Advocates Push for Grassroots Involvement in Community Preservation Act at Council Hearing

March 23rd, 2017 by

Joe Kriesberg, MA Association Community Development Corps,
Greg Galer, Boston Preservation Alliance,
Linda Orel, The Trust for Public Land,
Cortina Vann, MA Affordable Housing Alliance,


BOSTON – The Yes for a Better Boston (YBB) alliance, which helped pass the Community Preservation Act (CPA) in Boston on the November 8, 2016 election, is calling for grassroots involvement in CPA implementation in Boston at a City Council hearing on March 23. YBB is a broad and diverse coalition of groups working with the Walsh Administration and City Councilors to ensure that the implementation of CPA is transparent, equitable and accountable to all Boston residents.

CPA, which passed with 74% voter support, will help Boston to create new affordable homes, preserve open space and historic sites, and develop outdoor recreational opportunities. Funds will be generated by 1% property tax surcharge matched by a statewide trust fund, with exemptions for low-income homeowners and the first $100,000 of property value. The typical Boston homeowner will pay about $24 per year towards this investment, and the City will generate approximately $20 million every year for CPA projects.

At Thursday’s hearing, the Government Operations Committee will accept testimony on the CPA Ordinance, which will spell out the membership on Boston’s first nine-member Community Preservation Committee (CPC). CPC members are expected to be appointed later this spring so they can administer the CPA program that launches on July 1. The CPA ordinance will define the committee's composition, length of member terms, how the four "at large" positions will be appointed, as well as outlining the committee’s responsibilities.

YBB hopes to participate in the nomination process of the four “at large” positions. Grassroots involvement will ensure credibility and transparency, alleviate potential concerns about politicizing grant making decisions, increase the chance that grants will be made equitably throughout the City, and better meet the needs of those in underserved neighborhoods.

“This is a special opportunity to fund historic preservation and park projects, while creating much-needed affordable homes for families, seniors and veterans, and producing jobs,” said Joseph Kriesberg, West Roxbury resident, President of the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations. “Involving Boston’s grassroots in appointing members of the CPC, and making sure funds are distributed equitably is critical to a successful CPA program in Boston.”

    YBB is also advocating for:
  • Public access to CPC decisions, activities, projects and hearings;
  • Public reports that describe grants, including a map showing the geographic distribution of CPA projects;
  • An independent CPA Office with dedicated staff overseen by the CPC, and housed in a neutral department in the City;
  • Public hearings held by the CPC in neighborhoods throughout the City;
  • Term limits for CPC members to enable active participation of new members and to bring new ideas and experiences to the CPC;
  • Determination of allocation of CPA revenues to be done on an annual basis based on input from public hearings, data on need, and number of “shovel-ready” projects.

"The effort to pass and now implement CPA has, from the beginning, been a remarkably cooperative effort between the historic preservation, parks, and affordable housing communities,” said Greg Galer, executive director of the Boston Preservation Alliance. “We support a process for selecting CPC members who are passionate about projects that don't just meet these needs in individual but who encourage projects that cross and merge these boundaries. Affordable housing in adapted and preserved historic buildings and the restoration of historic parks will benefit all neighborhoods of the city."

YBB will continue to work with officials in the Walsh Administration and City Council to ensure that CPA is implemented in fairly and equitably.

To learn more about the Community Preservation Act, CLICK HERE.

To research examples of CPA projects in the 172 Massachusetts cities and towns that have adopted CPA, CLICK HERE.

The Yes for a Better Boston Steering Committee includes Allston-Brighton CDC, Boston Park Advocates, Boston Preservation Alliance, Chinese Progressive Association, Emerald Necklace Conservancy, Friends of the Public Garden, Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, Historic Boston, Inc., Mass Affordable Housing Alliance, Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants, Mass Association of Community Development Corp, New England United for Justice, Right to the City Boston, and The Trust for Public Land.

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OneHolyoke CDC Teams with Attorney General’s Office to Turn Blight into Opportunity

March 21st, 2017 by Don Bianchi

The Oxford Dictionary defines “Initiative” as “an act or strategy intended to resolve a difficulty or improve a situation; a fresh approach to something,” an apt description for The Attorney General’s Abandoned Housing Initiative (AHI).  AHI is a partnership among the Attorney General (AG), municipalities, the courts, and private organizations, including CDCs, to address seriously blighted properties whose owners are neglecting them.

As described on the AG’s website, blighted properties, abandoned by their owners in residential areas, create safety hazards, attract crime, and lower property values. AHI uses the enforcement authority of the State Sanitary Code to turn these properties around.  Working in close partnership with cities and towns, the AGO seeks out delinquent owners of abandoned residential property and encourages them to voluntarily repair their properties and make them secure.  If owners refuse, then AGO attorneys will petition the relevant court to appoint a receiver to bring the property up to code.

