News

Small Business Advocacy Begins to Bear Fruit

July 23rd, 2020 by Joe Kriesberg

The moment that Governor Baker and governors across the country announced health emergencies in March that required most businesses to close, it was clear that micro- and small-businesses would be particularly vulnerable to long term-financial harm.  We also knew that it would hit particularly hard on businesses owned by Black people, immigrants, people of color, and other historically disadvantaged communities that have less accumulated wealth, smaller margins, and often have customers who are the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

To mitigate the harm, MACDC immediately issued a call on March 23 for a $150 million Small Business Relief and Recovery package that included a request for $30 million in grants for small businesses. A few weeks later on April 22, a coalition of 79 community organizations issued the same set of policy recommendations as we began to see that the federal Payroll Protection Program (PPP) – enacted by Congress in late March – was not going to serve many of the businesses in our communities.

The need for such grant funding has become increasingly clear as the Program has been implemented and the economic crisis has deepened and lengthened.  It is now abundantly clear that the economic recovery will be long and slow and that most small businesses simply cannot take on more debt.  These businesses were impacted by the government’s appropriate need to protect the entire community from the virus – and we believe the entire community has an obligation to help these business owners survive.

Thankfully, after four months of advocacy, we are beginning to see grant funding rolled out to small businesses across the state.  In the first few months, it was mostly cities creating grant programs with federal CDBG dollars provided by Congress as part of the CARES Act.  Boston, Worcester, Springfield, Northampton, Cambridge and many other cities rolled out programs, generally aimed at businesses with 5 or fewer employees.  These grant programs provided critical operating capital and funds to buy Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); however, in virtually every case the programs were overwhelmed with applications.

Last week, Governor Baker announced $19.6 million in CDBG funding for non-entitlement communities (i.e. smaller towns and cities that don’t get their own CDBG) with most of it allocated for grants to micro businesses.  Many CDCs are expected to play a central role in this micro-enterprise grant programs by providing outreach, intake, technical assistance and in some cases direct administration of the programs.  Franklin County CDC, Hilltown CDC, Community Development Partnership on Cape Cod, New Vue Communities and Quaboag Valley CDC are among the CDCs expected to play such roles.

The State Legislature has also begun to respond to our calls for small business support with $10 million included in the recently passed supplemental budget.  The bill is now on the Governor’s desk for his signature.  These funds will be administered by the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation (MGCC) and serve businesses with up to 50 employees who have been unable to access PPP or other federal programs.

MACDC and its coalition partners are also advocating for Governor Baker’s economic development legislation, which would authorize an additional $15 million in grant funding for micro businesses and $35 million of grant funds for Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and CDCs that make low-cost loans to small businesses (a second element of our policy proposals from March).  This bill is pending in the Legislature and is expected to pass before July 31.  While we are thrilled at the prospect of $50 million in authorization for new bonds to support small businesses, the critical question will be how quickly Governor Baker disperses these funds.  Under Massachusetts law, the Governor has sole authority for allocating such bond authorizations on an annual basis, and this bill has been deemed a five-year bond bill.  Spending these dollars over a five-year period would not provide the boost we need now as business owners fight to survive.

Finally, MACDC and its partners are advocating that Governor Baker use a significant portion of the $26 million in federal round 2 CDBG funding that is also available to deal with the economic crisis. 

In total, we expect state and local governments to deploy well in excess of $30 million for small business grants by the end of 2020.  At the same time, the economic crisis is likely to be much worse that we realized back in March and April.   This recovery process is going to take longer and the impact on small businesses is going to be even more severe, so we will need substantially more funding at the local, state, and federal level in the weeks and months to come.  MACDC and its partners will continue to press our case.

 

 

Commenting Closed

DHCD Announces Special COVID-19 Response CDBG NOFA For Non-Entitlement Communities

May 21st, 2020 by Joe Kriesberg

The Department of Housing and Community Development announced on Friday, May 15, 2020 that they would be using newly available CDBG money from the CARES Act to support housing relief, micro enterprise grants and social services.  The funding notice calls for $10 million to be used for rental relief in non-entitlement communities (largely rural and suburban communities) and to be delivered through the existing RAFT program network. This advances one of the core policy recommendations for which MACDC has been advocating since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.

