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MACDC Publishes New Guide to Reading a Hospital's Community Benefits Report

August 27th, 2021 by Elana Brochin

MACDC recently published a Guide To Reading A Hospital’s Community Benefits Report. This Guide is a tool for CDCs, CDFIs, and other community-based organizations to better understand their local hospital’s commitments to community health and to foster more collaboration between hospitals and community-based organizations.  

 

Nonprofit hospitals are obligated by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to devote a portion of their budget towards what is termed, “Community Benefits.” The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office (AGO) oversees Massachusetts hospital expenditures through reports that are submitted annually and made available to the public. In Fiscal Year 2019, Massachusetts hospitals collectively spent over $753 million on Community Benefits. These expenditures represented an average of 2.7% of hospitals’ net patient services revenue. 

 

Several Massachusetts CDCs have benefited from relationships with their local hospitals, and MACDC seeks to foster more collaboration. There are many opportunities for CDCs, CDFIs and CBOs to connect with their local hospital, including: 

  • Participating in a Community Health Needs Assessment 
  • Serving on a Community Benefits Advisory Board 
  • Receiving hospital support for your programming 

 

All these opportunities begin with better understanding of your local hospital's priorities and interests. By working the Guide To Reading A Hospital’s Community Benefits Report you can better understand your local hospital’s commitments to community health as articulated in their Massachusetts Community Benefits report. 

 

Please reach out to MACDC’s Program Director for Health Equity, Elana Brochin, if you’d like to work through this guide together or if you’d like a thought partner in considering how to initiate or strengthen a partnership with your local hospital. 

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MACDC Report Highlights CDC Initiatives in 2020 to Address COVID-19 Impacts

August 20th, 2021 by
Article by Don Bianchi and Elana Brochin
Report by Liam Baxter-Healey
 
 
Our Commonwealth faced unprecedented challenges in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged families and communities.   CDCs helped lead the way in responding to the health and the economic challenges created by the pandemic.
 
Today, MACDC releases a report “COVID-19 Response Report” which highlights CDCs’ responses to three of the most persistent manifestations of the pandemic:
  • Initiatives to keep residents, and the broader community, safe and healthy
  • Assistance to small businesses facing economic peril from the pandemic
  • Emergency financial assistance to prevent displacement of those enduring a loss of income during the pandemic
 
CDCs undertook a variety of strategies to ensure the health and safety of the communities they serve.  These included efforts directly targeted to health, such as ensuring social distancing, providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and making wellness calls. Other initiatives included providing food assistance, helping with COVID testing, and helping make connections with mental health services.
 
To assist the owners and employees of small businesses, CDCs helped entrepreneurs collectively obtain almost $12 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, as well as just under $10 million in grants from a variety of sources. To prevent displacement, CDCs provided cash assistance totaling more than $28 million to almost 9,000 renter households.
 

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Housing Quality and Health: Revealing the Connections, Addressing the Challenges (Part 5)

August 16th, 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.

Data, Dollars, and Direction

In our first blog in this series, we identified housing quality and safety challenges that plague the Massachusetts housing stock. In our second blog post we examined the ways these challenges directly impact individual and community health outcomes. The third blog in our series examined current Massachusetts programs that address property-level distress. Our fourth, and most recent blog, focused on current efforts to address two broader factors: neighborhood disinvestment and climate change. In this last blog in our series, we will:
  • Surface gaps in existing efforts and propose ways to scale up efforts to improve housing quality and safety, and therefore health outcomes, in Massachusetts.
  • Advocate for an infusion of funds from the American Rescue Plan Act for this important work.
 
Gaps and Ways to Scale Up Efforts
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 in the following areas:
 
Data:
  • Streamlined and publicly accessible data on housing quality and safety throughout the Commonwealth. For example, we need to have accurate and timely data on the number of homes in MA that still are not lead-safe.
  • Timely data on the impact of existing policy interventions to address housing quality.
  • Demographic data that indicates which populations are most impacted by poor housing quality, including people of color, immigrants, children, elderly, disabled and specific neighborhoods or communities.
  • Data that will help inform decisions by helping both policymakers and advocates to fully understand the gaps.
 
Dollars:
  • Increased public and private investment in home-specific housing rehabilitation, lead paint abatement, and addressing other housing quality concerns.
  • Increased public and private investment in energy efficiency, renewable energy and building decarbonization, which will:
  1. improve housing quality and lower costs for residents of older homes; and 
  2. contribute to urgent efforts to combat the climate crisis.
  • Increased funding for neighborhood-scale initiatives to address vacant and distressed housing.
  • Better alignment of different funding streams from the housing, energy and health sectors so property owners and public housing authorities can leverage dollars and undertake comprehensive renovations at one time. 
 
