News

A Busy Year Ahead for MACDC

January 6th, 2022 by Joe Kriesberg

As the MACDC staff and board gear up for our 40th Anniversary Year, I took a few moments over the holidays to review our five-year Strategic Plan to make sure we were on track with the priorities and strategies adopted by the board in 2018.  While the COVID-19 Pandemic has certainly disrupted everything about our work, I do think the five core priorities in our plan remain helpful and highly relevant. With that in mind, I’m excited to highlight some of the exciting programs and initiatives we have on tap for 2022 to advance each of our core priorities. 

 

Build the power and voice of lower-income people and people of color to shape the future of their communities and their own lives 

Last year, MACDC’s Mel King Institute launched the Resident Leadership Training Collaborative  to expand capacity to develop resident and tenant leaders across the state.  The program builds on our five-year track record of training and supporting tenant leaders in public housing to offer similar leadership development opportunities to tenants living in CDC properties and potentially other subsidized housing. The program enhances trainings and programs that the Institute already offers to CDC board members. 

Speaking of board members and resident leaders, MACDC will once again be hosting our Convention this fall. Ever since our first convention in 2002, these gatherings have been the most exciting and meaningful events on the MACDC calendar as resident leaders, community development professionals, and allies come together for a day of learning, celebration, and action. As in past years, the Convention will include a Gubernatorial Candidate Forum where we will ask the candidates to make specific commitments to our field and our communities.  

Of course, the 2022 Convention faces the unprecedented challenge of a global pandemic, so it is likely to look and feel different from past events, but one way or another we will make it happen in October 2022. The details will be coming as we figure them out, but it will certainly include a Gubernatorial Candidate Forum, inspiring speakers, awards, networking, learning, the CDC Roll Call, and a celebration of our 40th Anniversary! 

 

Expand affordable housing in places where low- and moderate-income people can thrive 

As I wrote in an earlier blog, 2022 will be a busy year for affordable housing. MACDC will be focused on helping our members access the newly available ARPA funding while also advocating for additional ARPA dollars as the Legislature determines how to spend the remaining $2.3 billion. While ARPA is providing an exciting infusion of funding, we know that it won’t be enough to meet our housing crisis, so we also plan to continue campaigning for the HERO Bill, which would generate $350 million per year or more for housing and climate investments. We will also prioritize efforts to ensure that tenants and homeowners who have faced financial hardship during the pandemic receive the assistance they need and are not displaced. 

Another key focus area in 2022 will be closing the racial homeownership gap. New ARPA funding will provide an opportunity to expand the production of affordable homeownership units as well as expand down payment assistance and mortgage subsidies. As part of these efforts, MACDC will be engaged in a long overdue conversation about how to help first-time and first-generation homebuyers build family wealth, while also ensuring long-term affordability for future homebuyers. This can be a challenging conversation, but it is important as we seek to redress the racial wealth gap. 

MACDC is also excited to see our Neighborhood Stabilization work expand in 2022 as we partner with MassHousing to implement a new round of funding for the Neighborhood Hub, along with newly available capital dollars to support property rehab. 

 

Reduce income and wealth inequality across the state 

Last year, MACDC helped co-found the Coalition for an Equitable Economy, which seeks to eliminate racial disparities in business ownership by 2030. The Coalition has already had an extraordinary impact in helping small businesses survive the pandemic. We are now poised – with new funding and (soon) new staff – to build a strong small business eco-system that can help entrepreneurs at every stage of business development, from conception onward. MACDC will continue to staff the Community Business Network, which convenes practitioners monthly for peer learning, advocacy, and collaboration. We plan to expand our training programs for small business practitioners. Of course, advocacy will be a key part of our program as we push to secure additional ARPA funding for small businesses and advocate for increased funding for the Small Business Technical Assistance program. 

Another key agenda for 2022 is to help our members strengthen their supplier diversity efforts in both construction and property management. Building on the success of the Boston Pilot Program, we hope to expand this work statewide in 2022.  

In 2022, we will also join with progressives across the state to help pass the Massachusetts Fair Share Amendment on the November ballot to make sure that millionaires pay their fair share toward education and transportation investments in the Commonwealth.   

