In many ways, the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston and the suburban town of Arlington, Massachusetts are very different. Roxbury is a low income urban neighborhood with per capita income of about $16,000 and 86 percent of the population comprised of people of color. By contrast, Arlington has a per capita income of $44,000 and 86 percent of the population is white. And, of course, they sit on opposite sides of the Charles River.
Yet, earlier this month, I was able to attend celebrations in both communities where the similarities resonated as much, if not more, than the differences. In Arlington, more than 300 people crowded into the Town Hall to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Housing Corporation of Arlington. HCA has helped over 400 families avoid homelessness, built 58 affordable apartments, and now has 32 more apartments under construction at Capitol Square Apartments. Most importantly, HCA has engaged local residents who are determined to make Arlington a welcoming home for everyone – long time residents and newcomers, rich and poor, white and people of color. It is a challenging task given the realities of our housing markets, but the people in Town Hall that night seemed undeterred. Governor Patrick sent a wonderful video message to the mark the occasion, calling HCA a “model CDC” and noting that “Community Development Corporations play a vital role in our communities. By being the bridge between state and local government and between public and private entities, CDCs take ownership of their community and work to lift up everyone.”
In Roxbury, I attended the 45th anniversary of Madison Park Development Corporation, the oldest CDC in Massachusetts. A full house crowded into the newly redeveloped Hibernian Hall to recall the many achievements of the CDC since 1966 and to highlight the group’s current work to build housing, spur economic development, and promote culture and the arts. Madison Park’s history, recounted in a wonderful video, inspired the growth of the community development movement across the Commonwealth and the Country. Over the years, Madison Park became a vehicle for enabling local residents to define the future of their own community, building over 1,000 affordable homes, renovating important commercial buildings in Dudley Square and supporting programs that celebrated the history and the vibrant cultural community in Roxbury.
Roxbury and Arlington are certainly different communities with different challenges and different assets. But they also have much in common. Both communities have long and proud histories dating back to before the American Revolution; both communities are blessed with residents and leaders who are dedicated to making their neighborhoods better for everyone; and both communities have organized, and sustained, resident-led CDCs that, in the words of Governor Patrick “understand that economic and social diversity requires the support of everybody in the community. And that in a community each of us has a stake in our neighbor’s dreams and struggles as well as our own.”