The notice also invites municipalities to submit collaborative proposals – potentially in partnership with CDCs – to offer micro enterprise grants to businesses impacted by COVID-19.  This is also aligned with one of the top policy priorities for which we have been advocating. We’re also pleased that municipalities can apply for funding to provide vitally-needed social services, including food assistance, to people impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. The inability of families and individuals to access healthy food has been noted by several CDCs, who are involved in efforts to respond to this burgeoning need.

We thank Governor Baker, Secretary Kennealy and Undersecretary Maddox for listening to our recommendations and responding with concrete action that will help families, business owners and communities across the state. (Note – cities in Massachusetts already received a direct allocation of CDBG earlier this year).

DHCD has also received an additional $26 million in CDBG money in Round Two of the CARES Act program and will be releasing that money in the coming weeks. This second round of funding will be available statewide, including our cities.

Commenting Closed

MACDC Achieves Solid (albeit insufficient) Progress on our COVID-19 Response Policy Recommendations

April 26th, 2020 by Joe Kriesberg

On March 23, 2020, MACDC issued a set of initial recommendations for state policy makers with respect to helping small businesses, tenants, homeowners, and communities deal with the economic fallout from the pandemic. While there is much more to be done at the local, state and federal level, we have seen some important progress over the past month. Some of the key policy wins include the following.

  • The Federal CARES Act provided essential funds to address the crisis that were consistent with our initial recommendations.

    • Unemployment Insurance:  The CARES act made important expansions to our Unemployment Insurance program both to ensure more generous benefits (an extra $600 per week) and coverage for contractors and self-employed individuals.

    • Small Business Assistance: The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), despite its flaws, will help thousands of businesses and nonprofits across the state, including dozens of CDCs (and other nonprofit organizations) who have (or will) received funds to help stabilize their operations during the crisis and to avoid layoffs.  More than 47,000 loans totaling over $10 billion were made in Massachusetts in the first round and we expect to see similar numbers in the second round.  Unfortunately, the program has not done enough to support very small businesses and businesses of color and this needs to be addressed both in the implementation of Round 2 and in future small business relief efforts.

    • Community Development:  Congress provided an additional $5 billion in Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG) resources that can be used for a variety of purposes, including emergency grants to small businesses.  Indeed, several cities across the Commonwealth have already begun to offer such grants using CDBG dollars, including Boston, Worcester, Cambridge, Northampton and others.

  • Eviction & Foreclosure Moratorium: The legislature has passed, and Governor Baker has signed, a strong eviction and foreclosure moratorium that will protect residential tenants, homeowners and small businesses during the health emergency.

  • Housing assistance: Governor Baker was able to secure $5 million in new funding from MassHousing to provide an immediate boost in funding for the RAFT program, which helps lower-income households cover their housing expenses.  Several cities are also using public and private dollars to help tenants pay their rent.

  • State Small Business Assistance: Governor Baker secured $20 million for emergency loans to small businesses.

  • Mortgage Assistance: Mayor Marty Walsh secured commitments from 12 mortgage lenders in the City of Boston to provide borrowers impacted by COVID-19 with forbearance on their loans.  Meanwhile, state and federal banking regulators issued guidance encouraging lenders to provide forbearance and other relief to homeowners.

The above actions represent good progress, but there is more to do.  Clearly, the federal government needs to lead the way because it can provide substantially more money than local or state governments. We are advocating with our Congressional delegation on a range of issues related to small business support, affordable housing and community development.  We have also issued an updated version of our policy recommendations for state policy makers.

Commenting Closed

MACDC's COVID-19 Policy Agenda: Moving Forward

April 7th, 2020 by Joe Kriesberg

On March 23, 2020, MACDC issued a set of initial policy recommendations designed to mitigate the economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis.  Our recommendations focused on helping tenants and homeowners remain safely housed now and in the future, helping small business owners survive the shutdown of the economy, helping people who are out of work receive adequate unemployment insurance, including those who are (or were) self-employed, receive sufficient unemployment coverage, and ensuring the affordable housing system remains financially capable of providing safe housing to its current residents while continuing to build the desperately needed affordable housing in the pipeline. Read our full initial policy recommendations.