 

Drive the convergence of community development and community health 

MACDC was focused on driving the convergence of community development and health equity long before the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated in cruel fashion the impact of safe, stable, affordable housing on health outcomes. In 2022, we will step up these efforts with the work of our Housing Quality and Health Task Force, a cross-sector group of professionals that will be developing and implementing new strategies for reducing the health problems caused by substandard housing. One of our key priorities will be securing ARPA funding for the Massachusetts Healthy Homes initiative, so we can remove health hazards, such as lead paint, mold, pest infestation and other problems that undermine good health. 

We also recognize the deep connection between climate change, green buildings, and good health. Toward that end, MACDC is partnering with LISC and New Ecology to implement the DASH Program (Decarbonizing Affordable Subsidized Housing) to help our members build new and renovate existing housing to make it clean and resilient.  

 

Promote racial equity within the field and the Commonwealth 

MACDC has increasingly taken steps to apply a racial equity lens to all our work, including virtually every program and initiative mentioned above, from closing racial disparities in homeownership, business, and health, to changing who has voice and power in our communities. At the same time, we are taking explicit steps to address diversity, equity, and inclusion within the community development field itself, including our own organization. This work is being organized around the MACDC Racial Equity Pledge, which we launched at our Annual Meeting last November. With 14 CDCs already signed on, this campaign seeks to help our members individually and collectively adopt state-of-the-art practices for diversity, equity, and inclusion. MACDC and the Mel King Institute will support these efforts with peer-to-peer learning, training, data collection and collective accountability.  

 

A closing thought 

A short blog can’t capture everything that we will be doing in 2022. Of course, in these uncertain times I suspect that new, completely unanticipated issues will emerge throughout the year.  

That said, I want to acknowledge one more major undertaking that will consume much of our energy in 2022 even though it was not in our 2018 strategic plan – enduring this awful pandemic.  Like many, I thought we’d be past the worst of it by now and maybe we are. But we know that this will continue to be a very difficult time for all of us – some more than others  

For community developers, we must ask ourselves: How can we stay focused on our agenda, but be adaptive to changing needs? How do we build and sustain relationships while staying safe and often apart? How do we remain hopeful in the face of so much sadness? Navigating this is exhausting. We need to give ourselves and each other the time and space to keep ourselves healthy – physically and emotionally. 

As we work on the many projects and programs described above, we ask for your patience and support and we pledge ours in return. 

We are in this together and I’m so grateful for that! 

Commenting Closed

Ten (OK – 11) Questions to be Asking about Affordable Housing in Massachusetts in 2022

January 6th, 2022 by Joe Kriesberg

As we begin our third year of the COVID-19 Pandemic, we continue to confront a housing crisis that existed long before we started wearing masks. At the same time, COVID-19 catalyzed political, economic, and social dynamics that worsened the housing crisis in some ways, but also underscored the importance of safe, stable, and affordable housing. Policies that would have seemed impossible before COVID, like eviction moratoria and 10-fold increases in emergency rental assistance, demonstrated their efficacy and potential.  What does this mean for affordable housing in 2022? I’m going to refrain from making any predictions – clearly our world is far too uncertain for that with so much riding on the virus, the economy, and our tangled and fractious political culture. Here are 11 things, however, that affordable housing advocates should be tracking and influencing over the next 12 months. 

