able to have with a white person.” ~Mentee
We also found that the participating mentees increased their confidence, strengthened their leadership and project skills, and enhanced their professional networks as a result of the mentoring relationship. Mentees reported receiving support on their resumes, refining career goals, and learning about new career advancement opportunities. Some were able to apply for more senior positions in the field. We found that 28% of the 2017 mentee cohort were able to advance to a more senior position.
Mentors also found value in the relationship noting:
- Expanded professional networks;
- Awareness of the barriers for professionals of color and the challenge of addressing racial inequities; and
- The rewarding experience of giving back and connecting with a young professional.
Clearly, all of us want (and need) to expand our professional networks across the traditional barriers of age, gender, race and ethnicity. This program is making that possible for its participants.
A few of the challenges that were identified in the research include the declining numbers of CDC staff and mentees of color over the years. As the program has grown to include white mentees, we have a larger cohort overall, yet we haven’t grown the percentage of professionals of color. We need a more diverse group of mentors representing a wider spectrum of community development content areas. This would create greater professional development alignment and cohesion of the mentoring pairs.
And finally, we need to increase our capacity to establish and maintain an Alumni network, with over 130 people having participated in the program, that is a tremendous network that could add value to the careers of other professionals finding their way in a community development career. After nearly 15 years of programming we have had several mentors serve two or three program cycles and one former mentee, who envisioned herself in the role of project manager, now mentoring in that very role!
At the MACDC Convention in October 2018, we gave Governor Charlie Baker (and his opponent at the time, Jay Gonzalez) a copy of a new book by Richard Rothstein called “The Color of Law.” This book documents the centuries of discriminatory housing and land use laws that systemically segregated our communities and denied African Americans and other people of color the opportunity to buy homes, accumulate equity, and to pass that wealth onto their children. We wanted our Governor (regardless of who won the election last November) to understand that history so he could understand why white people in Massachusetts are more than twice as likely to own their own home as a person of color. This represents the 3rd worse homeownership gap in the country.
Policy makers – as well as advocates and community leaders – need to understand that history so we can change it. Indeed, the community development movement was created, in part, to redress some of these discriminatory policies and practices – urban renewal, redlining, and housing discrimination. For 50 years, we have fought to expand access to safe and fair mortgages, to educate first-time homebuyers and to build homes that moderate income people can afford to buy.
Last year, MACDC adopted a strategic plan that made closing the racial homeownership gap a top priority. Our first step in advancing that effort was at the October 2018 Convention where we pushed the candidates for Governor on how they would close the racial homeownership gap and presented them with the Color of Law. A few weeks after the Convention, the Baker Administration asked us to prepare a white paper outlining potential strategies for addressing this challenge. The Administration then established the Racial Equity Advisory Council for Homeownership and appointed MACDC and other housing experts to serve on the Council early in 2019.
Over the next nine months, MACDC – in partnership with many allies, has made significant progress:
- The Legislature has increased funding available for homeownership education and foreclosure counseling from $2.05 Million to $2.85 Million in the FY 2020 budget;
- Governor Baker has announced a $60 million new homeownership development program with the specific goal of reducing the racial homeownership gap through the development of 500 new affordable homes;
- The Governor and the Legislature appear poised to appropriate $10 million in new money to provide down-payment assistance grants to first time homebuyers;
- MACDC partnered with four member CDCs, Winn Companies and Compass Working Capital to secure from HUD the first in the nation CDC Collaborative to implement the Family Self Sufficiency program for CDC residents;
- The REACH Council has adopted and is now working to implement four new initiatives designed to help people of color and others obtain homeownership, including:
- Targeted Marketing of My Mass Mortgage and State Mortgage Products
- Rental to Homeownership Pilot
- Downpayment Initiative and Interest Rate Buydown
- Relief for Borrowers with Student Loan Debt
The racial homeownership gap is the result of decades and centuries of discrimination. It won’t be easy to reverse. But we are excited by the renewed attention to this issue and the growing momentum to adopt policies, programs and funding to begin moving the needle in the right direction.
Image courtesy of the Boston Public Health Commission’s Racial Justice and Health Equity Initiative.
Massachusetts recently opened the door for community organizations to engage with health care institutions in moving the needle on what are commonly referred to as “Social Determinants of Health.” Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) are the conditions in which we live, work, and age and which impact our health outcomes. The Department of Public Health’s (DPH) recently updated Determination of Need (DoN) regulations and the Attorney General’s Office’s (AGO) updated Community Benefits Guidelines both emphasize that investment in SDoH is necessary to move the needle on health care outcomes. In particular, the DoN regulations identified the following Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) as priority areas: built environment, social environment, education, employment, violence, and housing. These same priorities were adopted in the AGO’s Community Benefits Guidelines.