Since issuing our recommendations, we have seen some positive developments at the local, state, and Federal level that advance our recommendations: 

State nears enactment of an Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium

  • On Thursday, April 2, the House of Representatives passed a strong eviction and foreclosure moratorium bill that would ensure:
  • Landlords are prohibited from terminating residential or commercial tenancies until 30 days after the COVID-19 emergency declaration ends; this includes notices requesting or demanding that the tenant vacate the premises;
  • There is an exception for “emergency cause” evictions where there is criminal activity or lease violations that are detrimental to the health or safety of others; 
  • Pending eviction cases are frozen, except those under the exception, with a pause both in court and in enforcement of eviction orders by sheriffs;
  • Similarly, there is a moratorium on foreclosures until 30 days after the COVID-19 emergency declaration ends;
  • Landlords may not charge a late fee—nor provide negative information to a consumer reporting agency relating to non-payment-- if a tenant provides notice and documentation that the non-payment was because of financial impact related to COVID-19.
  • MACDC supports the House bill and urges the Senate to adopt a similar or identical bill quickly, so legislation can be signed into law as soon as possible.

Governor Baker announces $5 million in new rent relief funding

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Baker-Polito Administration has announced steps to ensure housing stability for vulnerable populations, including a new $5 million special fund under the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition program for eligible households who may face eviction, foreclosure, loss of utilities, and other housing emergencies. Read more about the RAFT program here.

Funding for this program has been high on MACDC’s advocacy agenda. While we are grateful for this $5 million, we believe there is need for much more. MACDC is advocating for at least $50 million in emergency funding and probably more in FY 21.

City of Boston Rent Relief Fund

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh on Thursday announced a $3 million Rent Relief Fund to assist Bostonians who are at risk of losing their rental housing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds will help income-eligible tenants achieve housing stability by providing direct financial relief to assist with rental payments. Applications to the Rental Relief Fund will be available on Monday, April 6th. Read more here.

In MACDC’s initial policy recommendations in response to the public health and economic crisis, we called on local, state, and federal policymakers to adopt emergency efforts to ensure housing stability during this crisis. Thank you to Mayor Walsh for putting this much needed resource in place.

Governor Baker and Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation deploy $20 million in emergency loans to small businesses

The Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation first announced $10 million in loans and subsequently offered another $10 million in loans to small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.  This program was designed to be a bridge to federal loans now being made available under the CARES Act through the SBA.

CDBG Funding is Providing Emergency Grants to Small Businesses

MACDC is pleased that more and more cities are launching emergency grant programs for small businesses.  Worcester, Fitchburg, Cambridge, and now Boston have announced programs using Federal CDBG money to assist businesses that are not able to take on new loans.  We are advocating for more cities to do the same and for DHCD to use its CDBG money to offer similar grants in smaller towns and rural communities.  With significant new CDBG funding included in the Federal CARES Act, there is an opportunity to help more businesses across the state.

Federal CARES Act provides important relief but falls short of what’s needed

  • The CARES Act included important provisions that respond to our recommendations, but it has left gaps that must be addressed in subsequent Federal Legislation: 
  • The $600 weekly boost in unemployment insurance will help millions of people across the state and country.  We were also very happy to see this coverage extended to self-employed people and independent contractors, one of the core recommendations in our policy recommendations;
  • The Payroll Protection Program Loan offers forgivable loans to small businesses and nonprofits, but lack of criteria, priorities, and the chaotic roll out will likely mean that smaller businesses, nonprofits, and those facing the most challenges are unlikely to receive their fair share of the program.  With $350 billion available nationally and funds being deployed on a first come first served basis, many businesses may get shut out of the program and those are likely to be smaller, underserved businesses from low-income, immigrant, and communities of color.  Moreover, the program fails to drive dollars to those who most need it – businesses and organizations that have been ordered shut completely due to the crisis. Indeed, the program is much better suited to businesses that are experiencing a modest reduction in revenue (or even just facing “uncertainty”) who can reasonably retain their workforce. Going forward, this program will need more money and better targeting to ensure a more equitable outcome.
  • The CARES Act provides $12 billion of critical funding for housing and community development, but more will be needed to deal with the looming crisis in the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program.  Congress needs to extend deadlines in the program and provide funding to fill the growing financial gaps in projects facing delays in construction and lease up.

What Comes Next?

