Revitalizing Mission Hill

The aftermath of the Stuart murder has yielded many good intentions toward Mission Hill. As the local community development corporation, the Back of the Hill CDC would appear well positioned to transform those intentions into results.

Spawned by the rage and hope implicit in the black urban uprisings (self-help, if not recognized as such, flourished in the ‘60s), CDC’s have a remarkable record of providing affordable housing and stimulating economic growth.

It is not surprising, then, that we have three ventures that could rejuvenate our neighborhood. First, we have a $500,000 federal grant to help build a center across from Bromley-Heath that will house job-training and educational-training programs for inner-city youths. Decent jobs in the medical field await them when they complete the program. We are trying to attract small businesses to work with the people and programs of that center.

If the institutions involved fulfill their promises to the Mission hill community, this will work. And so will those young people.

Second, we have strong city support to transform a dilapidated former crack house into quality rental units for three low- and moderate-income families. We did a similar rehabilitation across the street.

Third, the city has co-designated the Back of the Hill CDC and the Mission Hill Neighborhood Housing Services to build a multi-family, mixed-income housing development.

We know how to mix people of varied backgrounds; how to design for self-sufficiency and collective responsibility – in short, how to match families with stable, functional homes. The vacant, blighted lots will come to life. The neighborhood will be that much safer.

Like every CDC, we’ve done such programs before, with results so good even our opponents were willing to take credit for them. We look forward to doing them again.

But when we speak with the city about getting help for the small business, we learn that Mission Hill is not a “priority area” for economic development. Limited resources go elsewhere.

And when we attempt to move forward on the multi-family venture we learn that despite the daily pleading phone calls seeking help, despite the overwhelming need for these units, there is no funding to actually build them.

Other than the notoriety, sadly, the Mission Hill experience is not unique.

Like other CDCs we have garnered a seemingly irresistible package of community support and technical infrastructure. Testimonials to our “commitment and sophistication” flow from the lips of the financial community.

But now that bankers realize we can be trusted with their money, they won’t lend us any. And now that government acknowledges that wisdom of using CDCs for affordable housing developments, it doesn’t fund them.

We are told that there are too many housing units available and not to build any more until demand catches up.

Whose demand?

The building boom of the ‘80s ultimately eased the pressure on the middle class, but the fall in prices threatened lending institutions and real estate interests. It did little to help the poor and near poor.

There is an undeniable shortage of affordable housing for low- and moderate-income families. There is no shortage of proven solutions. The Housing Bond Bill, for example, would fund limited-equity cooperatives ideally suited for families with small, stable incomes and no inherited wealth.

The gap in housing between what is and what could be – between palpable need and our ability to satisfy it – is so transparent and so surmountable as to be unendurable.

We have moved lenders and institutions in directions they hadn’t intended to move. We have made the issue of meeting the needs of the less wealthy more important that acquiescing in the supply-demand dictates of a housing system that defines need as demand and demand as ability to pay.

We must move them again.