Authored by Allison Staton
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Ticking Time Bombs

December 19th, 2011 by Allison Staton

Back in October, in the pouring rain, a group of people got on a small school bus and drove around different neighborhoods in Worcester. The Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Business had sponsored a tour to examine community economic development throughout Massachusetts. The tour took legislators, municipal officials, small business owners, housing advocates and others to Springfield, Beverly, Kingston, Brewster and Boston.

But an organizer from Main South CDC in Worcester said something on the bus that cold rainy day that predicted a sad story in months to come.

Casey Starr knelt on the school bus seat so everyone could hear her as she talked about the transformation of the Kilby-Gardner-Hammond neighborhood across the street from the leafy green campus of Clark University. She told tales of crime, vacant homes and frightened residents. During the tour she pointed out new homes with solar panels, a gleaming Boys and Girls Club and tree lined streets. Even under the gray clouds the neighborhood was inviting and bright. But this transformation did not happen overnight. It is part of a multi-decade plan to revitalize nearly eight acres of inner city streets and vacant industrial land. It was led by community residents and Main South CDC.

As the bus was leaving the neighborhood, she pointed out several homes which were the opposite of inviting and bright. These privately owned houses were falling apart. Casey told of frequent 911 calls because of squatters’ illicit activities. She told of concerns when the crime spills into the neighborhood and the fear of a fire starting in one of the buildings. Her face changed as she said “we worry that something really terrible could happen.”

A few months later, that terrible something happened in another neighborhood of Worcester. On December 8tha fire roared through a blighted property in the Oak Hill neighborhood, killing a firefighter and injuring his partner. The Oak Hill neighborhood surrounds Worcester Academy, a private day and boarding school founded in 1834 that sits on an elegant campus encased in grand iron gates. Outside those gates is a neighborhood reeling from foreclosures, struggling to keep small businesses open and coping with crime and poverty.

The fire in Arlington Street building that killed the firefighter was blocks from the leafy private school campus. A building that had generated frequent calls to 911, that had squatters and caused neighbors to worry had become the place where “something really terrible” actually happened.

The transformation of neighborhoods like Main South and Oak Hill continues – led by dedicated neighbors unwilling to give up. But it takes time, resources, and capacity to reclaim blighted buildings that are dragging down neighborhoods. Blighted buildings that are really ticking time bombs. Time bombs that can devastate.

Lobby Day 2010

April 14th, 2010 by Allison Staton

Photo by Lolita Parker Jr.

There is something inspiring about bringing people to the State House.  As a professional lobbyist I can, at times, take for granted the grand and inspiring dome sitting atop Beacon Hill.  I can find the process of watching bills or the annual budget go through the legislative process to be frustrating.

Yet on Tuesday, April 6th the stunning Hall of Flags filled with people, posters, PowerPoint displays on laptops, brochures and good food.    CDCs from around Massachusetts were represented by board members, staff, community leaders, and more than a dozen youth leaders.  Over 200 people from 38 member organizations came to meet with at least 38 legislators and aides to talk about the importance of ongoing foreclosure relief, fully supporting small business technical assistance and the role of CDCs in neighborhoods and regions throughout the Commonwealth. We also made a strong push for funding summer jobs for youth, with Makeila Layne, Dorchester Bay Youth Force from Dorchester Youth Force speaking to the crowd about the importance of those programs.

I heard people marvel at how beautiful the building is and I reminded them it is their building, they pay for it and the salaries of those working in it.  People talked about how welcoming their Senator or Representatives were.  Leaders brought their communities into the State House and the State House welcomed them.

Photo by Lolita Parker Jr.

Senator Harriette Chandler of Worcester, who was introduced by North High School Sophomore Jasmine Garcia, spoke of the importance of CDCs in her district and the pride she had in sponsoring bills that strengthen resources for CDCs.  Representative Linda Dorcena Forry of Boston spoke of how CDCs build up communities including her own.  EOHHS Secretary Greg Bialecki announced that he was doubling the Small Business Technical Assistant grants for CDCs and other non-profits so their funding was secure through the end of FY11.

And yet, as the lap tops were put away, the tables broken down, and the Great Hall of Flags became a large empty space I was reminded of the power that comes from bringing community leaders into the State House to make their case. My job will be a little bit easier now as I continue to lobby on a daily basis, but more importantly, I am convinced that our event will help build momentum for passing the legislation and budget items that our members and our communities need.

Be sure to enjoy MACDC’s first ever Lobby Day video.  It was compiled and edited by MACDC’s own Jay Rosa using video shot by various folks and the photographs of Lolita Parker, Jr.

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