We recognize that our state and local leaders are facing an unprecedented public health emergency that is consuming nearly all their time and energy. We are grateful for the leadership we see from Governor Baker, Mayor Walsh, and other local and state leaders across the state.  Caring for the sick, flattening the curve and slowing the spread of this disease must be our number one priority.  The Community Development Movement is doing its part by helping our residents stay safe, delivering food to those in need, reaching out to residents who may need assistance, or simply making a friendly call.

While we all work to stem the health crisis, the economic crisis looms larger every day – especially for vulnerable and marginalized populations. Now that we see what the CARES Act will and will not do, it is imperative that we take bolder and swifter action at the state and local level, while we also fight for another round of Federal Relief Legislation.  We urge the legislature and the Governor to immediately begin working on an additional Economic Relief and Recovery Package that meets the magnitude of this crisis. We also recommend that the Baker Administration create a Covid-19 Small Business Response Task Force, to coordinate efforts to help small businesses survive the immediate public health crisis and recover during the longer economic crisis.

The need for active and vocal advocacy has never been greater.  We hope you will join with us in that effort, including on April 28 when MACDC will hold its first-ever (and we hope last) Virtual Lobby Day.  Stay tuned for more details!

Commenting Closed

A message from MACDC President, Joe Kriesberg, regarding Coronavirus

March 13th, 2020 by Joe Kriesberg
Dear friends,
 
As all of us come to terms with the scale and scope of the Coronavirus Pandemic, I wanted to let you know how MACDC is responding to both the public health crisis and the growing economic impact. This is our strategy as of now, but clearly could change as new information arises.
 
Our first priority is continue to do our work as best we can while fully protecting the safety of our staff members and all the people with whom we work. Toward that end, we will be switching all of our committee meetings and peer group sessions to an online format and canceling or postponing all public events for the next few weeks or until further notice. We are also allowing our staff to work from home and may institute a requirement to do so at some point. Thankfully, a few years ago we moved our information technology infrastructure to the cloud so our staff can work from home without any interruption and with full access to all of our files and systems.

 

Our second priority is to help our members navigate these unchartered waters. We plan to provide online opportunities for information exchange and peer learning. CDCs must deal with so many complex issues from office operations, to property management, construction project schedules, small business lending, youth programs, senior services and more. Therefore, we are looking at how to support CDC professionals across these different work areas. We also want to serve as a conduit for information flow from public officials to our members and vice versa.

 

Our third priority will be to advocate for special public policy initiatives that protect low- and moderate-income people who are most vulnerable during a crisis like this. This will include policies and programs to protect tenants, homeowners, hourly workers and small business owners.  We will also be advocating with public and private funders to provide nonprofits with some leeway and flexibility regarding deliverables and deadlines that cannot be met due to the crisis.

 

Obviously the situation continues to evolve quickly and we will respond as new information and new circumstances dictate. Please contact us if you have any thoughts or ideas about how we can help our communities get through this crisis.

 

We hope everyone will take necessary precautions and stay safe. We look forward to seeing some of you online in the coming days and hopefully, before too long, in person as well.

 

At its heart, community development is based on the notion, as the late Senator Paul Wellstone used to say, that "we all do better when we all do better." Never has this been more true than during this pandemic. We are truly all in this together. Let us hope - and work to make it so - that while this crisis requires social distancing now, that it will ultimately bring us closer together as one Commonwealth, one Country and one World.

 

Joe Kriesberg
President
 
Commenting Closed

Could 2020 be the year we make Community Development Policy History?

January 6th, 2020 by Joe Kriesberg

As we enter a new year and a new decade, MACDC is preparing for one of the busiest and hopefully most impactful policy years in recent memory.  The Massachusetts state legislature has seven months before the session ends on July 31 and a wide array of housing and community development priorities are on the docket. MACDC and its members will be focused on these nine priorities:

