The Neighborhood Developers (TND) announced this week in a release ahead of its 40th Anniversary celebration that long-time Executive Director Ann Houston will be departing to become the new CEO of a new, merged community development corporation.
“TND will honor outgoing Executive Director Ann Houston as she takes on the new role of CEO of Opportunity Communities, where she will continue to provide leadership and vision to TND through this exciting new partnership,” read the announcement.
Houston was not immediately available for comment on the move.
TND declined to comment on the matter as well this week.
The announcement indicated Houston would be the new CEO of Opportunity Communities.
That new collaboration is with Roxbury’s Nuestra Communidad Community Development Corporation (CDC), a partnership between that organization and TND that launched in April.
“In April 2018, we launched a company for back office operations known as Opportunity Communities (OppCo) with a sister organization, The Neighbor Developers (TND), based in Chelsea,” read the website for the new partnership. “This is our newest partnership, designed to achieve better results for the Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan neighborhoods we serve. There is no change to Nuestra’s board, staff, leadership, mission, office, programs, projects, agreements, relationships and commitments to neighbors and local stakeholders.
“This new company allows Nuestra and TND to combine our back office operations and staff,” it continued. “By centralizing our accounting, purchasing, data collection, HR, IT and other management functions, Nuestra can most efficiently deliver high-quality, effective services and programs for Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan.”
Houston has been the face of TND since it planted its flag in the Box District many years ago and built out several blocks of what used to be derelict industrial properties. Using a formula of creating civic awareness in a mixed-income development of subsidized and market-rate housing, TND created a successful model in the Box District.
Since that time, they have developed other properties in Chelsea, including the old American Legion Post that houses homeless veterans in supportive housing. They are currently developing the old French Club into affordable housing.
In year’s past, TND moved into Revere to develop affordable and senior housing there. It has just expanded to Everett, where a proposal is on the table for a large senior housing development there on the former site of St. Therese’s Church campus.
By Seth Daniel
As Puerto Rican residents continue to trickle into Chelsea following the massive Hurricane Maria devastation, the Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) announced they would extend the time visitors are allowed to stay with residents – and also consider extensions in some cases.
Director Al Ewing said they have been working close with the Chelsea Collaborative, the City of Chelsea and the state to formulate a plan to accommodate family members that need to live with CHA residents. By rule, CHA only allows visitors to stay in a public housing unit for 21 days. After that, penalties begin to accrue for the resident.
That has been a problem statewide as wary Puerto Ricans flock to the area to live with family members while their homes and their island are repaired from the once-in-a-lifetime storm damage. With nowhere else to turn, residents in public housing have opened their homes to family, but in fact trouble looms due to the 21-day rule.
“What we have done is extended the 21-day limit allowed for visitors to 45 days,” he said. “The key is residents need to notify us who is living in the unit. Obviously we want to work with the residents and this was a terrible disaster and a terrible situation…At the end of the 45-day period, if there is a need for an extension while family members look for permanent housing, we will work with them on a case-by-case basis.”
Ewing said they have encountered some folks from Puerto Rico and one woman from Houston – which both suffered severe storm damage – and he said they have lowered the documentation threshold for them. While there aren’t many units available, he said they are taking applications.
“We have reduced the documentation because people are obviously coming here without the ability to have documentation,” he said. “We just don’t have a lot of vacancies in public housing, especially at this time of year. That’s why we wanted to especially relax our regulations for visitor stays so that people can live with family until they can find a permanent situation.”
Many of us are just shocked as the reports of continued destruction from Hurricane Harvey keep coming in from the Houston, Texas area. The fourth largest city in the United States is being virtually destroyed before our eyes by Mother Nature.
For those of us who have relatives in the affected areas, their message was as follows: “As of three hours ago we are still in our homes and the water has not reached us yet.” The speed and duration of the storm has caught all by surprise. The National Weather Service has run out of colors to show how much rain has fallen in certain areas. In the end, all agree that it will be years for this area to recover from a storm that will have lasted about five days.
Looking at the destruction from this super storm, one needs only look around our community to see similar, if not worse, destruction that is awaiting us. Communities such as Revere are just about entirely under sea level. Winthrop has only two ways out of town, and both are over the water. The New England Produce Center in Chelsea and Everett that supplies most of the fresh foods to the entire Northeast and parts of Canada would be destroyed by flooding either from a tidal surge or just rainfall amounts that a storm like Harvey has generated. Areas of East Boston along Boston Harbor are prone to flood regularly, not to mention what a Harvey would do. And the Back Bay and Downtown areas of Boston that are just slightly above sea level would be destroyed by a super storm like Harvey or Sandy.