In addition to emphasizing SDoH, the DoN subregulations describe an opportunity for “the Commonwealth to address health inequities based on race, class, and other socioeconomic factors, which are a result of historical policies and practices.” The AGO Guidelines further assert that “Racism has an independent influence on all social determinants of health, and racism in and of itself has a harmful impact on health.” Together, these guidelines open the door for community advocates to move health care policy conversations towards explicitly addressing racism as a social determinant of health.
The challenge to organizations like MACDC is how to effectively push health care institutions to adopt racial justice as the primary lens with which to address health inequities. MACDC has been engaged in moving health care institutional focus toward racial equity through active engagement with:
The Boston Community Health Needs Assessment Collaborative – Several Boston area hospitals recently collaborated on a joint Boston Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) for the first time. MACDC recognizes this collaboration as an opportunity to help direct the more than $180 million these hospitals spend annually on Community Benefits Programs. In light of our recognition of the importance of this collaboration, MACDC engaged in the CHNA process through assigning two of our members to the CHNA Steering Committee, attending community forums to prioritize goals and craft strategic approaches to achieving these goals, submitting a detailed letter to the Boston Collaborative, and submitting a detailed strategy document to the Collaborative. Through these channels, MACDC expressed support for naming the achievement of racial and ethnic health equity as a core focus/aspirational goal in which specific health goals would be encapsulated. We were pleased to the see that the Boston CHNA Collaborative ultimately adopted a lens of racial equity in their completed Community Health Needs Assessment.
The Alliance for Community Health Integration’s Housing and Health Policy Work Group – Through our membership in the Alliance for Community Health Integration (ACHI), MACDC has been part of an effort to engage health care institutions around high-level housing policy issues. This effort has resulted in a statement of principles for which ACHI is in the process of gathering signatures and two webinars that provide a high-level overview of housing policy for health care providers and executives. Because African Americans and other communities of color are disproportionately affected by housing challenges and disproportionately bear the burden of poor health outcomes, our work is inherently rooted in racial equity. Furthermore, our ongoing challenge is how to use this platform to further push health care institutions to explicitly address structural racism in the way that they talk about and address health inequity in their communities.
Our engagement in the ACHI Health and Housing Policy Work Group and with the Boston CHNA Collaborative are important areas in which to challenge health care institutions to adopt a racial equity lens. As health care institutions continue to define their missions, agendas, and programs under the new state guidance, it is our job, as anti-racist community advocates, to continue to challenge health care institutions to tackle their community health work from a racial equity perspective.
“A nation that keeps one eye on the past is wise. A nation that keeps two eyes on the past is blind” – mural on a wall in Belfast, Ireland
Earlier this month, MACDC brought a group of 20 affordable housing professionals to Ireland for an 8-day learning journey hosted by the Irish Council for Social Housing which represents non-profit affordable housing organizations throughout the Republic of Ireland a.k.a. the “MACDC of Ireland”! For me it was an exciting opportunity to visit Ireland for the first time, to learn about the deep connections between Ireland and the Irish community in Massachusetts, to learn how housing challenges are being addressed in a different context and to build new and stronger relationships with my colleagues. I brought home many memories and wanted to share a few of them in this blog.
Our trip, which was wonderfully organized by Crystal Travel in West Roxbury, began in Wexford where we attended the Council’s biennial conference with 300 housing professionals. ICSH Executive Director, Donal McManus and ICSH Membership Coordinator Catherine McGillycuddy made all of us feel incredibly welcome – joining us for dinner, inviting Chrystal Kornegay and Rob Corley to speak on panels, introducing a few of us to the Irish Housing Minister, Eoghan Murphy, and inviting some of us to sit at the head table during the Awards Gala (I was able to sit next to a member of the Irish Parliament and meet the Mayor of Wexford).
Throughout the conference, there was significant discussion about environmental sustainability and green building design as well as rigorous discussion about new regulatory oversight of the non-profit sector. Ireland is even considering banning natural gas hook ups, a policy already adopted in the Netherlands. Housing Minister Murphy talked about escalating rents in Dublin and compared it to Somerville, MA just to help us understand (apparently, he has been to Somerville!) At the evening gala dinner, we watched the awards ceremony which frankly blew away anything that MACDC has ever done, with inspiring music and an exciting light show accompanying each award announcement! The next day we drove to Galway with a visit to a supportive housing facility developed by NOVAS called the Brother Russell House in Limerick for people living with addiction and then a stop at the Cliffs of Moher.
