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:
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!
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 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.
“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.
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!
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!
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:
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.
MACDC joins with others in the Affordable Housing community to mourn the passing of Amy Anthony. Amy was a giant in our field who led the Executive Office of Community Development under Governor Michael Dukakis and subsequently founded and led the Preservation of Affordable Housing. She was a visionary leader who put in place many of the policies, programs and organizations that make Massachusetts a national leader in affordable housing. She also played a major role in the growth of the CDC movement in Massachusetts by helping to create dozens of CDCs during the 1980s that continue to serve their communities to this day. Her legacy will last for decades to come.
More than 700 community development leaders from every corner of the state converged on the Hynes Convention Center in Boston on Saturday, October 20 for MACDC’s 2018 Convention. It was a day of celebration, learning, networking, action and inspiration. This was the largest MACDC Convention so far, with hundreds of community residents, CDC board members, staff members, funders, partners, and allies in attendance. Thanks to Bank of America and our generous sponsors, the event was free to our members and to the public.
The day was filled with many highlights, including:
We also were inspired by four wonderful community leaders who shared their stories about why they have become active with their CDC and by the “CDC Roll Call,” where every CDC in attendance shared an example of the great work they are planning for 2019.
Of course, perhaps, the best part of the day was the opportunity to be together, to network and talk with colleagues, and to feel the energy of this dynamic movement. We are truly more powerful when we are united and the 2018 MACDC Convention proved that yet again.
Reflections of a Learning Journey to Seattle by Joe Kriesberg
Last week, I had a special opportunity to participate in a Learning Journey to Seattle, Washington to study their efforts to ensure that people of color have full access to arts and cultural opportunities and to leverage the power of human creativity to drive racial equity. It was an inspiring and educational trip!
The “Journey” was organized by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) with support from the Barr Foundation and brought 25 civic, government and community leaders to the Pacific Northwest for two action-packed days. The diverse delegation included the Mayors of Lynn, Salem and Beverly; two state senators; two state representatives; a Boston City Councilor; local officials from suburban and rural communities; and nonprofit leaders from groups like MACDC and MASSCreative.
Our visit began at the Wing Luke Museum with welcoming remarks from Ken Workman, the great, great, great, great grandson of Chief Seattle. He reminded us about the people who were here for centuries and whose culture was devastated (but not destroyed) by Europeans. We then heard from city and state leaders about their expansive efforts to ensure that children of color have equal access to a full range of cultural and creative programming throughout their k-12 education, both during the school day and beyond. We learned about an ambitious effort to inventory every cultural space in the city and to create a “dating app” that would allow any “creative” to find space to pursue their craft. The City and County have innovative funding streams to support these efforts, including a five percent levy on all for-profit entertainment venues (sadly, male professional sports are exempted; a mistake we should not make if we seek to replicate this model in Massachusetts!). We toured an incredibly ambitious public art project that includes nearly 60 massive murals along a rail corridor south of downtown. And all of this was on the first day.
On day two, we toured the wonderfully renovated historic Washington Hall where a 17-year-old Jimi Hendrix preformed publicly for the first time and now is home to three community-based organizations that promote the arts. The Hall is in an historically African American community that has been significantly gentrified, so the programming seeks to affirm and support the remaining African American community and to honor the history of the neighborhood. Seattle is growing even faster than Boston; it is a day-to-day fight to slow displacement, preserve neighborhoods, and retain the historic and cultural assets that make the city special. Arts and culture are both a potential victim of this process and a tool for fighting back.
Our last visit was with an amazing program called Creative Justice that uses the arts to engage and support court-involved youth. While their program is having great success with young people, that is not their only mission. We were told that the goal of Creative Justice is not to change young people, but to change the criminal justice system!
A few lessons really resonated for me. First, it was clear how much Seattle values the arts for their intrinsic value. They don’t seek to justify investment in the arts solely because of the jobs, economic impacts, and reduced high school dropout rates, although they certainly achieve those results. Arts and culture are intrinsic to human experience and everyone should have access to it everywhere.
It was also hard not to be inspired by the commitment to racial equity. What stood out for me was the fact that they were undeterred by the complexity and uncertainly about what precisely racial equity might mean in different contexts. One speaker noted that racial equity has never existed in the history of the world – just like a piece of art, or music that has not yet been produced. He suggested that we view this work as an act of creativity, where we first envision something and then we create it. Like any creative work, there are no hard definitions, no defined pathways, no absolute right answers, and plenty of trial and error. We were told to “think big, start small, and go fast” even if we don’t know exactly where we were going. This is something for me and MACDC to think about as we embark to deepen our own commitment to racial equity.
As if the program itself did not teach me enough about the fight to promote the arts in Seattle, I continued to learn when I was in my Lyft ride going to my sister-in-law’s house (yes, I also had family to visit!). My driver was a 50+ year old man who plays in three rock bands and drives Lyft to help pay the bills. He had just gone to his first City Council hearing ever to protest the demolition of an historic music hall, which might be replaced with a 44-story condominium development. Seattle needs more housing desperately, but at what cost? My driver told me that he was a nervous wreck as he waited to testify at a public hearing for the first time in his life. But he was pleased with himself for speaking up. He’s hopeful the Hall will be saved, but who knows? There are law suits and political battles to come. Either way, he and others are raising their voices and I’m confident that the creative community in Seattle is here to stay!
As I write this essay on my flight home to Boston, I am still thinking about how this work ultimately fits within MACDC’s agenda and what we can contribute to the effort. How can we leverage the power of the arts to advance our goals for community voice and racial equity? How can arts and culture be part of our efforts to address displacement or promote neighborhood revitalization? I welcome your thoughts as my learning journey continues.
The Massachusetts State Legislature wrapped up the 2017/18 legislative session on July 31 and in the final flurry of activity, there was some good news for community developers and some disappointing news. On July 27, MACDC sent a letter to legislative leaders requesting action on six items.
The Legislature also adopted strong legislation to regulate and tax Short Term Rentals, like Airbnb. We are urging the Governor to sign this into law. The legislature also created an economic mobility commission that will look at best practices for helping affordable housing residents gain economic stability.
Considering that MACDC had already won our three top policy priorities for the year we are very pleased with what has been accomplished over the past two years (the Community Investment Tax Credit legislation, the Affordable Housing Bond Bill and restored funding for the Small Business Technical Assistance program).
MACDC is thankful to our members for the calls, emails, and visits that they made to advocate for this agenda. We are grateful to have so many amazing partners like CHAPA, the Mass. Smart Growth Alliance, and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council with whom we work closely. And, of course, we have many friends in the House and Senate – far too many to list here – that do the hard work inside the building to turn good ideas into law.