Unfortunately, experts predict that there is no longer an “if,” but a “when” we will be hit by super storm.
There is very little that can be done, given that many of the areas in our communities now have hard surfaces, such as roads and sidewalks, that prevent natural drainage of excessive rains. Between rising sea levels and developments in the last few vacant parcels, we are a disaster waiting to happen.
However, there are certain measures that can be taken to minimize the effects of destruction. Location of utility services such electricity should be placed not in the basement, but on the top floors of houses that are in flood plain areas. We need to make sure that the water drainage can flow quickly from the catch basins in flood plains to the marshlands that surround communities.
Some of these measures will require a monetary commitment by either the state or federal government to implement. But as we plan for future developments and infrastructure repairs, we urge our elected leaders to look at ways to get the funds that will mitigate the disaster that will come from a hurricane.
Today, elected leaders from our communities are asking for donations from residents to be sent to the victims of Harvey. We urge all to give what they can, as this is the only tangible help that we can offer at this time.
The Rev. Reuben Rodriguez has served the homeless in Bellingham
Square for six years and said he hopes the next City Manager would be willing to work alongside him in the goal of opening a mission here.
The room was packed Monday night with curious residents, business owners and organizational leaders for the first of what promises to be several public input forums into the City Manager replacement process.
Not everyone chose to spoke during the hour-long meeting, but a majority who did stressed that they wanted to see the next City Manager live in Chelsea – or even be a homegrown product.
It was a sentiment amongst newer people to the community, and amongst long-time residents and their families. The City Charter – crafted in the 1990s after receivership – calls for the City Manager to live in Chelsea or be willing to re-locate one year after starting. That, however, can be waived by the Council and was waived for current City Manager Jay Ash – who will leave for a top Beacon Hill post at the end of the year.
Amy Arrington, who lives in Chelsea and works at the Phoenix Charter School, said she and her husband would like to see a resident picked.
“It’s easy to make difficult decisions when you can go home to another community at the end of the day,” she said. “We need someone who knows what it’s like to live here and the things that happen when you live here day and night. That’s the only way to know what we go through as residents.”
Bill Alowski, who lives in Chelsea and whose parents live on Bloomingdale Street, said a homegrown product as City Manager is appealing to him.
“First and foremost, I think it would be a great choice to to have a homegrown candidate – someone from Chelsea that knows what it is like to live and grow up here,” he said. “Chelsea is not Sturbridge Village. It’s a diverse mixture of people. It’s not like any city or town. About everyone from Chelsea is a minority. The next person has to know the people, know all of us and the problems we’re facing…We’ve come a long way and the City has grown.”
Marisol Santiago of Cooper Street said she wanted a resident and a person of color considered for the position.
“I would emphasize that something that’s really important is the new City Manager lives in Chelsea,” she said. “I also want to make sure we reflect the diversity of our city during this process…We need to be very purposeful and very specific about whether we will prioritize a person of color…I would ask you to be purposeful in that the final pool of candidates will be diverse in race, ethnicity and gender.”
However, residency was not the will of everyone. Some long-time residents didn’t wish for that, and it seemed pretty clear that non-profit leaders and their workers (some of whom are Chelsea residents) didn’t necessarily want to limit the search to people living in Chelsea or willing to relocate here.
Barbara Salisbury, of Washington Avenue, is a long-time resident who is the former budget director for former Gov. Michael Dukakis’s administration. She is currently on the new Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) Board and said she didn’t consider residency desirable.
“We need to determine between what the City Manager does and what the City Council does,” she said. “The City Council represents all of us…I don’t think we should restrict our choices to only someone who is willing to reside in the city. It’s not important at all for this person to live here to understand what needs to be done and to make it happen.”
A similar chord was struck by Ann Houston, director of The Neighborhood Developers (TND) on Gerrish Avenue.
“We’re not going to replicate Jay, but the next person should be of equal calibre and with similar skills,” she said. “The real elected leaders are you all – the City Council. We need a manager who can manage under you’re guidelines.”
Some 20 residents and organizational leaders spoke, with every councillor being present except Councillor Joe Perlatonda. Those keeping score informally said about 60 percent of those speaking called for some sort of residency.
Residency, of course, is not necessarily the will of a majority of the City Council – which has in majority votes repeatedly taken stands against residency requirements in other facets of City government. The residency quality, referred to by the speakers more than any other, could also put the Council in a box as it looks for the best candidates statewide – some of whom may be older and settled in their personal lives and their communities.