In Galway, we had a wonderful seminar at the National University of Ireland – Galway with Professor Padraic Kenna. Dr. Kenna has written a 1,000-page book on the history of Irish Social Housing and he is a wonderful speaker and teacher. He also joined us for a pint at a local pub on Saturday night! After lunch, we visited a couple of family housing schemes (their word not mine) developed by Tuath Housing – one of the largest housing nonprofits in the country.
On Sunday, we visited the Connemara region where we visited a senior housing development in Clifden developed by another large nonprofit agency called Cluid. Many of the people we met had spent years living in Boston or other parts of the United States, before returning home in retirement (see photo below). Driving through the region, we enjoyed the beautiful rural countryside which is unlike any place I can recall being. Rob Corley, the CEO of NeighborWorks Housing Solutions and one of the organizers of the trip is originally from this region and we got to see his grandparent’s house and learn about his family history. On the road to Dublin, we sang Irish Ballads together (albeit poorly) and then Michael O’Conner honored us by singing one song himself. His beautiful voice and beaming smile told us everything about what it meant to be in his home country. A few hours later, as we pulled into Dublin, we put U2 on the speaker and sang together once again!
Our next visit was to Dublin where we had a 13-hour day of visits, meetings and meals with different housing leaders. We toured the Bull Alley Estate, an affordable housing development built by The Iveagh Trust over a hundred years ago! The Trust was founded by the Guinness Family in the 1890s and is still run by the family with the mission of providing social housing to those who need it. We later met with the Housing Agency, the government agency that provides funding and oversight for the social housing sector in Ireland. Here we learned a bit more about how projects are financed (hint: it is simpler than in the USA), about the challenges of austerity, and even the emergence of short term rent control in Dublin as a way to deal with skyrocketing rents. (Dublin’s rent control is focused on neighborhoods with particularly high rent increases and the cap is 4% per year until 2021). Our final visit in Dublin was to the Ballymun neighborhood. In the 1960s, the government built tall, dense social housing in this neighborhood which quickly declined much like similar developments in the United States. Twenty years ago, the neighborhood began undergoing a complete and total redevelopment that sought to deconcentrate poverty and improve neighborhood amenities. Progress has been slow – especially due to the economic crash 10 years ago – and the neighborhood leader who we met was clearly frustrated and angry with the pace of progress. But like neighborhood leaders here, he was undeterred and remained passionate about the place he and his family have called home for over 50 years.
Our final day was spent in Belfast. Crossing into Northern Ireland is both simple - (we just drove across the border like crossing into New Hampshire) and emotional – you feel the weight of history the moment you arrive. We began with a visit to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, a massive government agency with 3,500 employees and 88,000 units under management. We were able to meet with Peter Roberts who is essentially in charge of all housing funds in Northern Ireland. They no longer build their own housing due to government austerity in the United Kingdom, but they finance housing developed by non-profit housing associations. The NIHE was created in 1971 specifically to address the housing issues emanating from the “troubles” and seeks to offer housing on a non-discriminatory basis throughout the region. NIHE leaders took us on the tour of the neighborhoods and we got to see first hand the “Peace Walls” that divide Catholic Nationalist and Protestant Unionist neighborhoods throughout the City (to learn more about the Peace Walls, I highly recommend this PODCAST). These walls were built to reduce violence but they remain today, 20 years after the Good Friday Peace Agreement. Many of the walls are covered with murals that honor those who died and align with other social movements across the world. The walls evoked strong emotions in all of us and raised deep questions about security, peace, cohesion and justice. NIHE officials are working with local communities to build the trust necessary to remove the walls but they only move as fast as the slowest people in the neighborhoods. Some of us thought that was too slow, but of course, none of us will have to live with the consequences of removing the walls. We did visit one neighborhood where the wall has been successfully removed so perhaps there is reason for optimism.
Our next visit was to a mixed housing community where Catholic Nationalists and Protestant Unionists live together in social housing developed by a local nonprofit. Housing schemes that are no more than 70% of one group are able to receive extra funding to support programs and services that promote integration and cohesion. 78% of the people on social housing waiting lists have expressed preference for mixed housing. The housing in Northern Ireland is financed under the U.K. system where the developer receives a grant for 50% of the TDC, a loan for the other 50%, and an operating subsidy to cover the gap between tenant rents and operating costs. Many tenants pay no rent and the average is around 15-18% of their income.