  1. Major new revenue for housing and climate investments: MACDC is a founding member of the HERO Coalition – Housing and Environmental Revenue Opportunities – which is comprised of housing, climate, faith-based, labor, and social justice groups working together to secure a major new revenue stream to support investments in affordable housing, and climate resiliency and mitigation. Our proposal is to double the deeds excise tax and dedicate 50% (approx. $150 million/yr.) to housing and 50% to climate. This could be the biggest new investment in housing in decades and lay the foundation for more collaboration among housing, climate, and social justice advocates.  MACDC is also actively supporting state legislation that would empower cities and towns to adopt their own, local transfer tax to generate new revenue for affordable housing.
  2. Neighborhood Stabilization: MACDC continues to work with MassINC, the Gateway Cities Caucus, and others to enact legislation to accelerate the renovation of vacant and blighted homes in weaker market areas of the state. This effort also includes launching the new Neighborhood Stabilization Hub at MassHousing thanks to funding we secured in the FY 20 budget.
  3. Land Use and Zoning: MACDC is actively working with many others to help secure passage of Housing Choice legislation that would lower the threshold for cities and towns seeking to enact smart zoning and land use practices.
  4. Economic Development: MACDC will be advocating for:
  • An increase in funding for the Small Business Technical Assistance program from $3 million to $4 million per year.  This program now funds 47 CDCs, CDFIs and other community-based organizations all of whom are helping underserved entrepreneurs launch and grow small businesses;
  • Funds to provide capital grants to CDFIs that offer small business loans, a program we helped launch a few years ago. 
  • New capital funding to support the Mass Food Trust, a program administered on behalf of the state by Franklin County CDC and LEAF, which provides grants and loans to expand access to healthy foods in lower-income communities.
  1. Lead Poisoning Prevention: We are making a major effort this year to recapitalize the highly successful Get the Lead Out program administered by MassHousing and the Department of Housing and Community Development. The program has helped thousands of families and children since its inception 25 years ago, but it is now dangerously close to running out of money. The state recently adopted new regulations that recognize that lead poisoning is even more dangerous than previously understood, so we must fully fund this vital public health program.
  2. City of Boston Home Rule Petition on Linkage and Inclusionary Development: We are working closely with Mayor Marty Walsh to secure legislative passage of the City’s home rule petition that would allow it to make modifications to these two successful programs, without seeking prior approval from the state legislature. 
  3. Tenant protections: MACDC is supporting legislation to create a right to counsel for tenants facing eviction as well as legislation that would enable tenants to band together to buy their own buildings when they are put on the market.
  4. Closing the Racial Homeownership Gap: We will be working closely this year with MassHousing and DHCD to roll out new initiatives to help expand homeownership opportunities for first-time homebuyers in general and people of color specifically. These efforts include the new $60 million homeownership development funding initiative announced by Governor Baker last year, as well as a new down payment assistance program and potentially other initiatives.
  5. Rural Policy: In October 2019, the MA Rural Policy Advisory Commission (RPAC) released its Rural Policy Plan for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This Plan suggests policy recommendations related to the unique issues and challenges faced by rural communities across the Commonwealth and addresses 14 focus areas that were identified through listening sessions held across the state in late 2018. MACDC will work with the members of the RPAC and rural Regional Planning Agencies in its efforts to engage legislative and administration stakeholders to fulfill and implement the Plan recommendations, in particular the creation of an Office of Rural Policy.

MACDC cannot make progress on such a robust and diverse agenda without many partners. We are grateful for our allies and partners in the legislature; the Baker-Polito Administration who share many of these goals; our coalition partners at other advocacy organizations; and of course, our members who take the time to join us in advocating for these proposals. Our 2020 policy campaigns will include our annual “Doughnuts with your Delegation” campaign in February and March when our members will meet with their legislators in their home districts and our Annual Lobby Day on April 28, 2020 at the State House.  It will also include countless meetings, phone calls, letters, and other communications over the next seven months.

2020 offers the opportunity to make community development history here in Massachusetts.  Let’s make it happen!

Commenting Closed

Closing the Racial Homeownership Gap

October 29th, 2019 by Joe Kriesberg

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.

Commenting Closed

Building Homes; Living with Walls: Reflections on an affordable housing learning journey to Ireland

October 28th, 2019 by Joe Kriesberg

 

“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.

Personal Reflections

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!

 

Commenting Closed

Joe's Summer Sabbatical

September 9th, 2019 by Joe Kriesberg

Thanks to the generosity and support of the MACDC board and staff, I was able to take a two-month summer sabbatical this year – my first full summer vacation in a very long time.  I was able to spend lots of time with various family members, read books, travel, and enjoy countless hours of biking, swimming and hiking!  For those wondering “what did you do all summer” I figured that I would share some of the highlights.

