Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, Boston, Massachusetts

The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) in the Dudley Triangle neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts is one of the first examples of a city-land trust partnership designed to address a range of community challenges including housing affordability, and racial and economic inequality. In the 1980s, DSNI created the community land trust, Dudley Neighbors, Inc. (DNI) to combat blight in the Dudley Triangle neighborhood, which as a result of disinvestment had numerous vacant properties and had become a frequent site for dumping and arson. The goal of the land trust was to facilitate redevelopment of the neighborhood without displacing existing residents and to empower community control over future development. DNI acquired 60 acres of land and currently stewards 225 units of affordable housing, an urban farm, a greenhouse, a charter school, parks, and a town common. The DSNI is also notable because of the unique partnership with the City of Boston. The City granted the land trust eminent domain authority to condemn lands in the Dudley Triangle neighborhood and provided the land trust significant financial resources to support the development of affordable housing and other community projects in the neighborhood. DSNI’s work has helped to enhance the resilience of the community by preventing displacement in the face of rapid gentrification in the city, enhancing food security for residents, creating and stewarding green space that helps to reduce urban heat islands, and by increasing social cohesion in the neighborhood through community activities and a community-led governing Board. DSNI shows how innovative public-partnerships between land trusts and cities can be fostered to address climate resilience and other community stressors, such as the lack of affordable housing, blight, and disinvestment.

 

Background

The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative was started in the Dudley Triangle neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts in the 1980s (near Roxbury and West Dorchester). These neighborhoods suffered through a period of disinvestment starting in the 1960’s and by the 1980’s one-fifth of the land in the neighborhood was vacant and blighted and the area became a site for frequent dumping and arson. By the 1980’s, Dudley Triangle residents were predominantly low-income, minorities, including African American, Hispanic, and Jewish residents, who could not afford to relocate. DSNI was launched to reclaim the neighborhood following this period of disinvestment. 

It was started by two community-based organizations - La Alianza Hispana and a local funder, the Riley Foundation - with the goal of supporting community redevelopment in the area in ways that would not displace current residents. The group formed a community land trust - Dudley Neighbors, Inc. - and worked with the city to acquire 60 acres of vacant land to implement the community vision of creating an “urban village” that would provide permanently affordable housing and other community amenities for residents of the Dudley Triangle Neighborhood. Since its creation, DNI has facilitated the development 225 affordable housing units, urban gardens, a greenhouse, parks, and other community facilities in the neighborhood. 

DNI has continued to provide permanent affordable housing even as the economic prospects of the neighborhood have dramatically changed over the decades. Currently, the City of Boston is experiencing an economic boom that is creating an affordable housing crisis citywide. Boston has over 40,000 households on the Housing Authority’s waitlist competing for 15,000 subsidized units, while Boston’s real estate prices have skyrocketed, climbing over 200 percent in the past two decades. Boston’s housing affordability stock is also at risk of vanishing due to expiring affordability terms in inclusionary zoning covenants.1 

At the same time, the City is also seeing increasing risks to people and property as a result of climate change and extreme weather. The City’s 2013 Climate Ready Boston plan notes that “sea-level rise, rising temperatures, and more intense storms will increase the vulnerability of all parts and sectors of the [C]ity.” And the City specifically discusses the risk climate change poses to public housing noting that seven Boston Housing Authority properties, accounting for 1,500 units of housing for the City’s most vulnerable residents, are at risk to sea-level rise and storm-surge flooding.

 

Community Land Trust Projects and Activities 

Affordable Housing: As Boston has undergone dramatic economic changes since the 1980s due to a booming real estate market, DNI successfully employed the community-land trust (CLT) model to permanently maintain affordable housing options and prevent displacement of residents in the Dudley Triangle neighborhood.2 DNI stewards 226 affordable homes, including 77 cooperative living units, 55 rental units, and 96 shared-equity homes. In the future, DNI has plans to partner with the City to create another 1,000 new housing units in the next 10 years. Homeowners pay a small fee to lease the land ($49/month) and homes are subject to resale restrictions that require that the homes be sold to income-qualified individuals to ensure permanent affordability.

Other Community Amenities: DNI has also supported the development of other community facilities that help to build community resilience in neighborhood. These amenities include a community plaza (the Dudley Town Common), parks, a 10,000 square-foot greenhouse, an urban farm, community centers, and commercial spaces and other buildings that will remain permanently affordable. The urban farms and greenhouse help to increase food security for residents by providing space where they can grow healthy and affordable food. Additionally, the land trust stewards parks and other green spaces that help to reduce urban heat islands and reduce impervious surfaces in the neighborhood to improve stormwater management. Additionally, community facilities help build social cohesion among neighbors, which has proven to be a critical component of community resilience during past extreme weather events, like the Chicago heat waves in 1995 (where socially isolated seniors died at much higher rates than seniors in neighborhoods with high social cohesion).

