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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.

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Housing Quality and Health: Revealing the Connections, Addressing the Challenges

May 24th, 2021 by Don Bianchi & Elana Brochin

Revitalize CDC in Springfield improves housing conditions by performing assessments and interventions for adults and children with asthma to safely remain in their home. (Photo credit: Revitalize CDC)

MACDC has long supported its members in their work to improve housing quality. In recent years, MACDC worked with it's members to establish health equity work as a defining characteristic of the contemporary community development movement in Massachusetts. We are now in the beginning stages of an initiative to link these two strands of our work. We would like to engage with as many stakeholders as possible in this process, and, therefore, are publishing this series of blog posts to share out ideas and get your feedback.

Part #1: Surveying the Landscape

Springfield ranks 12th among cities nationwide in the prevalence of asthma, a distinction that the City’s residents and institutions are working hard to overcome. Revitalize CDC partners with Baystate Medical Center, Health New England, and the Public Health Institute of Western MA on the Greater Springfield Healthy Homes Asthma Program. The CDC conducts a home assessment to identify and eliminate asthma triggers, such as poor ventilation, leaks, and pests. The program then provides supplies to help mitigate triggers, provides education, and administers an asthma control test (ACT) before and after services are provided, to determine if symptoms have been alleviated. By addressing the unsafe and unhealthy housing that can trigger asthma, Revitalize CDC is seeing improvements in resident health after just 6 months of the program.

Like the residents of Springfield, all people need and deserve access to safe, stable, and affordable housing. Yet, for too many families, their housing is anything but safe. Persistent housing quality problems have serious consequences for those who occupy the homes, and for the broader community; among these consequences are poor health outcomes, such as asthma. The silver lining in this bleak landscape is that, by improving housing quality, we can also provide an antidote to many of these health problems. MACDC’s Housing Quality & Health (HQH) Initiative is intended to shed light on this troubling link, assess what existing interventions exist, and get to work on filling in the gaps on these remedies.

Why Focus on Housing Quality Now and Why Apply a Health Lens to This Problem?

According to a 2016 report from the National Association of Home Builders, the median age of owner-occupied homes in Massachusetts was 54 years, second oldest in the nation. In other words, half of the owner-occupied homes in MA were built before 1962, more than 15 years before lead paint was outlawed. Furthermore, New England’s harsh winters can wreak havoc on neglected homes.

Over the last several years, there has been increasing recognition of the ways in which social, economic, and physical factors affect individual and community health. In 2017 the Massachusetts Department of Public Health adopted six health priorities that address these factors, which are collectively referred to as “Social Determinants of Health.” Housing is one these identified health priorities. The COVID-19 pandemic has elucidated the link between housing and health. We witnessed the ways in which overcrowding and improper ventilation led to increased disease transmission. Devastating in so many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the inextricable convergence of health and housing and presents an opportunity to further envision the ways we can leverage a health lens to scale up efforts to improve housing quality and safety.

Indeed, opportunity can spring from crisis, and the Commonwealth’s response to the climate crisis presents such an opportunity. Passage of the Climate Roadmap legislation requires Massachusetts to achieve a 50% reduction in statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and net zero emissions by 2050. This will require major investments that go beyond typical energy efficiency measures, to include aggressive electrification and decarbonization efforts, and prioritizing climate resiliency. Healthier homes will be one important byproduct of this work.

The Link Between Housing Quality and Health

The prevalence of asthma in Springfield is just one example of the ways in which poor housing quality can cause and exacerbate serious health problems for its occupants and for the broader community. These health problems often reflect structural inequities.

    For example:
  • Substandard housing creates health hazards for its occupants, including increasing the likelihood of accidents and falls and the spread of infectious disease.
  • Substandard housing can also increase susceptibility to the impacts of climate change, including extreme temperatures and weather events.
  • Lead-based paint hurts the brain and other organs and has particularly harmful effects on children.

​The negative health outcomes associated with poor quality housing disproportionately impact the most vulnerable among us- children, seniors, people with disabilities and lower incomes, and many communities of color. For example, in Massachusetts, 13.8% of Black, Non-Hispanic adults in Massachusetts suffer from asthma as compared with 10.4% of white adults1 and over half of children with confirmed elevated blood levels live in just 19 cities and towns in Massachusetts.2 The particularly insidious impacts on children of exposure to lead paint are noted above. Elderly residents are most at risk for falls and are particularly impacted by exposure to extreme temperatures. People with disabilities, who often have fewer housing options available to them, may find it more difficult to move from housing that poses health risks.

Current Efforts to Address the Problems:

    There are several current policies, programs, and practices in place to address the housing quality and safety challenges, which can be grouped into four categories:
  • Efforts to prevent and reduce hazards and improve housing quality range from responsible property management to strong code enforcement and tenant protection policies, to programs that improve housing quality and abate lead-based paint. These include smoke-free housing policies and support for the development and operation of the well-regulated, high quality, affordable housing stock.
  • Energy efficiency and climate initiatives can reduce energy costs and provide a safer living environment. These include utility ratepayer-funded energy retrofit programs, increased availability and affordability of renewable energy, and implementation of climate resiliency and mitigation strategies.
  • Neighborhood stabilization strategies provide tools and incentives for both the private and public sectors, so that distressed and vacant buildings are brought back into productive use and maintained as quality residential and commercial properties.
  • Local healthy homes programs, and partnerships with health institutions, are among the initiatives that act on the explicit connection between housing quality and health.