Direction:
  • Formation of a Task Force comprised of a broad array of public, private, nonprofit, and community members to set goals and monitor progress around housing safety and quality in Massachusetts.
  • Incorporation of housing quality improvements into our long-term resiliency strategy to ensure that our most vulnerable communities are protected from the impacts of climate change, extreme weather, flooding, etc., and development of mitigation plans in advance of when disasters occur.
  • Streamlined systems for integrating housing, energy, climate and health programs and dollars into a coordinated property improvement strategy.
  • Neighborhood and community-level initiatives to address property distress, abandonment, and disinvestment.
  • Engagement of the health sector, including hospitals, to:
  1. champion the effectiveness of healthy housing programs on impacting patient health outcomes; and
  2. implement and support healthy housing programs as part of their Community Health Improvement Plans and Community Benefits programs.
  • Development of policies and tools to ensure that improved housing quality does not lead to escalating rents and displacement.
 
When utilizing these strategies, we suggest using and improving upon the framework of the existing programs when possible. This includes:
  • Increasing funding for effective programs, such as the State’s Get the Lead Out (GTLO) Program.
  • Ensuring that available programs and funding are accessible to all populations. For example, we should be using and strengthening the infrastructure of community-based organizations which provide support to individuals and families facing language and other barriers.
 
These strategies, by definition, must be adopted by a wide range of players to be successful. 
MACDC will continue to leverage our role as a thought-leader in the Community Development field and our deep relationships with our members to embed housing quality and health equity work into the fabric of the CD movement. 
 
Use of American Rescue Plan Act Funding
One crucial and timely opportunity to jumpstart a large-scale effort to improve the Massachusetts housing stock is to use funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). This is a once in a generation opportunity to address longstanding housing quality and safety problems in Massachusetts. Massachusetts and local jurisdictions expect to receive $8.7 billion in funds from the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, established by ARPA. The Governor has proposed spending $1 billion on housing (evenly split between home ownership and rental housing), which MACDC supports. The Legislature needs to build upon the Governor’s baseline proposal by devoting additional funding to improve the quality and safety of Massachusetts’ housing stock. 
 
As we’ve established in our previous blogs, the presence of lead, poor indoor air quality, and other substandard housing conditions leads to developmental delays in children, respiratory disease, accidents and injuries, and spread of infectious disease, among other serious, preventable health consequences. Therefore, MACDC is advocating that the Commonwealth devote an additional $100 million from the ARPA funds to improving the existing Massachusetts housing stock, with $50 million devoted to making homes lead safe and $50 million for housing rehab, with a healthy homes focus. We see this commitment as a significant first step toward scaling up efforts to fill the gaps that we have identified.
 
Conclusions
We look forward to utilizing these tools and to collaborating with our partners in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to coordinate initiatives and to improve housing quality in Massachusetts using the Data, Dollars, and Direction framework that we’ve described. Improving housing quality will ultimately provide dignity and physical security to Massachusetts residents and will lead to improved community health outcomes. Devoting $100 million dollars of funding from ARPA will jumpstart these efforts.
 
Acknowledgment
While the series of blog posts represents the opinions of and analysis by the authors, our conclusions have been informed by discussions with a working group that we convened to help guide this work. The working group included representatives from the public and nonprofit sectors, each of whom work on and think about housing quality, and health equity, from different perspectives. We owe deep gratitude to each of the members of this working group for their thoughtfulness, engagement, and commitment to this important work.
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Housing Quality and Health: Revealing the Connections, Addressing the Challenges (Part 4)

August 9th, 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.

 

Current Initiatives Targeted at Neighborhood Disinvestment and Climate Change 

In our most recent blog, the third in our series, we examined current programs focused on addressing property-level distress. These programs including ones that confront lead hazards in homes, poor indoor air quality, and other unsafe housing conditions. In the current blog, we focus on current efforts to address two broader factors: neighborhood disinvestment and climate change. Attention to these “underlying conditions” is necessary for efforts to address property-level distress to succeed. 

Addressing neighborhood disinvestment:

As noted in our prior blog, many lower-income neighborhoods in Massachusetts—most notably, but not solely, in the state’s Gateway Cities and some rural communities —struggle with the challenges of weak real estate markets, with low rents and declining or stagnant home values. In these neighborhoods, too often property owners lack economic incentives to invest in these structures for long-term sustainability, making neighborhood-or community-wide interventions necessary. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problems associated with neighborhood disinvestment. As author Alan Mallach from the Center for Community Progress noted in his June 2020 Report: Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst: Addressing the Aftermath of the COVID-19 Pandemic in America’s Struggling Neighborhoods, “one thing we can expect is that the effects will be much more severe in struggling cities, lower income neighborhoods, and communities of color.” 