Services: In addition to stewarding affordable properties, DSNI provides a range of services to residents that help to build economic resilience. Services include:

  • Providing education and training through the “First Teacher” project, which connects residents with early childhood organizations;
  • Supporting a community-based artist in residence program that helps to beautify the neighborhood through art.  
  • Providing training opportunities for urban farmers through “Dudley Grows initiative” that matches volunteer support with the community greenhouse to enable residents to grow their own food and sell food to local grocery stores and restaurants.
  • Partnering with other non-profits to provide internships, classes, and training opportunities for student and young adults in the neighborhood through the “The Core initiative” and “Boston Play for Excellence” 

Community Control and Engagement: DSNI is led by a governing board that is democratically elected by residents and is designed to be inclusive and representative of the ethnically and racially diverse neighborhood. Board members serve for a two-year term and all Board meetings are open to the public. Community members that participate in consecutive meetings earn the right to vote and provide input on DSNI’s activities and projects. The Board is also set up to be inclusive and representative of the diversity of resident voices. Of the 35 Board seats, 20 are reserved for community residents and seats are reserved to represent the neighborhood's diverse demographics, including reserving: 4 seats for Black residents, 4 for Latinx residents, 4 for residents of Cape Verde descent, 4 for White residents, and 4 for youth residents. The remaining seats include representatives from community development organizations (2 seats), faith-based organizations (2 seats), partner organizations (7 seats), and local small business (2 seats). Then 2 additional Board members are selected by the 33 Board members specified in the bylaws. The Board is charged with approving all decisions for the organization, with community input and participation in decisionmaking.3  

 

Supporting State and Local Policies 

The City of Boston and the State of Massachusetts have been essential partners to DSNI. At the start of DSNI in the 1980’s, the city enacted a law granting the land trust eminent domain authority to take ownership of blighted properties in the Dudley Triangle neighborhood. Eminent domain powers provided DNI an important tool that facilitated purchase of vacant and abandoned lots in the Dudley Triangle neighborhood. Currently, DNI holds sixty acres of land in trust, which supports the CLT's affordable housing developments and other community assets. 

DSNI has maintained an active and open partnership with City over the past four decades. The City of Boston advertises DSNI services and its homebuyer courses on the City website. Mayor Walsh’s 2014 “Housing a Changing City: Boston 2030 Report” prioritizes CLTs as a method for preventing gentrification. 4 Because of the success of DSNI in preserving and expanding affordable housing options for lower income Boston residents, the CLT model has also received support from the Mayor's office. Mayor Walsh’s 2014 affordable housing plan - Housing a Changing City: Boston 2030 - recommends that the city explore partnerships with community land trusts to acquire properties to preserve as permanently affordable housing, and to combat gentrification.5  In response to the plan, the City created a Housing Innovation Lab that is supporting the work of CLTs to accelerate the growth of innovative affordable housing options for Boston residents.

As it becomes increasingly difficult to build out CLT portfolios due to real estate costs in Boston, the city is partnering with the Trust for Public Land to raise the capital necessary to transform some of its 2,600 vacant lots into land for urban farming. DNI will take legal ownership of the land and lease it to the Urban Farming Institute of Boston, which trains farmers for apprenticeship positions with City Growers.6  

 

Funding and Financing

DSNI gets a third of its annual budget from government sources, the rest is provided by corporate and foundation grants, events, individual donations, and earned income. State-level Community Investment Tax Credits, signed into law in 2012 by Governor Deval Patrick, provide incentives for private and corporate donations. The law provides a 50 percent tax credit on donations to “high-impact, community-led economic development initiatives,” like DNI.7 The land trust also partners with community development corporations and financial institutions, including the Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation and the Nuestra Comunidad Development Corporate, to finance and build affordable housing units.

 

Considerations and Lessons Learned

The success of DNI in stewarding public land for community benefit, preventing gentrification in upturns and foreclosures in downturns in the market, coupled with the growing need associated with Boston’s affordable housing crisis has led to the proliferation of the CLT model throughout the City. In 2015, the Chinese Progressive Association incubated the Chinatown CLT, which has struggled to acquire and preserve affordable properties in a quickly gentrifying, traditionally Chinese neighborhood.8  In the Mattapan neighborhood in Boston, a community engagement initiative was launched - Mattapan United - to explore community land ownership models as part of its gentrification mitigation strategy. And in 2016, with support from the Boston Mayor’s office, DNI brought advocates, researchers, and nonprofits together to launch the Greater Boston Community Land Trust Network with the objective of sharing best practice in the development and application of the CLT model to the greater Boston area.9  

Part of the program's success can be attributed to the robust partnerships DNI has built with a range of public and private entities including universities, community foundations, financial institutions, and City agencies.

 

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