The final visit of the day and the trip was perhaps the most inspiring and exciting. Thanks to an introduction from the Oak Foundation which funds housing groups in Boston and Belfast, we were able to visit an Irish Language Institute called Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich in West Belfast. According to their website, the Institute is “home to a range of different Irish language, artistic and cultural activities for everyone in the community. Irish language classes, art workshops, céilithe, events for young people, concerts and art exhibitions all take place throughout the year.” The current executive director told us that his parents and other activists in the 1960s formed an Irish Language School in defiance of the British Government. He was educated there and the school became a symbol of the resistance movement because the government refused to acknowledge or fund the school. Nationalists were able to point out the hypocrisy of the government claiming they wanted peace while they denying support for an Irish Language School.
We then heard from Dessie Donnelly the executive director of Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR), a community organizing organization. Dessie described their human rights approach to tenant organizing and how they are building power for low income people in both Catholic and Protestant communities. His organization is challenging the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the government in general to confront the deep inequities in their society and the structural obstacles that perpetuate them. He pointed out that Catholics must wait longer for social housing than Protestants because there is much greater need in the Catholic Community (in two adjacent neighborhoods the need was 938 homes in Catholic district and 38 homes in Protestant district). While all of us were tired at the end of the day and the end of a busy week, we left the visit inspired and energized at the idealism and tenacity of these activists.
Spending eight days travelling with colleagues in Ireland was a privilege that I won’t soon forget. Let me share a few of my lasting impressions and memories.
- I love to travel and I certainly love to travel with my family. At the same time, travelling with a group that is diverse in age, race, language, gender, and family history is particularly enlightening. Each of us saw things through the lens of our own particular history and experience. For the Irish in our group, this was home. I could sense how much they enjoyed sharing their home country with the rest of us and I was able to gain a better understanding of the country and the culture by experiencing it with them. At our final dinner, some of the people of color on the trip remarked how being in Ireland felt dramatically different than being in the United States even though the country is 99% white. I think all of us gained new insights to oppression, religious conflict and power dynamics by being there together. I believe seeing these dynamics play out in another country can help us understand the dynamics in our own country.
- One particularly fun aspect of this group was the mix of ages and experience within the group. Thanks to a grant from the Kuehn Foundation, we were able to offer scholarships to younger professionals who would not otherwise be able to afford such an experience. Everyone enjoyed hanging out with people from different generations. Not only was it a great opportunity for young professionals to spend quality unstructured time with senior leaders in our field, but it was a chance for the “OGs” (old guys & gals) to learn some new things too! And it was a chance for all of us to expand our networks and enhance our ability to work with different people and understand different perspectives. The magic of travel is that our job titles melt away and we are just friends having fun together. This trip was designed to be a professional development opportunity and I’m confident we achieved our goals in that regard. Community development is fundamentally about relationships and all of us now have deeper and stronger relationships with each other.
- One clear take away from the trip is that we are not alone in our affordable housing challenges. While the financing details are different, both of our countries struggle with the same challenges – low wages that can’t sustain market rents; long waiting lists for subsidized housing; large and growing numbers of people suffering from addiction; an aging population; and resistance to new housing development. I would like to report that we found the silver bullet we are seeking, but I can’t. But I can report that Ireland, like Massachusetts, has thousands of dedicated and passionate colleagues who work hard every day to make sure everyone has a place to call home.
- There are about 500 nonprofit social housing organizations in Ireland ranging in size from purely volunteer associations with 10-20 units to large, national organizations with thousands of units. It does not appear that Ireland has organizations like CDCs that bring a resident driven comprehensive approach to community development at the local level. The groups tend to be focused entirely on housing, with some focused on special needs populations. The government is declaring some nonprofits to be governmental entities because they are so reliant on public funding – a designation that most of the groups do not want! All nonprofits are facing stiffer oversight with respect to governance, financial management and performance similar to what NeighborWorks America requires for its affiliates. The government has divided the sector into three tiers based on sized and the regulations are scaled on that basis. I was intrigued by the idea that agencies must “comply or explain” why they don’t comply. This gives groups some flexibility and helps them move toward compliance in a structured and realistic manner.
- The trip caused me to reflect on the power of history. Irish history is filled with sadness, oppression and struggle and that history clearly manifests in Irish culture. Like other groups that have faced challenges, the Irish seek to remember and honor those who sacrificed and struggled. No doubt this is important and necessary. At the same time, history can also be a trap and this felt particularly true in Northern Ireland where the memory of the troubles and the centuries of British rule can be an obstacle to reconciliation and peace. The mural quoted above succinctly summarizes that tension – one that I feel challenges the Jewish people and so many others. Belfast is filled with murals honoring the dead – do those murals provide a foundation for moving to the future or do they hold the community back? I don’t know the answer to that question.