  1.  Can We Prevent a Wave of Evictions? – Over the past 20 months, a comprehensive set of policies at the local, state, and federal levels combined with the extraordinary efforts of non-profit agencies and cooperative landlords helped tens of thousands of families avoid eviction and maintain their housing. While these efforts have certainly not prevented every eviction and there have been uneven results across the state, it is still an effort of which we can be proud. However, 2022 will likely bring some difficult decisions. Current federal funding for the Eviction Diversion Initiative is expected to run out in June at current spending rates; it will be hard to sustain this spending without significant new federal money.  Even if the pandemic finally ends and the economy stabilizes, housing insecurity will continue. How do we transition and to what? Can we make some of the new tenant protections permanent? Can we institutionalize a right to counsel for tenants? Can we finally enact the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase legislation? How do we balance the need for short-term emergency relief with the need to invest in long-term solutions that expand the stock of affordable housing?  
  2. How Quickly Can We Deploy Newly Appropriated ARPA Dollars? The legislature recently approved over $600 million in funding for affordable housing to be spent on new rental housing, homeownership housing, first-time homebuyer assistance, renovations of public housing, and a small pilot program to retrofit homes in Gateway Cities. MACDC and other advocates will be pushing to get this money out quickly and with rules that are simple, transparent, and fair. We are particularly excited to see an infusion of funding to expand homeownership opportunities and start to close the racial homeownership gap. MACDC will also be serving on the newly created State ARPA Equity and Accountability Panel that is charged with making sure that state and municipal ARPA funds are spent in ways that address long-term racial inequities. This could be a historic opportunity to increase transparency and equity in state and local government. 
  3. How Should We Allocate the Remaining ARPA Dollars? The state has $2.3 billion of additional ARPA funds to appropriate in 2022 and no shortage of ideas for how to spend it. MACDC is advocating that at least another $600 million be allocated to affordable housing, with deeper investment in homeownership and a new program to retrofit older housing, so it is healthier and safer. We also plan to work with the Coalition for an Equitable Economy to secure funding for small businesses.  
  4. Will the Housing Choices Legislation Begin to Yield Results? – Last January, the legislature finally enacted the Housing Choices law to support the production of more housing across the Commonwealth. We have already begun to see the law’s impact with municipalities being able to adopt new zoning via majority votes and abutters being required to post bonds when they sue developers.  The big thing to look for in 2022 is the implementation of the law’s Multi Family Zoning requirement in all MBTA Communities. In December, the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development finally released draft guidelines for how this requirement will be enforced and those guidelines are now out for public comment until March.  The proposed guidelines could be a game changer for multi-family housing in the Commonwealth as they push municipalities to get serious about zoning reform. Advocates – both locally and statewide – need to keep advocating to make sure this law reaches its potential.  
  5. Can We Start to Close the Racial Homeownership GapEver since we emerged from the Foreclosure Crisis a decade ago, MACDC and others have pushed the state to adopt a more ambitious and thoughtful strategy for expanding homeownership opportunities and closing the racial homeownership gap. These efforts made little progress for years, so we made it a focus of the 2018 MACDC Convention and engaged the question with Governor Baker. In 2019, he announced the Commonwealth Builder program. We are now seeing a dramatic increase in efforts to close the racial homeownership gap. While we had hoped the Legislature would have adopted the Governor’s proposal to invest $500 million of ARPA money on homeownership, they did approve $180 million, and we hope/expect to see more with ARPA 2.0. The state now has funds to offer down-payment assistance, mortgage assistance, and to build more affordable homes creating an unprecedented opportunity to move the needle. We expect our members to be active participants in this effort. Meanwhile, the renewed focus on homeownership has also renewed the long-standing debate about how to reconcile the goal of securing long-term affordability with the goal of enabling wealth creation for first-time homebuyers. I expect this will be an active conversation in 2022 with perhaps some innovative policy solutions emerging that seek “both/and” solutions. 
  6. Will We Accelerate the Transformation to Climate Smart Housing? The past two years have seen a growing focus on the need to electrify and ultimately decarbonize the residential housing sector. This is a massive challenge given the sheer number of homes in the Commonwealth and the age of our housing stock. We also need to do this equitably so that lower-income tenants and homeowners can benefit from the transformation without being priced out of their homes and so communities of color participate in the economic opportunities created by this effort.  We are starting to see policy shifts at the state and local level, with significant reforms coming through the state’s 3-year Energy Efficiency Plan, to the Mass Save program; beefed up requirements for affordable housing developers in the Qualified Allocation Plan; and tighter building standards like Boston’s Building Emissions Reduction and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO). MACDC is stepping up its climate efforts as a leader in the HERO Coalition and through our new partnership with LISC and New Ecology called the DASH Program – Decarbonizing Affordable Subsidized Housing. I expect this trend to accelerate with new policies and new funding in 2022 and beyond.  
  7. Can We Better Leverage Good Housing to Promote Good Health? Public health professionals and community developers have long understood the strong connection between stable, high-quality housing and better health outcomes. That connection became widely understood during the COVID-19 crisis. The question now is whether we can convert understanding into action. Many Massachusetts hospitals are stepping up their efforts to invest in supportive housing, housing affordability, and, occasionally, housing advocacy, often in partnership with our members. MACDC published a report in 2021 outlining how CDCs can build and strengthen such partnerships.  MACDC has also assembled a cross sector task force to build out a strategy for large-scale rehabilitation of poor quality housing to reduce health hazards such as lead paint, mold, and pest infestation. We are also building a coalition to advocate with the Legislature to allocate ARPA dollars for a new Massachusetts Healthy Homes Initiative. I’m hopeful that 2022 will be the year that we see these efforts accelerate and scale.  
  8. How Can We Stabilize Neighborhoods in our Gateway and Rural Communities?  MACDC will continue to work with our public and nonprofit partners on stabilizing neighborhoods, in Gateway Cities and small towns, where weak real estate markets coupled with limited public resources have resulted in significant property neglect, and in some cases abandonment. Through the Neighborhood Hub, we will continue to offer technical assistance to municipalities grappling with these challenges, coupled with new capital dollars provided through passage of the Economic Development Bill earlier this year. 
  9. Can Mayor Michelle Wu Advance Her Bold Vision for Boston? Boston voters elected a progressive Mayor in November who has promised bold action on a range of issues, including housing. Mayor Michelle Wu already announced plans to strengthen the City’s Linkage and Inclusionary Development programs, while advocating for state legislation that would enable the City to adopt a transfer tax on high-end real estate and to implement a modern rent stabilization program. She is also looking to reform – if not completely restructure – the Boston Planning and Development Agency. CDCs are excited to work with the new Mayor to design and implement an ambitious housing agenda for the city that can also inspire and motivate other cities across the state. 
  10. Will Housing be a Key Issue in the 2022 Gubernatorial Campaign? – Governor Baker’s decision to not seek re-election means that we can look forward to a wide-open campaign for Governor in 2022. So far, only Danielle Allen has put a housing agenda on her campaign website but look for all candidates to do so in early 2022. It is critical that housing receive attention from the candidates as well as the media and voters to ensure that it becomes central to the next Governor’s agenda. Both Governor Patrick and Governor Baker made housing a priority and yet there is still much more to do. Will the candidates do the same? What will they change? How can they move the needle further and faster? We will be asking these and other questions throughout the year.
  11. Can Congress Pass the Build Back Better Legislation? – Like people across this country, we will be watching closely as Congress continues to debate the Build Back Better legislation. The version adopted by the House of Representatives includes dramatic new investments in affordable housing, but there is certainly no guarantee that the final bill will do so – if a bill even passes.  It is hard to overstate the importance of this debate on the future of housing in the Commonwealth. With a new infusion of federal funding and updated federal policies, we could make dramatic progress. Without this legislation, it will be hard to scale up to the level we need.  We are grateful to have a Congressional Delegation that understands this and is fighting for this, but it appears our fate lies in senators from other parts of the country. 