Fortunately, there are a number of promising programs and interventions: 

Local Code Enforcement as Neighborhood Stabilization: Municipal governments can enforce the State Building Code and Sanitary Code, to incentivize owners to maintain their properties, and sanction those who do not do so.  This can be challenging, as many lack the resources to identify problem properties and maintain current records. Fortunately, Massachusetts will receive approximately $.5.3 million in Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), that will address both lost revenue and pandemic-related costs, and thereby strengthen the capacity of local governments to enforce codes.  

Receivership: Receivership is a tool by which the Court can appoint a person or organization to temporarily manage a property (occupied or vacant) to enforce the state Sanitary Code and respond to an irresponsible or absentee landlord.  For occupied buildings, Receivership can address needed repairs and prevent a building from deteriorating, to provide better living conditions for tenants. For abandoned properties, the MA Attorney General’s Neighborhood Renewal Division is a resource for municipalities in utilizing Receivership. Many CDCs have supported these efforts. For example, OneHolyoke CDC has acted as a Court-Ordered Receiver in Holyoke, and Worcester Community Housing Resources has operated a Receivership loan fund in addition to serving as Receiver itself in some cases.   

Liabilities to Assets (LTA) Program to Address Abandoned Homes: The MA Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) is administering a $7.5 million, five-year pilot program to work with a CDC, NewVue Communities, to acquire and rehabilitate more than 40 abandoned homes in North Central Massachusetts, and then sell the homes to low-and moderate-income homebuyers. An energy efficiency consultant recommends steps that can be taken during the rehab to make the homes more efficient and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center will help to defray the cost of some of the upgrades. Despite numerous challenges (often due to the deteriorated condition of many vacant properties), LTA provides a promising model for a broader statewide initiative. 

The Commonwealth’s Neighborhood Stabilization Initiative is modeled on LTA. MACDC, working with MassINC, MassHousing, and other public and nonprofit partners, has launched an initiative intended to put vacant housing back on the market, restore poor quality housing to good condition, and improve the quality of life in struggling neighborhoods and communities across the Commonwealth.  While there are several components to this initiative, implementation of The Neighborhood Hub, supported by more than $2 million in state funds, and staffed by MassHousing, is well underway. The technical and financial assistance to improve capacity on the local level will soon be accompanied by state capital dollars to support property rehabilitation. 

Other Initiatives to Address Neighborhood Disinvestment: 

  • CDCs in Gateway Cities, and in small towns, have long taken an active role in neighborhood stabilization initiatives.  Their housing development efforts and housing rehab programs are often part of a neighborhood-wide strategy.  
  • While limited, affordable homeownership development efforts in these weaker market areas have several goals: providing low-and moderate-income first-time homebuyers with affordable homeownership, providing these homebuyers with the opportunities to build wealth, and stabilizing disinvested neighborhoods. As an example, the State’s Commonwealth Builder Program, administered by MassHousing, provides funding for both new construction and adaptive reuse to turn vacant factories or schools in Gateway Cities into affordable home ownership opportunities. 
  • The MA Public Health Association is partnering with Neighbor to Neighbor on an initiative to improve housing and transportation in Springfield and Worcester. They are currently convening residents to get their input, and then will decide on advocacy strategies.  

Addressing climate change: 

Climate change impacts many aspects of our lives. Efforts to combat climate change, and its impact, are underway in Massachusetts, including passage of legislation to dramatically reduce climate emissions. Nonetheless, the harmful impacts of a warming climate are already being felt, in homes and neighborhoods across the Commonwealth.  

The broad scale of the climate crisis, and its already devastating impacts on residents and communities, require urgent, comprehensive, and aggressive strategies.  Currently, there are several such initiatives: 

Energy efficiency and renewable energy: 

Energy efficiency programs mitigate the impacts of climate change, including extreme temperatures.  These programs additionally lower utility costs to enhance affordability and can directly address health hazards, such as windows containing lead-based paint and poor ventilation. 

Massachusetts is in the process of developing its 3-year Energy Efficiency Plan, for calendar years 2022 through 2024, funded by utility ratepayers and guided by a public process overseen by the MA Department of Public Utilities (DPU). Under the current 3-year Plan, the Mass Save Program offers income eligible households in 1-4 family homes no- and low-cost energy efficiency upgrades. Furthermore, through the LEAN Multifamily Program, owners of multifamily projects where at least 50% of the households have incomes at or below 60% of area median income can access no-cost energy upgrades.  

CDCs have used available resources to provide energy efficiency retrofits: 

  • In Calendar Year 2020, CDCs reported energy retrofits on 1,135 units in their rental portfolios. The combined dollar amount of these energy retrofits was $5.3 Million. 
  • In the communities they serve, in CY 2020, CDCs provided funding for energy efficiency improvements for more than 1,500 homes, for a combined amount of $3.9 Million. 