Syracuse - The sabbatical started with a 4-day trip to Syracuse to see my dad.  My wife Dina and I picked up our son Mike in Albany and drove to Syracuse to hang with my dad and his partner.  On the way back to Boston, we packed up Mike’s apartment in Albany (he had just quit his job) and brought him home to continue his search for a job in New York City.

Backpacking - After celebrating the 4th of July in Boston (including attending the Rolling Stones Concert at Gillette Stadium!), I flew to Idaho to meet up with my brother for a backpacking trip in the White Clouds & Saw Tooth Mountain area.  The scenery was incredible; it was great to hang out with my brother; the hiking was challenging but not exhausting; and I was able to sleep (sort of) on the ground in my tiny tent!

Boston - I then had 11 days in Boston with no travel.  This was certainly the longest “stay-cation” of my life but I was able to get into a routine of biking, swimming, reading, visiting with a few friends and helping my son with his job search (mostly nagging).

My Dad's Birthday - In late July, my family and my brother’s family met up with my dad and his partner in Beacon, NY (the Hudson Valley region) to spend a weekend celebrating his 93rd birthday by going to not one, but two art museums (he loves art!)   It was great for him to catch up with all four of his grandchildren and for the cousins to reconnect for the first time in many months.  His quote of the day: “Birthdays are fun – I should have more of them!”   I agree!

Cape Cod - Dina and I finally were able to take our own vacation on Cape Cod in early August (she was NOT on sabbatical after all!). We were unable to go last year so it was great to be back on the beaches where we only had two shark alerts!  My Dad and Paula spent a couple of days with us (yes, our third visit of the summer!) and then Mike made a surprise visit as well to tell us that he had accepted a job offer from the New Israel Fund in New York City!

Reading books – not memos - After the Cape, we came back to Boston for a few more days of hanging around.  I was able to make progress on my goal of reading more books than I usually do.  Over the course of the summer, I was able to read: Washington Black, the Cairo Trilogy (Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street), The Bluest Eye, Evicted, Just Mercy, and Say Nothing.  I enjoyed some good podcasts (check out Crimetown to learn about the mob in Providence) and TV shows (City on a Hill; Six Feet Under) and watched a fair number of Red Sox games (although not as many as I would have thought)  Of course, none of this interfered with biking or swimming (or both) virtually every day I was in town.  I don’t think I swam so much during the summer since I worked as a lifeguard in 1984!

Glacier National Park - My next adventure was to go to Montana with my sons Mike and Josh.  We started our trip in Kalispel where we attended our first ever Rodeo.  The scene was exactly what you might imagine with lots of families, women wearing awesome boots and men wearing their cowboy hats.  There was much pageantry, including honoring our military and recognizing Native American heritage and culture. The competition was either incredible or awful, depending on your view of Rodeos, but it was definitely a great opportunity to experience a different piece of American culture.  My kids loved it.  We then spent four days hiking in Glacier National Park.  We saw amazing scenery, lots of wildlife (including a Wolverine!) and walked along and over the Continental Divide. Spending four days hiking with my kids was a great way to spend time together (no cell phone service!), create memories and share new experiences.  My son called the trip “magical” and it was.

Seattle - The three of us then drove to Seattle and they got to see for the first time how expansive and empty the American West can be. In Seattle, we met up with Dina and most of her family so we could celebrate her sister’s 60th birthday. 

My Sabbatical Buddy - One special treat this summer was spending time with my 23-year-old son Mike.  As noted, he quit his job on the same day that my sabbatical began and he began his new job with the New Israel Fund on the same day that I returned to work so we were both home and “unemployed” for the same 9 weeks!  He has been in Albany for the past five years so we have not had nearly so much time to hang out and honestly, we will probably never have a summer like this again. We talked, we played basketball, we ate, we cooked (Dina loved coming home to our (mostly his) meals!), we worked on his job search and then his apartment search.  Dina says he was my “sabbatical buddy”!  It was bittersweet to drive him to New York City on Labor Day weekend and help him set up his new apartment in Astoria, Queens.  I am proud that he had the courage to quit a job he disliked, to pursue something that he really cares about (peace and democracy in Israel) and to take on the adventure of living in New York. But I’m really going to miss having him around. 