 Like all years, 2022 is going to be busy for housing advocates. With so much on the table, however, 2022 could be more than busy – it could be transformational for tenants, homeowners, and communities across the Commonwealth. Let’s get to work! 

Commenting Closed

House Adopts $3.8 billion spending bill, Combines Federal ARPA dollars with State Surplus - Many, but not all, MACDC Priorities are Included

November 1st, 2021 by Joe Kriesberg

On Friday, October 29, the Massachusetts House of Representatives approved $3.8 billion in new spending using a combination of Federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and state surplus revenue. The final bill included four so-called consolidated amendments totaling $174 million that funded projects in four areas – Health and Human Services, Economic Development, Housing, and Climate/Energy.  The bill, which now goes to the Senate, included some, but not all, of MACDC’s priorities. 

Affordable Housing: The bill includes $600 million for five statewide housing initiatives.  While this was less than the $1.6 billion that CHAPA and MACDC had been advocating for it still represents an exciting and unprecedented investment in our housing system. The five housing programs are:  

  • $150M for Supportive Housing Production
  • $150M for Public Housing Maintenance  
  • $100M for Homeownership Assistance  
  • $100M for CommonWealth Builder Program (homeownership production) 
  • $100M for Affordable Rental Housing Production

MACDC worked with allies to advocate for two key amendments on the House floor, but neither was included in the Consolidated Housing Amendment.    