“This isn’t a job for a 20-year-old, or probably even a 30- or 40-year-old person,” said Councillor Dan Cortell afterward. “This is a very good job and probably for someone in their 50s or older. Those types of folks often are established in their communities for many years. Maybe they own homes there too. What if they live in a surrounding community or nearby and not some far-flung community as was mentioned here? I’d like to have more conversations about the specifics of this quality as we move on.”
Councillor Calvin Brown said he felt moved by the comments of those who felt it was the City Council’s role to be the residential watchdog and not the city manager – who shouldn’t be restricted by home address.
“That really spoke to me; I was moved and uplifted by it,” he said. “We are the ones elected in the end to represent the people. That was encouraging for me to hear.”
Council President Matt Frank said he had not decided about his stance on residency, and doesn’t know if the Council should be too eager to pin down its position on the issue right away.
“With police and fire residency, my feet are dug in (against that), but with the City Manager I’m still out there and I’m still looking into it,” he said. “I kind of disagree with my colleagues that we need to decide residency in advance. I’d like to see who the people are first. My feeling on residency is it’s a strong preference. If I have two candidates with equally high scores, and one lives in Chelsea, I would probably take the Chelsea candidate. I’m really on a wait and see approach with it.”
There were, of course, other qualities and concerns voiced by those who spoke as well.
Nadine Mironchuk – a long-time advocate and former Chelsea Record reporter during receivership – said she would like to see the Council take the strong step of eliminating politics from the process by refusing applications from former City Councillors and Aldermen.
“It disturbs me to hear people say there is no one in this town who isn’t an obvious choice or who doesn’t qualify for it,” she said. “I encourage those on the Council to make the rounds and talk to people (in City Hall) about their aspirations in going to the next level of their careers…I also encourage the Council not to consider applications from former city councillors and former aldermen because some of those who get the position get it by getting seven votes…That will destroy this process and faith in this process.”
Sylvia Ramirez and Maria Belen Powers of the Chelsea Collaborative requested that the next person be someone who speaks Spanish – as a majority of Chelsea’s population is now Hispanic.
“We would like someone who can speak Spanish,” said Ramirez. “We really strongly believe that is what we want in the next City Manager. We would also like someone who is representative of the people we are and what we do.”
That was another common theme, that the next candidate, or at least the final pool of candidates, have a consideration for people of color. Diversity and cultural awareness and sensitivity was a paramount concern – along with gentrification of the existing population.
“We need to make sure the next City Manager has worked with people of color and understands cultural differences,” said Deborah Washington.
Added Harrington, “My husband and I don’t necessarily want to see Chelsea become what certain parts of Somerville and Charlestown have become. We don’t want it to become a place where people can no longer afford to live here. One thing we love is the diversity and cultures that are here.”
Rev. Reuben Rodriguez, of Wakefield, has been ministering to the homeless and drug addicted in Bellingham Square for six years, and said he wants a City Manager who will work with him and not push him out.
“I have seen a lot of things happen in drug abuse and homelessness here,” he said. “I want to make sure the next City Manager would be able to work alongside of us as Jay has done the last year and a half…My goal is to open up some place here – a mission – and that I wouldn’t be pushed out because I have devoted myself to Chelsea and I love Chelsea. People here say they’re trying to get out of Chelsea. I’ve been fighting my way in.”
Council President Frank said he was glad to see how civil the discussion was, as everyone was respectful and shared valuable input for councillors to consider.
“I hope it’s something the next Council President will continue – this open dialogue,” he said. “People really appreciate it. The fact that before we got the process started, we wanted input from the community was appreciated.”
The Urban Land Institute (ULI) Terwilliger Center for Housing has selected The Neighborhood Developers’ (TND) Box District as a winner of this year’s Jack Kemp Excellence in Affordable and Workforce Housing Award.
ULI’s Terwilliger Center celebrates and promotes the exemplary efforts of real estate and public policy leaders from across the country who are working to expand affordable and workforce housing opportunities. The award was delivered in New York at ULI’s national conference.
The Box District includes 248 new mixed-income apartments and condominiums plus a new park that transformed a former blighted industrial site in Chelsea using a mix of new construction, adaptive reuse of old factories and modular building methods. The redevelopment of the Box District, now a smart growth district that will soon be home to a new Silver Line transit stop, is a result of long-term collaboration between The Neighborhood Developers, Mitchell Properties, and the City of Chelsea. The phased development began with The Neighborhood Developer’s purchase of a vacant factory in the district in 2006.
Prior to TND’s investment in creating the new neighborhood, as box and mattress manufacturers shut down or relocated, the industrial area, near the heart of downtown Chelsea, lay dormant. Chelsea City Manager Jay Ash, a native of Chelsea, often recalls how his mother wouldn’t let him play in the area due to safety concerns. Today many children play in the Box District’s new public park.