Other initiatives address the need for energy efficiency and renewable energy: 

  • The MA Clean Energy Center, a state economic development agency, provides information, referrals, and resources for everything from weatherization to renewable energy technologies. 
  • Resonant Energy, LISC Boston and MACDC have launched the Solar Technical Assistance Retrofit (STAR) program, designed to remove barriers and dramatically increase the adoption for solar PV across the Commonwealth. 
  • LISC Boston, MACDC, and New Ecology have formed the Clean Energy Cohort, a peer learning group for affordable housing professionals to network, learn, and share information.  

Decarbonization: 

LISC Boston, MACDC, and New Ecology are using our established partnership as a springboard to launch the Decarbonization of Affordable Subsidized Housing (DASH) project. In FY2022, DASH will focus on two main areas: (1) education and technical assistance for CDCs and others in the affordable housing field on the need to decarbonize the affordable housing sector via deep energy retrofits and electrification of new and existing buildings, and (2) policy advocacy to remove barriers, provide incentives, and drive resources to the affordable housing sector so owners can meaningfully accelerate decarbonization. 

The goal of DASH is to get affordable housing a proverbial seat (and meal) at the electrification and building decarbonization table. Toward that end, we intend to surface – and start generating potential solutions for – the financial, technical, and knowledge barriers that are getting in the way of affordable housing fully participating in an all-electric, carbon free future. 

Policy advocacy: 

The Housing and Environmental Revenue Opportunities (HERO) coalition is a diverse coalition of environmental and housing advocacy organizations that are pushing for major new state investments to address the affordable housing and climate crises. HERO urges the Massachusetts State Legislature to enact legislation that would double the current Deeds Excise Tax, upon the sale of real property in Massachusetts, to generate approximately $300 million in new revenue each year, to be split evenly between Affordable Housing and Climate. 

This new revenue would create or preserve additional housing for 18,000 working-class homeowners and renters over 10 years; finance hundreds of millions of dollars in competitive, flexible grants to localities for climate resilience and mitigation; and assist between 3,500 and 6,500 additional extremely low-income families per year with housing vouchers or project-based rental assistance. 

Through a combination of property-level interventions, along with a commitment to and expansion of these programs aimed at addressing climate change and neighborhood disinvestment, we can move the needle on housing quality and associated health outcomes in Massachusetts. In our fifth, and final, blog post, we will suggest ways we can scale up and better align current efforts addressing both underlying conditions as well as property-level distress. Our goal is to identify how a more coordinated, data-driven and better resourced approach can tie together disparate threads to create healthier homes, resulting in healthier communities and healthier residents of those communities. 

 

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How the Mel King Institute’s Public Housing Training Program is helping one tenant group to bridge divides amongst residents

August 6th, 2021 by Nadine Sanchara

The public housing residents in Salem have a strong tenants organization, and while they face many challenges, the Mel King Institute’s (MKI) Public Housing Training Program is preparing them to work together towards their common goals. 

In a recent interview with the Mel King Institute, Sue Kirby, the President of the tenant group’s board, said she found the MKI training on race, prejudice and bias to be very important. She highlighted the importance of having this foundation from the beginning. 

“I like that the training starts off by focusing on involving all the residents in the tenant group, and helps us understand and overcome the racial dynamics that can divide us against each other. If you can get tenants thinking that way right off the bat, that’s what’s going to make a difference in the long run,” Sue said. 

The Public Housing Training Program, now known as the Resident Leadership Academy, provides trainings for residents of public housing (and now residents of Community Development Corporations) to support their full participation in the oversight of their housing developments.  

Sue is an experienced organizer, and is also on the board of the Salem Housing Authority. She led one of our trainings last December, and then participated in one with nine other Salem residents this past February. Sue said she especially liked that the training addresses the balance of power at the Housing Authority, and how important it is to involve everybody. 

“As a result of the training, I feel like our tenant groups are speaking the same language. We use the materials to help us make decisions and that takes the ego out of things. Our groups have been fortified and we’ve taken a leap forward in getting things done. There’s less tension in the building and people are more ready to claim ownership of the tenant group instead of staying disengaged or hostile,” Sue stated.  

Sue noted that the Salem Housing Authority has a new Executive Director, and one of her [the ED’s] priorities has been to improve the relationship with the tenants. The tenant group has a meeting with the ED once every month, where they are able to voice their concerns. There have been some improvements to their building, and there are other longer-term issues that are taking longer to be resolved. 

One success she noted was the efforts being made to connect Spanish-speaking residents and make materials more accessible for them. She said Spanish-speaking tenants have experienced some language barriers in the past, but the Housing Authority’s documents are now being translated into Spanish and they also have Spanish robo calls. The tenant group was also recently able to get some translation headphones, so that Spanish-speaking tenants can participate in in-person meetings and events. 

The group continues to work diligently towards their goals. Now that COVID restrictions are easing and the weather in nicer, the group has held its first post-pandemic in-person event: a well-attended barbeque. 

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