  • Rep. David LeBeouf filed an amendment to provide $25 million for a Massachusetts Healthy Homes Initiative that would have provided funding to remove lead paint and other health hazards from 1-4 unit properties.  The Amendment garnered 34 cosponsors but did not pass. 
  • Rep. Ruth Balser and Michael Day filed an amendment to fund a Right to Counsel program for people facing eviction. The Amendment garnered 77 cosponsors but was not passed. 

Small Business Support: The bill coming out of the House Ways & Means Committee recommended $50 million for grants to small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis – far less than the $1 billion proposal we put forward with the Coalition for an Equitable Economy. Rep. Liz Miranda and 39 other Representatives filed an amendment to increase this to $200 million. The final bill did increase the amount to $60 Million.  

MACDC appreciates the many Representatives who advocated for our priorities and we thank Speaker Ron Mariano and House Ways & Means Committee Chair, Aaron Michlewitz for putting together an historic and comprehensive investment plan that will improve the lives of millions of Massachusetts residents and create a healthier and more equitable Commonwealth. 

Commenting Closed

The Community Development Movement Lost one of its legendary leaders on April 28 when Charles "Chuck" Grigsby passed away.

May 26th, 2021 by Joe Kriesberg

Chuck's contributions to the Community Development field's birth and growth over the past nearly 50 years represent a legacy that will be remembered for a long time. It was Mel King who was the state representative that led the campaign to create the state’s community development infrastructure in the 1970s. It was Chuck Grigsby who was hired to transform that vision into reality by serving as the founding executive director of the Community Development Finance Corporation in the 1970s. 

Later, after community groups (including MACDC, MAHA and others) successfully won passage of legislation to require insurance companies to make community investments, the life insurance industry also turned to Chuck to make that dream a reality by hiring him to be the founding executive director of the Life Initiative in the 1990s. And once again when the Deval Patrick Administration merged CDFC with another state quasi-public entity to create the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation in 2010, they turned to Chuck to lead the merger and create a new, stronger, and more impactful agency.  He also served as the director of the Public Facilities Departments (now the Department of Neighborhood Development) for the City of Boston in the 1990s during the Thomas Menino Administration. 

To each of these roles, Chuck brought his extraordinary intelligence, leadership, creativity, and commitment. The results speak for themselves. Chuck was someone that I deeply admired from the start of our relationship in the 1990s when he helped us create the CDC Community Business Network, an innovative model for shared staffing and collaboration that was built in close partnership with the City of Boston. I clearly remember the meeting where Chuck laid out his vision. We all nodded in agreement. Later, I had the pleasure of working closely with Chuck as he built the Life Initiative into a critical player in the community development field - not an easy task given the insurance industry's lack of familiarity with our field. Finally, I had one more opportunity to see Chuck in action when he took the helm at MGCC where I serve on the Board of Directors. The success and impact of MGCC in responding to the pandemic over the past year (for which we recently gave them an award) can be traced directly to the culture and foundation that Chuck built during those early years. Over the course of our relationship, I learned a great deal from Chuck about finance, public service, politics, leadership and how to live life to the fullest (learn more about his many hobbies in this terrific Boston Globe article).

The Massachusetts Community Development movement is incredibly fortunate to have had many great leaders over the decades. Today, we walk on their shoulders and none were broader and stronger than those of Chuck Grigsby. May his memory be a blessing.

Commenting Closed

Pandemic Response: Supporting our small business community - A story about the power of relationships, collaboration, advocacy, and persistence

January 7th, 2021 by Joe Kriesberg

As the Commonwealth and the Country came to terms with the true impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic in mid-March 2020, I closed the MACDC offices, and sent our staff home with their laptop computers. MACDC’s staff knew that our focus had to remain on two things: 1) helping our members adjust to the reality of a pandemic; and 2) advocating for the communities we serve and represent. We immediately knew that housing stability would be a central focus of our efforts. We also knew that this crisis would have a devastating impact on small businesses, especially the more vulnerable ones with whom CDCs and CDFIs typically work (micro businesses, businesses owned by people of color, rural businesses, those in Gateway Cities, and other businesses that operate on thin margins and with inadequate equity). These businesses started the pandemic with less wealth, smaller margins, less access to capital and many operated in the very communities hardest hit by COVID-19.  We realized right away that this crisis could make our shameful racial wealth gap even larger.  As we move into the new year, I wanted to share some of my experiences and thoughts about how MACDC and its members worked with old and new partners across the public, private and nonprofit sectors to mobilize a response to the crisis in our small business community.