If you are wondering whether I really avoided work during the sabbatical, the answer is “mostly”.  While I contacted the staff on one or two occasions early on, I did not talk/email/text with any staff for the last five or six weeks. Yes, I occasionally checked my email, but I did not respond to them and very much enjoyed reading an email and saying to myself “I don’t have to deal with that!”  Overall, I’ve been pretty checked out and was able to enjoy my summer without thinking about work very much.

None of this would have been possible if MACDC did not have such a terrific and dedicated staff. I want to especially thank Shirronda Almeida for serving as interim executive director and to everyone on the staff who picked up my workload over the summer.  I think it was a great learning opportunity for them and the experience will make our organization stronger, more stable and better prepared for the future.

I am eager to get back to work (starting with those emails and memos that are waiting for me) and I am excited about our agenda for this fall.  But if you catch me day dreaming at a meeting, you can probably guess that I’ll be reliving my summer memories!

Commenting Closed

Housing report documents shortage of affordable housing – but with a silver lining

March 20th, 2019 by Joe Kriesberg

Last week, the National Low-Income Housing Coalition released, The GAP – A Shortage of Affordable Homes, its annual report documenting the shortage of housing available for low-income Americans.  The report provides many depressingly familiar statistics:

  • 7 million extremely low-income (ELI) American households (households with incomes below 30% of the Area Median Income) lack access to housing that is affordable to them, including nearly 170,000 households in Massachusetts;
  • In Massachusetts, for every 100 ELI households there are just 46 affordable homes;
  • 72 percent of households with incomes below 50% of the Area Median Income are severely cost-burdened, meaning they pay over 50% of their income to rent;
  • People of color are much more likely to be cost burdened then their white counterparts.

Clearly, we have work to do.

At the same time, if you dig a little deeper into the report, there is another lesson to be learned: smart housing policies work and pay long-term dividends. 

According to the report, Massachusetts has one of the smallest affordability gaps in the country with 46 affordable homes per 100 ELI households, compared to a national average of 37.  Massachusetts ranks 14th of the 50 states.  The Boston MSA ranks third in the nation with the lowest affordability gap, just below Providence (whose MSA includes parts of Massachusetts) and Pittsburgh.  In Boston, we have 46 affordable homes for every 100 ELI households – a dire shortage. But in L.A., they have just 18!  Dallas has 20 and Phoenix has just 21.

How is it possible that one of the most expensive regions in the country is also the third best in the country in terms of providing actual affordable homes to ELI people?  Unlike many housing studies that show Massachusetts to be one of the worst states in the country when it comes to housing affordability, this study considers government subsidized apartments and other homes with rent or price restrictions.  In fact, this report recognizes the successful efforts of affordable housing advocates, organizers, policy makers, and developers, over many decades here in Massachusetts, to produce subsidized housing.  Policies like Chapter 40B (which encourages all cities and towns to provide their fair share of affordable housing), programs like state-supported public housing, and the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program are making a real difference.   In the City of Boston, 20% of the housing stock has long term affordability restrictions and fully one-third of Boston’s rental housing has restricted rents. One-third!

Our success relative to other states and regions should not be an excuse for complacency. It should be viewed as a reason to do more, because investing in affordable housing really does make a difference,

I was reflecting on these lessons recently when I attended CEDAC’s 40th Anniversary Celebration where Mel King was honored for his legacy in launching the community development field, and again, a few days later, at a wonderful memorial service held to celebrate the life and legacy of Amy Anthony, Governor Dukakis’ Secretary of Housing and Community Development and the founder of Preservation of Affordable Housing.  As I listened to speakers reflect on their incredible legacies, I found myself thinking about the thousands of people whose lives are healthier and happier because of what they and so many others have done over the decades.  The NLIHC report affirms that their legacy lives on in the homes they – and we – helped to create. 

As an advocate, I know that we often rely on dire statistics to generate the political will needed to spur policy change. I also know that we must confront the pessimism and cynicism that says governmental action won’t help and could make things worse.  I hope the NLIHC Report can do both – give us the encouragement and confidence to overcome this negativity, while renewing our sense of urgency that we need to adopt an ambitious housing agenda to help the millions of Americans who remain housing insecure.

Commenting Closed

Pages

Subscribe to News