One such property, a single-family home at 140 Beech Street in Holyoke, had been abandoned years before.  The bank was taking no action on its mortgage, the roof was failing, and all the plumbing was stolen.  When the Springfield Housing Court appointed OneHolyoke CDC as Receiver and they first made entry, job one was removing over 100 used hypodermic needles laying throughout the interior.  The CDC’s cost estimate to simply bring the house to compliance with the State Sanitary Code exceeded what they could sell it for.  Enter the City of Holyoke’s Office of Community Development, which provided the needed subsidy using Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to upgrade the home into an attractive, livable, and marketable residence.  Once on the path to almost certain demolition, this beautiful home will be sold this spring to a young family of four, who could only access homeownership through a program like this.

Here’s how Receivership works.  When a municipality invites the AG’s office to intervene, and the court concurs, the AG will invite the owner to meet, with the hope of reaching an agreement to address the property’s repair needs. If these negotiations fail, and owners do not respond to complaints, the State Sanitary Code permits the AG and/or the municipality to petition the court to appoint a receiver.  The State Code allows the receiver to place a lien against the property for all costs incurred by the receiver during the project, which is given a priority over all existing liens, except municipal liens.  At the conclusion of the receivership, which is generally six months to one year, the owner may reimburse the receiver for costs and clear the lien.  If the owner cannot or will not pay the costs, the receiver can foreclose on the lien, and the property is sold at auction to the highest bidder.

The need for aggressive action on blighted properties persists, as some communities have still not recovered fully from the effects of the foreclosure crisis. When Attorney General Maura Healey announced the expansion of AHI in 2016, she noted that “in the wake of the foreclosure crisis, the rehabilitation of abandoned properties is the next important phase of our recovery for families and our communities.  Abandoned properties are public safety hazards, reduce property values, and hinder economic development.” AHI operates in 88 cities and towns statewide.

The success of AHI in Holyoke is one example of the effectiveness of targeted, collaborative effort.  Michael Moriarty, the Director of OneHolyoke CDC, cites their role as a Receiver for 140 Beech Street in Holyoke as one of the proudest moments of his career.  Thanks to a resolute Attorney General, determined municipal officials, proactive courts, and responsible receivers stepping up, municipalities have a strong tool to tackle a sometimes-intractable problem, and offer opportunities to families needing quality, affordable homes.

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DHCD and MassHousing Launch Community Scale Housing Initiative

March 2nd, 2017 by Don Bianchi

The Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and MassHousing issued a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) for the Community Scale Housing Initiative (CSHI). This is a great opportunity for sponsors of smaller rental projects (5-20 units) to have these projects considered outside of the DHCD Tax Credit Rental Rounds.

MACDC has long advocated for a separate funding round for these community-scale projects.  These more modest scale projects are necessary if the Commonwealth is to see affordable housing built in more communities in Massachusetts, including suburban areas with little or no affordable housing, rural areas where the smaller scale is more appropriate, and infill locations in Gateway Cities where small projects can have a catalytic impact on neighborhoods.  MACDC’s analysis of data from DHCD’s last seven “regular” rental rounds (excluding rounds dedicated to supportive housing) demonstrates the challenges that smaller projects face in these rounds focused on tax credit projects.  Of the almost 10,000 units awarded funding in these seven rental rounds, dating back to 2011, less than 3% of the units were in projects of fewer than 20 units which did not utilize low income housing tax credits.

This should change with the launch of CSHI.  Under the NOFA, production projects of at least 5, but no more than 20 rental units, located in communities outside of Boston, are eligible.  Units are considered affordable if targeted to households with incomes at or below 80% of area median income.  The maximum subsidy per CSHI affordable unit is $150,000 if project-based rental assistance is sought, and $200,000 otherwise, with the maximum project subsidy of $1 million.  Projects must be ready to proceed to closing and construction within 12 months of award.  CSHI will make $10 million available from a combination of an allocation of $5 million from DHCD’s Housing Stabilization Fund and $5 million in new money from MassHousing’s Opportunity Fund.

DHCD and MassHousing will hold an information session on March 15 at 11:30 a.m., in the dining room of Shillman House at 49 Edmands Road in Framingham.  Anyone interested in attending this session should email Bertha Borin at DHCD to reserve a seat.  Those with questions about the NOFA can contact Lynn Shields at MassHousing at 617-854-1381.

MACDC President and CEO Joe Kriesberg praised the launch of the new program.  “Community scale projects are incredibly valuable in urban, rural and suburban communities, but are currently difficult to finance in an affordable housing system oriented around the Low Income Housing Tax Credit.  Tax credit deals typically require 20 or more units, and securing the resources necessary for these smaller projects is difficult, even with their reasonable development costs. The Community Scale Housing Initiative program is a smart way to overcome these challenges, so we can build cost effective homes that fit nicely into the existing neighborhood context and market.  MACDC thanks MassHousing, the Department of Housing and Community Development, and the Baker Administration for their creative approach to this challenge, and for their response to the need for such a program that has been expressed by MACDC and others.”

MACDC appreciates the efforts of its members and allies in working with MACDC to achieve this victory in securing the launch of this valuable program.

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