MACDC grows its long-standing Small Business Peer Group

Our efforts began on March 18, when we convened our Small Business Peer Group, comprised of CDCs, CDFIs, and other community groups who work with entrepreneurs every day.  This group has been meeting regularly (and sometimes irregularly) for more than 25 years, but never with this level of urgency. The relationships among practitioners that had been built over the previous years proved critical as we shared information and ideas, learned about resources and strategies, and provided each other with moral support. Amidst our confusion and fear, one thing was clear - no one wanted to face this challenge alone. We agreed to meet weekly while the crisis continued, with as many as 90 people joining some of our Zoom calls (compared to about 10-15 at the average meeting pre-COVID). Our network grew as we continued to invite more people to join us (municipal officials, regional planning agencies, small business development centers, and anyone else who shared our goals). By the time 2020 came to an end, we held 32 meetings with a total of 1,430 people in attendance, representing 180 individuals from 78 different organizations.

These meetings provided a regular forum for practitioners to not only learn from each other, but to hear from key policy makers and program administrators about the tools and resources available to small businesses. Larry Andrews and others from the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation were there every week. We routinely had guests like Economic Development Secretary Michael Kennealy, DHCD Undersecretary Jennifer Maddox, SBA Massachusetts Director Bob Nelson, and representatives from municipal governments, Small Business Strong, and other critical partners.

New partners start working together in new ways

The conversations on Wednesdays helped spark several organic collaborations as new ideas and new relationships opened new possibilities. Early on, a number of organizations were interested in surveying small businesses to identify their needs, so with the leadership of the Lawrence Partnership we developed a shared survey instrument that dozens of organizations distributed generating a much larger and more diverse survey response and important data about what was happening in the field.  Later, as we saw many businesses of color struggle to access PPP loans, the Foundation for Business Equity, LISC, and others reached out to key banking partners to develop what came to be known as the Equitable PPP Collaborative. LISC stepped up to administer this program that connected businesses of color to technical assistance providers and to banks ready to accept PPP applications from non-customers.  This extraordinary collaboration helped over 350 businesses access PPP loans. The Coalition also used its direct experience with the PPP program to fashion a detailed set of recommendations to the SBA and the Massachusetts Congressional delegation about how the program could be made more equitable and fair.  The recommendations were embraced by over 60 organizations on May 11.

In May, as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts prepared to reopen, two long-time community development professionals and friends of MACDC, Marty Jones and Adam Gibbons, volunteered to help collect, collate, and organize information and resources that would assist practitioners who were helping businesses figure out how to comply with the new rules and still make money (or at least lose less money). They built a special website for the network and provided regular updates and links to resources. MACDC’s Board of Directors was also invited to meet with the Governor’s Reopening Task Force and provide recommendations for how to reopen the economy safely and equitably.  Our strong partnership with the Baker Administration, which had started in February 2014 when candidate Charlie Baker met with our board, gave us the opportunity to influence policy at the highest level. Our Board would also meet with Governor Baker in June to discuss both housing and economic development issues associated with the pandemic.

A bigger vision begins to emerge

By the summer, as the pandemic and economic crisis wore on, and racial justice protests highlighted the deep racial inequities in our society, our work took on new urgency. Glynn Lloyd of the Foundation for Business Equity initiated a conversation among several groups, including MACDC, Amplify Latinx, the Black Economic Council and LISC about how we could build on the success of the Equitable PPP initiative to build an enduring coalition. We started meeting regularly and created a vision for the Coalition for an Equitable Economy and formed an initial steering committee with leaders from over 15 community-based groups. By design, people of color compose a majority of the steering committee, and the Coalition adopted a mission statement focused on closing racial inequities in the small business sector. The Coalition is now poised to advance our policy and program objectives over the long term.  Indeed, the Coalition has already moved beyond immediate relief efforts. This fall, when BECMA led an effort to push the Baker Administration on the Commonwealth’s supplier diversity efforts, I helped mobilize a letter signed by 27 groups in support of BECMA’s agenda. Some of us then joined BECMA in their meetings with the Governor and his advisors, showing strength and unity within our coalition.  A few weeks later, BECMA secured significant policy wins when the Governor announced new initiatives to improve supplier diversity. I would not have been in those meetings but for the relationships and trust built over the prior few months.

