Posted by David Price January 2016
If you weren’t living in Boston back in 1981, it would be hard to imagine what it was like to live in Roxbury. The 1970s was a decade of tremendous disinvestment along Dudley Street and down Blue Hill Avenue. Absentee landlords engaged in rampant arson as a way to cash-out of their neglected properties. Burned-out shells and vacant lots blighted every block. A group of neighbors began meeting in their kitchens and living rooms to figure out what to do. They realized no one was coming from outside the neighborhood to help them. This small group of Puerto Rican neighbors resolved, “We have to do it ourselves.” They formed Nuestra Comunidad, one of the first community development corporations in Boston, in order to rebuild lost homes and realize their vision of a revitalized Roxbury.
Over the past 35 years, Nuestra Comunidad has delivered on the vision of those founding members, resulting in a track record, and a bright future, that honors them. Whether you’ve lived in Roxbury for all that time, or just moved to the neighborhood, you can see our work all around you. Here’s a snapshot of Nuestra’s community development track record, values and vision.
Nuestra delivers: building wealth
Affordable rental housing is a proven-effective platform for long-term economic success for adults and improved educational outcomes for children, a key for economic success today. Many people born in Nuestra’s 800 apartments have gone on to graduate from college. A great example is Magdalene Brea, raised with her three brothers in Nuestra’s Bohio Apartments; all are college grads.
Affordable home ownership
Home ownership is the number one method that Americans gain wealth. Historically, redlining and the resulting disinvestment in communities of color denied Roxbury residents the opportunity to borrow money safely and purchase a home. Nuestra has built and sold 80 homes to moderate-income buyers in Roxbury. Nuestra’s Home Center has produced over 2,700 graduates prepared to buy their first home, and 700 of them have purchased homes in Boston. By a conservative estimate, these buyers have gained over $50 million in wealth.
Jobs for local workers
Nuestra leverages our construction and property management in order to maximize employment of local workers. Since we began tracking data in the early 1990s, workers of color have filled over 60% of our construction jobs, and Boston workers over 50%. Over 87% of our property management employees are workers of color, as are over 75% of Nuestra’s employees.
Creating small business opportunities
The same redlining practices that disinvested Roxbury and limited homeownership also limited opportunities for local business. In response, Nuestra created several initiatives to promote local entrepreneurship. Nuestra has built over 80,000 SF of commercial space, housing dozens of local businesses who employ hundreds of local workers. These small business success stories include community leaders such as Joe Figueroa, owner of Joe’s Famous in Dudley Square, based in the Dartmouth Hotel, a grand historic property rescued from disrepair and restored to its former glory by Nuestra in the early 2000s. Another example is Hector Pina, owner of Merengue Restaurant on Blue Hill Ave, a location co-developed by Hector and Nuestra Comunidad in the 1990s.
Nuestra leverages our construction and property management in order to maximize opportunities for local business. Since the early 1990s, minority business enterprises each year have received over 60% of the contracting dollars in our construction projects. In our property management operations, each year over $860,000 is paid on contracts with MBEs.
In the 1990s, Nuestra created Nuestra Culinary Ventures, a successful incubator for hundreds of culinary micro-enterprises during our ten years of ownership, and eventually sold to Commonwealth Kitchen and still in operation today. Nuestra began a pushcart program in the Dudley Square bus station in the early 2000s, helping a dozen micro-entrepreneurs start a business; the MBTA took over ownership of this program in 2010.
Nuestra delivers: community building
Nuestra delivers stronger community through a four-part strategy:
- Raising incomes: To raise incomes, our service coordinators work with each resident in our rental properties to check eligibility for 16 public resources through our Access Benefits Online system – proven to raise household incomes by $100/month for participating families.
- Creating community within our properties: Our organizers bring residents together to improve the quality of life in their buildings. We engage them in health and wellness programs; networking events such as an annual senior resource fair; and social events designed to help residents get to know each other and build strong networks.
- Neighborhood revitalization across Roxbury: Our signature Cleanest Streets Contest brings together over 400 neighbors each year (for 20 years) to organize block teams to beautify streets and celebrate community. Nuestra has delivered safer neighborhoods along Blue Hill Avenue through community policing strategies involving numerous partners, resulting in winning the 2013 MetLife Foundation Community Safety Award national first place award. Residents lead our NeighborCircles program, by organizing dinner meetings of small groups, resulting in new friendships and networks.