The project has benefitted from a series of state initiatives designed to spur redevelopment; including most recently the Housing Development Investment Program to spur market rate housing, coupled with a new Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation loan program that encourages Smart Growth and transit-oriented development. Since the opening of the first apartments in 2008, rental apartments and condos have filled up in spite of a stalled housing market, and the first market-rate development, Atlas Lofts, reached full occupancy a year ahead of schedule. After full build out later this year, 51 percent of the new homes will be market rate, at rent levels previously unheard of for this neighborhood.
The ULI is a global nonprofit education and research institute.
TND’s Ann Houston stated, “We’re incredibly humbled to receive this award from the ULI. Each Box District partner brought skills and resources to the project and a shared vision for the area’s revitalization. That vision saw us through a good number of challenges including the 2008 housing downturn. We’ve made huge inroads into improving the safety, mixed-income housing availability, green space, and public amenities to what was once abandoned part of the city. This neighborhood has helped to set a new standard for Chelsea, and we’re proud to lead the charge.”
The Neighborhood Developers received the ULI award just one week after hosting Federal Reserve Chair Yellen at their offices in Chelsea.
Founded in 1979, TND spent the first 25 years developing great, affordable places to live in Chelsea. In 2006, TND expanded its emphasis from solely building affordable homes to building vital neighborhoods, focusing on both the people and the place. Its programs are delivered in Chelsea and Revere.
The informal roundtable discussion brought several stakeholders together to explain their roles to Chair Yellen.
Chelsea’s Jose Iraheta sat next to one of the most powerful women in global finance last Thursday and calmly told Federal Reserve Bank Chair Janet Yellen what it was like to graduate from a quality university and still struggle to find work – what it was like to come from humble beginnings in Chelsea and try to break out into a working world where the margins were very thin.
“Why would I be nervous?” he asked. “It’s pretty unbelievable that I got to talk to her, but it was just my story and that’s easy to tell.” The story Iraheta told was one main reason Yellen made her historic visit to Chelsea – breaking the typical mold of a Fed Chief in talking with regular people at the bottom of the economic ladder. Iraheta and others involved in The Neighborhood Developer’s (TND) CONNECT job training program told about how they had trouble finding jobs or trouble gaining skills that employers wanted – some having trouble doing the simplest things like writing checks – before coming to the ground-breaking program.
After growing up as a “child of Chelsea non-profits and after school programs” such as the Collaborative, ROCA and Centro Latino, Iraheta graduated from Chelsea High in 2006. He received the prestigious Posse Scholarship and was able to attend Hamilton College in New York, but had to take some years off to help his family out by working.
In 2013, he graduated from Hamilton, but taking the next step wasn’t so easy. “It was really hard and I didn’t even know where to start,” he said. “My family didn’t go to college. The jobs we knew were laborer work. It was really tough going to an interview for the first time. It was really tough to navigate the system to get the jobs I wanted.” That, he told Yellen, was the case until he got into CONNECT. “A year ago I didn’t have a job and now I have a job at Citizen’s Bank and bought a house and am able to give back to the community I grew up in by working at the Food Pantry,” he said.
“You should be very proud,” Yellen told him with a big smile. With the red carpet fully rolled out, Federal Reserve Bank Chair Janet Yellen came to Chelsea with much fanfare last Thursday afternoon to visit with TND and learn about housing opportunities and job training programs.
Yellen appeared humble and asked more questions than she made comments.
She started off the whirlwind tour with a walk-through of the classrooms, computer room, and even the daycare facility – briefly waving at the little tots in nursery.
Following that, Yellen sat in on a roundtable discussion where City Manager Jay Ash explained the history of Chelsea to the Fed Chief, noting the great fires of Chelsea and how the last great fire was the best thing to ever happen to the City – as it allowed redevelopment.
He and TND Director Ann Houston explained to Yellen – as they looked out over the Box District – how the housing market meltdown in 2007 and 2008 really hit Chelsea hard. It was a subject that seemed to interest Yellen quite a bit, as she brought up the issue of subprime mortgages and homeowners taking out equity to fix dilapidated properties.
“There were a lot of bad subprime mortgages here,” Houston said. “We were, unfortunately, deeply affected by the subprime mortgage market.” That followed up with a discussion about CONNECT and the six partners that make up the organization.
Marissa Guananja, director of CONNECT, and Linda Rohrer of CareerSource told about how they train and place workers into jobs with partnering employers.