Filling the Gaps

While there are many initiatives that support housing quality and safety challenges in Massachusetts, there is no coordinated approach, and these efforts lack the scale we need to address the problems. In order to increase the capacity of state and local governments, CDCs, housing courts, and others to successfully improve the safety and quality of older homes across the state, we need to fill existing gaps and scale up our efforts. We suggest the following strategies:

  • Increased availability of data on housing quality and safety challenges that is timely, publicly accessible, and reflects the disproportionate impacts of substandard housing on the health on Communities of Color, immigrants, residents of disinvested neighborhoods, and others. We also need data on the impact that current programs have on addressing these challenges, and where they fall short.
  • Increased public and private investment addressing home-specific substandard quality, energy-inefficient and climate-vulnerable buildings, and neighborhood-level distress.
  • Establishment of a Task Force, representing the various stakeholders, to better coordinate the strategies that address the broad spectrum of housing quality problems impacting families, and the homes and neighborhoods where they reside.

These strategies must be adopted by a wide range of players in order to be successful. In subsequent blogs, we will dig deeper into the housing quality problems that negatively impact resident and community health, current programs intended to address the problems, and strategies to fill the existing gaps and meaningfully address both housing quality and health.

As noted above, this, and other blogs in this series, are intended to start a conversation. We’ve convened a working group to help us navigate this work. We’d also welcome your thoughts and reactions and would encourage you to share them with us. Elana Brochin can be reached at elanab@macdc.org; Don Bianchi at donb@macdc.org.


[1] https://www.mass.gov/service-details/statistics-about-asthma#:~:text=The%20prevalence%20of%20asthma%20is%20high%20in%20Massachusetts&text=The%20prevalence%20of%20current%20asthma,ethnicity%20subgroups%20in%2020152.

[2] High-risk communities are defined as those with a 5-year incidence rate of children who have a confirmed concentration of ≥ 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter cases that is above the state 5-year incidence rate after adjusting for low to moderate income and old housing stock (built pre-1978)

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The Mel King Institute held its largest virtual Stand Against Racism event on April 29

May 12th, 2021 by Tiana Lawrence

Annually, the Mel King Institute takes part in the YWCA’s nation-wide Stand Against Racism Campaign. This campaign takes place each year during the month of April, allowing individuals and organizations to register their own unique events and be part of the movement. This year on April 29, 2021, the Mel King Institute held its largest virtual Stand Against Racism event with a total of 90 participants.

The event featured a conversation amongst Black Executive Directors in the Community Development field. Our panelists featured Emilio Dorcely, CEO of Urban Edge in Boston; Keith Fairey, President and CEO of Way Finders in Springfield; and Gail Latimore, Executive Director of Codman Square NDC in Dorchester. The dialogue was centered around what racial equity looks like for communities of color, highlighting their approaches, challenges, and opportunities. The panelists were asked to discuss what drives and keeps them committed to equity and community development work, their organizational approaches to racial equity, the challenges faced as a leader of color when engaging in racial justice at the organizational level, how they take care of themselves, and lastly, what opportunities they see for themselves and their organizations as they move forward.

In particular, the panelists shared powerful stories and insights that underscored the necessity of great leadership, strong infrastructure, racial equity work and dynamic spaces to discuss these topics.

Highlights from the panelists and moderators include:

  • Opportunities and challenges faced between and within boards, organizations, and leaders of color.
  • Acknowledgment of the racial equity journey and continuous learning.
  • The importance of remembering that we must expect non-closure when engaged in this work.
  • A leading question posed to the attendees was, “How do we do a better job, as an organization, internally, on racial equity issues?”
  • The concept of reparations was underscored, and the impact of a large and diverse staff was highlighted.
  • The challenge of individuals, communities, and leaders of color wanting to be happy but not necessarily having the tools to do so was noted.
  • Recognition was given to the dynamics, impact, and experiences of tokenism, internalized racism, and trauma as they exist in the lives of leaders and communities of color.
  • Regarding racial equity, the following comment was shared, “Moments turn to momentum and momentum turns into movements.”

The event lasted an hour and a half, and featured a context setting overview of the four levels of racism, a networking component, featured panelists, a question-and-answer portion, and lastly, participants created a word cloud capturing one word to describe what we should keep in mind while continuing to engage in racial equity and community development work. There was dynamic energy from the facilitators, panelists, and attendees.

Overall, this year’s Stand Against Racism was successful in offering a space for Black leaders in the CDC field to have honest and engaging dialogue and share their insightful experiences with racial equity work. The Mel King Institute is hoping to continue these conversations with BIPOC leaders.

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