Also, during the summer, there was a growing desire to conduct another small business survey to understand how the crisis was evolving, in particular its impact on businesses owned by people of color.  This time several of the organizations around the table agreed to pitch in their own financial resources to hire MassINC to conduct a more formal and professional business survey.  The results provided important insights into what was going on with small businesses, in particular micro-entrepreneurs and businesses of color and gave new weight to our advocacy efforts.

The Coalition has also begun to work with the Boston Foundation to map out strategies to build a strong small business eco-system that can help reduce racial disparities across the state. We envision an eco-system where underserved businesses are aware of and able to access the support they need to succeed. We are also working with Mass Inc to conduct a research project that examines best practices in public policy that can help advance our vision for a more equitable small business system. A third working group is looking at how we can create the financing products that small businesses need to grow and sustain their businesses. All these projects will continue in 2021.

Our coalition mobilizes for small business relief and recovery dollars

Throughout these months, MACDC coordinated an ambitious and persistent advocacy campaign to get relief dollars to small businesses and funding to support the community-based groups that were helping these business owners.  On March 23, 2020, MACDC issued policy recommendations for responding to the COVID-19 crisis that included a call for an initial $150 million investment to support small businesses.  These recommendations were later embraced by a coalition of nearly 80 organizations. We presented these recommendations to Secretary Kennealy; to legislators (including at MACDC’s Annual Lobby Day on April 28) and these ideas eventually became central to Governor Charlie Baker’s small business relief plan in the Fall.  We repeatedly engaged the media and I probably talked to Boston Globe reporters on a weekly and sometimes daily basis to keep these concerns in the press.  Rosario Ubiera-Minaya, Segun Idowu and I jointly published an op-ed about these recommendations in Commonwealth Magazine.

For weeks and months, our coalition pressed the case for more state and local dollars for small business relief.  We first saw success at the local level as cities began using CDBG funding to support small business grants.  Peter Dunn from the City of Worcester made a presentation at one of our Wednesday meetings to share with others how Worcester had navigated the complicated CDBG rules to make grants available to businesses quickly.  In July, both the House and Senate passed economic development bills that provided $75 million and $80 million respectfully for small business relief.  Finally, in October 2020, I was able to join Governor Baker at a State House press conference (my one and only trip to the State House during the pandemic), as the Governor announced a new $50.8 million grant initiative aimed at priority businesses such as people of color, veterans, women, LGBTQ and Gateway Cities.  A few weeks later, the Legislature and the Governor agreed to provide $5.1 million in funding for the Small Business Technical Assistance program – up from $3 million last year. This allowed MGCC to support 65 community-based organizations across the state.  The Legislature and the Governor also approved $17.5 million for CDFIs and CDCs to invest in small businesses and an additional $17.5 million in grants. Finally, on the last night of the legislative session, the House and Senate approved $110 million in new capital authorizations for small business programs.  All these initiatives – the grants, the CDFI investments and the technical assistance – were part of the recommendations that we first put forward in March!

With these new resources secured, the power of the Network once again revealed itself as dozens of CDCs, CDFIs and community-based groups mobilized to help clients apply for grants and LISC stepped up again to coordinate information flow, communications, and technical assistance.  By the application closing date, over 10,000 businesses had applied for help, including 3,700 businesses owned by people of color.  Governor Baker announced initial awards of $50.8 million on December 21, with 95% of the grants going to businesses owned by people of color – a victory for racial equity that would not have happened without this network. A few days later, he announced another $68 million in grants with 50% going toward businesses of color and 50% to women-owned businesses. This was in sharp contrast to what we saw with the PPP program where white-owned and larger businesses fared better. On December 23, the Governor announced a commitment of $668 million in small business grants – far more than we had ever expected, but an amount that is clearly needed to meet the devastation caused by this pandemic.

A victory of that scale has many parents, so I will not argue that our Network deserves all the credit.  Clearly, many other business advocates and industry associations were also pushing for resources, as were municipal and elected officials. No doubt Governor Baker and his entire Administration were already aware of the pain created by the necessary public health measures and were determined to provide some relief.