Yellen was particularly interested in how the job market looked and what skills were in demand. “We’re seeing a good increase in people who have access only to part-time jobs and a slow increase to availability of full-time jobs,” said Rohrer. “We see a good growth among all sectors from last fiscal year to this fiscal year…Math skills seem to be really important.
The STEM occupations are really high. People’s math and reading skills are not what they need to be to move into those jobs that are there. Some are coming in with a minimum eighth grade education. Even in advanced manufacturing training, it’s difficult because people don’t even have English language skills, but mostly it’s math and reading.
That’s what we really have to work on to get people into these higher paying jobs.”
However, great hope was found in the roundtable with CONNECT clients such as Iraheta. CONNECT client Christine Torres, a Revere resident who is very involved in Bunker Hill’s Chelsea Campus, told Yellen about how she had burnt out on college at UMass Boston and, believing she could never finish college, pursued a career in cosmetology. However, after having an epiphany and wanting to do better, she turned to CONNECT and found confidence first – and then skills.
“I had been going to UMass Boston for four years and still only had two years worth of credits,” she told Yellen. “I had quit and I did not believe I could finish school and I gave up on myself. When I came to CONNECT and met Ann Houston, I began to believe in myself. I realized I had to believe in myself again before I could get the skills I needed. Now, I’m going to Bunker Hill Community College and I plan to transfer to Boston University for a degree in Urban Affairs and Theology. My life is on a whole new course.” Yellen nodded, with clear sentiment showing for the young woman’s story. Clearly, it was a model she hoped could be replicated all through the country.
If Chelsea’s participation in the All-America City competition last month was the main event, then the undercard held just days before was the Working Cities Challenge “Pitch Contest.”
Just like in the main event, Chelsea’s team walked away victorious, this time in the Boston Federal Reserve’s contest for a $5,000 cash prize.
“We left the Fed in Boston excited about our success there and optimistic that it would be the start of a great weekend for Chelsea. It turned out that way, and, in both instances, the presentations of the Chelsea delegations were equal to the tasks at hand,” said City Manager Jay Ash, a co-chair of Chelsea’s Working Cities Challenge project, dubbed “Chelsea Works.”
The Boston Fed has determined through its research that resilient cities are those whose leadership works together on a common agenda. Its Working Cities Challenge was open to 20 cities in Massachusetts, with Chelsea capturing one of six Working Cities Challenge grants. The Pitch Contest was an opportunity for those six communities, Somerville, Holyoke, Lawrence, Salem, Fitchburg and Chelsea, to meet and pitch a proposal to five different foundations.
Salem, Fitchburg and Chelsea were successful, with each receiving a $5,000 award.
“The Working Cities Challenge has been an exhausting, yet enlightening process,” said Ann Houston, Executive Director of The Neighborhood Developers (TND), who joins together with Ash, Roca Executive Director Molly Baldwin and Chelsea School Superintendent Mary Bourque to form the leadership of the 27-partner Chelsea Works collaboration. That collaboration is seeking to bring physical, quality of life and resident prosperity improvements to residents in the Shurtleff/Bellingham neighborhood of the city.
Chelsea Works will use the $5,000 award to hire 10 resident leaders to continue the development of social capital in the targeted neighborhood. Social capital is an emerging concept that believes residents and neighborhoods do better when people know each other and can rely on each other for things like looking after kids and developing informal information networks around job opportunities and community engagement.
“We’re excited about where we are, but have a lot more work to do to get the data systems in place so we can share information about partners and measure and further shape the progress of residents and their neighborhoods in meeting their advancement goals,” said Baldwin.
During the Pitch Contest, a Chelsea delegation comprised of representatives of the City, TND, Roca and Healthy Challenge, met for a half-hour each with representatives of Santander Bank, Citizens Bank, the United Way of MA Bay, Bank of America and The Boston Foundation. Presentations focused on social capital, as well as efforts to coordinate programming, engage more residents and develop a more effective tracking system to turn data into the impetus for greater change and success.
“We’re on the leading edge of a data-driven process that both measures success and results in further programmatic refinements,” commented Bourque. “There is some meaningful public policy progress being made in Chelsea, and the recognition both in Boston and around the country tells us that many are interested in seeing us succeed and want to be part of that success.”
Added Ash, “And, as important as the substance of Chelsea Works is, the high level of collaboration and trust we have developed and are now exhibiting has equally captured the attention of observers.”
Chelsea Works has hired a director and is further refining programmatic elements and collaboration strategies for a major strategic launch soon.
“There’s much that has been done and much more to do. We’re focused, working tirelessly and driven to succeed,” concluded Houston.