- I have lived in Boston for over 30 years, so I’m certainly familiar with the Boston Irish community but this trip expanded my understanding and appreciation for this community in new ways. While I had never thought about it before, I think I had always viewed the Irish community as being similar to the Jewish Community, albeit much larger, in that both communities arrived in this country as immigrants. Jewish immigrants like my grandparents came to America and left the old country behind. We were not really from Russia or Belarus anyhow – we were Jews and the Jewish Community we left behind no longer exists. We don’t have a home country – we only have America. I think I implicitly figured that the Irish were similar. But being in Ireland – with my Irish friends – drove home for me the deep and ongoing connections between Boston and Ireland. Nearly every person we met had been to Boston or had relatives in Boston or both. My fellow Irish travelers have cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents still living in Ireland. It is one community living in two places but united by history, culture and blood. Yes, I probably always knew this, but now I understand it in a new way. And it gives me a better understanding of what so many immigrants experience – feeling attached to two places and always missing one or the other while loving both.
During one of our first bus rides, I was sitting with a colleague who asked me what I like about working at MACDC. Not surprisingly, I had a long list to share. But one thing I neglected to say seems particularly important to say now. One of the great things about working at MACDC is that I get to travel abroad with colleagues and come home with new insights, memories and friends!
“Why is it important for you and your organization/institution to undo racism?” This question was posed to participants on the opening night of The People’s Institute’s Undoing Racism training. As everyone in the room introduced themselves and answered this question, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Can racism even be undone?”
In September, three MACDC staff members and two resident leaders in the Mel King Institute’s Public Housing Training Program participated in the Undoing Racism workshop. The two-and-a-half-day workshop challenges participants to analyze the structures of power and privilege that hinder social equity, and prepare them to be effective organizers for justice.
Anti-racism training is mandatory for all MACDC staff members, as part of our internal efforts to advance racial equity. This year, our newest staff members, Communications and Operations Fellow (that’s me), Nadine Sanchara, and the Mel King Institute’s Community Engagement Fellow, Bianca Diaz, participated in The People’s Institute Undoing Racism training. Manager of the Public Housing Training Program, Sarah Byrnes, did the training for the second time, this time alongside two residents in the program.
The training took place at Tent City’s Community Room, which, given its history, was quite an appropriate location. About 40 participants sat in a circle in the large room, a deliberate set up so that we can look at each other, and everyone would be equally engaged. The first night of the training was set aside for introductions. Once that was out of the way, the next two full days were available for a deep dive into racism in America and how it impacts community organizing.
We examined the history of racism and explored topics such as power, internalized superiority/inferiority, and gatekeeping, among others. Many difficult, but necessary, conversations were had. One thing in particular that stuck with me was the use of language to perpetuate racial stereotypes. Even as a person who works in communications every day, I often fail to think about the words I use and what they mean to the people they are describing – often because many of these words and phrases have become socially acceptable.
Another part of the training that stood out to me was a segment where everyone had to say what they liked about being of a particular ethnic group. People were grouped into the “standard” ethnic groups: White, Black, Asian, Latinx, and Indigenous. I had some difficulty answering this question. I am of Indian descent, born and raised in Guyana, South America. I identify as Indo-Guyanese or Indo-Caribbean. I moved to the US four years ago and that was when I became “Asian,” since I often have no other choice but to check the box for Asian when filling out paperwork. This really made me think of how people are sometimes forced into certain boxes. America is so diverse, yet everyone must somehow fit into these five categories. Sometimes, when I’m asked the race/ethnicity question, I completely ignore the boxes and write my own thing. I feel a little rebellious when doing this, but it’s my tiny effort to step out of the box.
One resident leader who attended the training said, “It was intense and very much needed. I look forward to applying all I learned to my work with other residents.” As for me, I left on the final day of the training with the realization that I have some introspection to do, and a lot to learn. Whether racism can be undone, I am optimistic, but I think it will be a long and difficult process. The trainers emphasized that this work must be done “from the grassroots up, and from the insides out.” So, I will start with myself and with those closest to me. I have a list of books to read, and podcasts to listen to. I will try my best to think more critically about my words and my actions. And I plan to continue to have those difficult conversations with my family, friends, and colleagues.