- Leadership development: Local leadership is critical to our mission goal of community-driven revitalization. Since Nuestra joined the NeighborWorks America network in the 1990s, hundreds of resident leaders have attended national training institutes operated by NeighborWorks. Locally, we connect resident leaders with the Mel King Institute operated by Mass. Association of CDCs. We recruit residents to Nuestra’s committees; and over 75% of our board of directors are people of color.
Nuestra delivers: working together with partners
No one succeeds alone. To deliver on benefits for Roxbury, Nuestra collaborates with proven-effective partners whose mission aligns with ours. In the 1980s, Nuestra helped found the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative and has partnered with DSNI to build affordable housing and prevent foreclosures. As part of the Blue Hill Avenue Task Force in the 1990s and early 2000s, Nuestra helped plan the revitalization of this important corridor, developing new landmark properties there such as Stafford Heights, Thomas Atkins Apartments and Ellen S. Jackson Apartments. More recently, Nuestra co-founded the Roxbury Mission 180 coalition with numerous local organizations and Boston LISC. The Mission 180 community action network generated the idea for Accelerate Boston (described below) and has organized stronger networks of community activists working to improve the Blue Hill Avenue area.
Nuestra delivers: taking on today’s challenges
After 35 years of revitalization, Roxbury is at a cross-roads, facing the threat of displacement. Now more then ever, Nuestra’s experience and proven track record of delivering affordable housing and economic opportunity is critical.
Bartlett Place is a transformative, equitable, anti-gentrification development just beginning construction. On an 8 acre brownfield site, Nuestra and our partner Windale Developers are building 129 for-sale homes, 194 apartments and 48,000 SF of commercial space. The housing will be two-thirds affordable. The new homeowners will gain $500 million in equity over 20 years. The project will generate 150 permanent jobs and approximately 900 construction jobs, with over 60% going to workers of color. Over 60% of the contracting dollars will go to MBEs.
New business startup opportunities.
To help residents seize the opportunities generated by a rising market, Nuestra operates Accelerate Boston, a very successful, three-year old entrepreneurship technical assistance program. Over 100 aspiring entrepreneurs from Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan have graduated from an exceptional training program directed by our partner, Future Boston Alliance. Nuestra helps the class graduates to “get to market”. Success stories include Dr. Lesa Dennis-Mahamad, owner of Gallery Eye Care in the Bolling Building, and Cassandria Campbell, co-owner of the Fresh Food Generation food truck, pictured together above.
In the face of sharply rising rents and home prices, will Roxbury’s future be a gentrified neighborhood like the nearby South End? Or can we hold our space, delivering opportunities for low- and moderate-income residents, African-Americans, Latinos and new Bostonians? This challenge cries out for collective action and advocacy. Nuestra has been in the forefront of developing anti-gentrification conversations, networks and strategies in recent years. The next step could be an effort for targeted anti-displacement zoning in Roxbury in the hot neighborhoods near Dudley Square and the Orange Line.
Nuestra Comunidad alone can’t deliver the equitable development and opportunity that Roxbury needs and deserves. Please join with us in the effort to continue a 35-year community-driven process of neighborhood revitalization that honors Roxbury’s past and builds a bright and inclusive future. To find out more, follow me on Twitter @nuestradavid or check out our website at www.nuestracdc.org
|Wealth for homeowners|
|To date||$50 million|
|New Bartlett homeowners – next 20 years||$500 million|
|Hiring workers of color|
|Property management jobs||87%|
|Nuestra Comunidad jobs||75%|
|Anti-gentrification benefits at Bartlett Place|
|Affordable apts & homes||200|
|Construction jobs for workers of color||560|
|Contracting $ for MBEs||$60 million|
|Opportunities for small businesses|
|MBEs’ share of construction contracting||60%|
|MBEs’ share of Nuestra’s properties contracting||$860,000 /yr|
|Accelerate Boston graduates||120|
|Nuestra Culinary Ventures incubator micro-enterprises||350|
|Transforming Blue Hill Avenue Corridor|
||170 apartments built
100 apartments renovated
||70 homes sold|
||12 businesses opened|
|2014 Metlife Foundation national first place Community Safety award|