That said, the Governor cannot distribute $668 million by himself. He needs organization, infrastructure, and a delivery system. He needs to be pushed by advocates like us. Moreover, we know these programs cannot be implemented equitably without community-based organizations.  Our network, working hand in glove with MGCC for the past ten months, created the opportunity and platform (and external pressure) to make this investment possible.

Today’s victories were built on years of hard work

I think it is important to remember that the seeds of this success were planted many years ago.  For me, it goes back at least until 2006 when MACDC was able to successfully lobby Governor Mitt Romney and the legislature to create the Small Business Technical Assistance program in the first place.  At our 2006 MACDC Convention, we secured a pledge from then candidate Deval Patrick to sustain the program, which he did. In 2010, we worked with the Patrick Administration (and Senate President Karen Spilka who was chair of the Economic Development Committee at that time) to create the Mass Growth Capital Corporation as a successor to the Community Development Finance Corporation.  In the negotiations over that legislation, we insisted that MGCC retain the mission and commitment to racial equity that embodied CDFC (which itself was created by Mel King in the 1970s) and secured a permanent seat for CDCs on the MGCC Board. Larry Andrews and I were founding board members of MGCC and together with our colleagues on the board and staff, and under the leadership of the Patrick Administration, we built an organization dedicated to equitable small business development. Governor Baker embraced this vision when he spoke at the 2014 MACDC Convention as a candidate and has followed through ever since. In 2019, Governor Baker and the Legislature increased funding for the program by 50% to $3 million – long before COVID-19 even existed!

More recently, the Baker Administration and MGCC had a few trial runs at providing disaster relief to small businesses, first during the snow emergencies that welcomed Governor Baker to office in January 2015, and then again in 2018 following the Columbia Gas explosions in and around Lawrence. In both instances, MGCC was there to support impacted businesses and the lessons learned in those crises – especially the close collaboration with Mill Cities Community Investments in Lawrence – proved vital when COVID-19 arrived.

I share this history to underscore that successful advocacy and successful community development is an on-going process that builds on past success and past failure, that relies on lessons learned and relationships forged, that builds infrastructure and muscle memory and is handed off from Administration to Administration and generation to generation. The pandemic accelerated this process, but it did not start it, and it will not end it.  I have no doubt that the lessons and relationship built over the past 10 months will continue to yield impact for years and even decades to come.

The Path Forward

Most immediately, of course, the network will continue to address the immense challenges that remain. As we start 2021, with hope that vaccines will soon end this wretched pandemic, we are mobilizing the network to tackle an ambitious agenda:

  • Help more businesses apply for and smartly deploy the $668 million in MGCC grants.
  • Help more businesses secure new PPP forgivable loans and get existing PPP loans forgiven.
  • Partner with DHCD and local governments to fully disburse existing CDBG resources for small businesses.
  • Collaborate with MGCC to implement new small business support programs approved by the Legislature, including a major new investment program for CDFIs & CDCs that lend to small businesses and a program to close the digital divide among small businesses.
  • Convene our network bi-weekly to continue sharing information, building relationships, and engaging policy makers.
  • Offer professional development opportunities to practitioners through the Mel King Institute for Community Building.
  • Provide support to the small business community to ensure that they have the information, capital, customers, and networks needed to successfully reopen and scale up their operations as health restrictions are hopefully eased later this year.
  • Systematically strengthen the small business eco-system by working with the Boston Foundation, MassINC and others to ensure that it can spark and sustain equitable business development that closes that racial wealth gap over the long term.
  • Transform this network into a powerful advocacy force under the banner of the Coalition for an Equitable Economy, so we can continue this work beyond the immediate crisis and build a dynamic and equitable economy for everyone.

Together, we can take some pride in what was accomplished in 2020, even as we wish we could have done more. Thankfully, the relationships, networks and results built in 2020 have created an opportunity to achieve more in 2021 and beyond. 

As we begin this work anew, I take inspiration from the courage and persistence of the thousands of small business owners who have endured so much and continue to fight, adapt, and persevere. They have sacrificed to help stop this deadly virus, and it is our turn to have their back.

For their benefit and ours, let’s get to work!

Commenting Closed

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

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