Tufts UEP and Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative Awarded 2-year Federal Community Action Research Grant

How does community participation influence community development and the residents who engage? How can civic participation be strengthened so that communities gain more control over their destinies? These are the questions that Tufts UEP and Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) will be pursuing over the next two years. The participatory research project is entitled From Civic Participation to Community Control: Assessing and Strengthening Participatory Planning for Commercial District Development Without Displacement in Boston’s Dudley Neighborhood. (See executive summary below.) The partners have a unique opportunity to research the collaboration between City of Boston and DSNI to revitalize Upham’s Corner into an arts and innovation district.

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(Dorchester Reporter, Jennifer Smith photo)

The partners recently won one of sixteen grants awarded in a nationwide research competition sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service (the federal agency that hosts Americorps). According to CNCS, “This competition focuses on engaging communities in conversations about their civic health using participatory research approaches to facilitate civic engagement and strengthen community capacity to address local issues…”

This research project builds on UEP and DSNI’s Co-Research/Co-Education partnership, which launched in 2016 with support of Tisch College and a seed grant from Tisch College Community Research Center. Funding of $50,000 per year will be shared equally between Tufts and DSNI and will support graduate students and community resident researchers, as well as UEP faculty and DSNI staff.

DSNI Interim Executive Director Denise Barros says, “we have always known that residents have the capacity to direct the future development of the neighborhood. Now we have the resources to research how community control happens and use the results to improve public planning processes.”

According to Tufts UEP Senior Lecturer Penn Loh, “we were well positioned for this federal grant because of our decades long partnership. Knowledge isn’t produced in academia and then applied in the real world, but rather university and community co-produce new knowledge through collaborative research and practice.”

Executive Summary

From Civic Participation to Community Control: Assessing and Strengthening Participatory Planning for Commercial District Development Without Displacement in Boston’s Dudley Neighborhood

This project will explore how civic engagement can strengthen community capacity for control over land use and economic development in Boston’s Dudley neighborhood. Since the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) was formed in 1984, it developed its own master plan and has fostered development of 226 units of affordable housing, parks, a greenhouse, and urban farms on 32 acres owned by its community land trust. This neighborhood has a highly developed civic infrastructure, built by organizing, participatory planning, and community ownership of land. Dudley has become a nationally renowned model for community control that can guide development without displacement.

Tufts Department of Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning (UEP), a graduate planning program, has been working with DSNI since 1990. UEP and DSNI established a 3-year Co-Research/Co-Education partnership in 2016 to investigate and advance strategies for community control of land and the local economy. This project will build on our partnership to pursue strategies for commercial development without displacement, with a focus on the Upham’s Corner commercial district. This district is on the eastern edge of the 1.3 square mile Dudley neighborhood, which is still a predominantly lower-income community of color with ~30,000 residents.

Despite the high degree of civic infrastructure and success with developing permanently affordable housing, the neighborhood still is in social crisis, experiencing persistent poverty and high un/underemployment. Thus, DSNI has begun exploring how its organizing, planning, and land ownership can support commercial development that can produce good jobs and support locally-owned businesses.

Specifically, this project will assess the impacts of civic participation in the planning process for revitalizing Upham’s Corner into a commercial arts innovation district. DSNI’s land trust recently acquired a former bank building and has been co-coordinating a planning process over the last year with City of Boston, which owns two other key redevelopment sites. This development is a major focus for neighborhood-based planning in the City of Boston’s Imagine 2030 comprehensive plan.

This project will conduct a participatory assessment of the impacts of engagement on the development process and outcomes in Upham’s Corner, as well as civic infrastructure. The overall question is how the development process can go beyond resident input into a City decision-making process towards more direct forms of democratic resident control of those decisions. DSNI has already achieved direct control over housing development through its land trust and now is trying to exercise this power in commercial development. What difference does community control make to the development process and civic infrastructure? How can we measure engagement and strengthen capacity for community control?

In the first year, the project will train and support a resident research team to conduct interviews and focus groups with residents engaged at various levels in the process. Tufts researchers will interview City of Boston officials and other community leaders appointed to the advisory group guiding. In the second year, the project will develop and pilot measures and strategies for strengthening civic infrastructure for effective community engagement, community control, and community economic development.

Expected outcomes include more capacity within DSNI and among Dudley residents to conduct participatory assessments, deeper understanding of the impacts of community engagement and measures of community control, deeper relationships between DSNI, City, and other stakeholders, and lessons learned that can be more broadly shared with other practitioners and researchers.

Preparing Soil, Planting Seeds: Community Land Trusts for Urban Farms

In Spring 2018, Alice Maggio, David Morgan, Nicole Huang, and Zoë Ackerman partnered with members of the Urban Farming Institute Community Land Trust to carry out a Tufts Field Project. The Urban Farming Institute (UFI) of Boston’s mission is to promote urban agriculture through education, farmer training, policy initiatives, and farm site access for farmers. Urban Farming Institute Community Land Trust (UFI CLT) is the first organization in Boston whose sole mission is to acquire and steward urban farm sites using the community land trust model. Field Projects is a required course for Tufts UEP MA students, in which they work on projects for the entire spring semester with real world partners. This post discusses the Tufts team’s process of working with each other, our partners at UFI CLT, and several sneak-peeks of the final report.

[Post written by Zoë Ackerman with generous insights from her team members, Alice Maggio, David Morgan and Nicole Huang.]

UEP Field Project team with Urban Farming Institute leaders and Field Project instructor and TA at May 2018 final presentation.

The Urban Farming Institute Community Land Trust tasked our team with a complex question: How can the community land trust (CLT) model be adapted to best support commercial urban farming in Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan?

This overarching question brings up several important concepts. Where did CLTs originate and how do they fundamentally challenge the concept of private property ownership? How do the roots of the CLT movement inform how the model applies to urban agriculture? How are other urban farming CLTs grappling with questions of community engagement, land agreements, and governance? What can UFI CLT learn from them?

As we learned more about the CLT and urban agriculture movements–and where they overlapped and diverged–we realized that our field project would resemble, to some extent, organizational development. We prepared for two-way learning: 1) what were UFI CLT stakeholders thinking about their organization’s role? and 2) what could we as a team bring to UFI CLT from practitioners around the country that would inform their path forward? (for background on the CLT and urban agriculture movements see pages 16-20 of the field project report).

(Peyri Herrera, Creative Commons 2.0)

At the beginning of our project, our team took stock of what we each brought to the table. Our knowledge spanned community land trusts and their history, cooperative governance practices, how to build an urban farm, and community engagement across farmers and surrounding neighbors. We spent about six weeks honing our team process and understanding how our strengths fit together. Some of us jumped in with dozens of ideas while others listened and helped prioritize with strategic questions. Some of us possessed deep content knowledge, while others lifted up the voices of our partners, making sure our own backgrounds didn’t cloud our ability to hear other stakeholders. Eventually, we each ended up playing all of these roles. Once we’d found this internal rhythm, and identified the questions outlined above, we felt ready to engage further with stakeholders from UFI CLT.

As we prepared for interviews with stakeholders, we framed our role as “reflectors” or “organizational developers.” We recognized the importance of unpacking key terms like stewardship, management, and governance by listening to a broad range of people involved in the UFI CLT. Our team conducted interviews, participated in the Massachusetts Urban Farming Conference, and attended Greater Boston Community Land Trust Network activities to get to know a range of stakeholders. In this process, we found, for example, that a part-time farmer, UFI staff member, and UFI CLT board member had similar and different concerns about land management. While everyone agreed that roles for snow and weed removal needed to be appropriately delegated, stakeholders held different ideas about the lease length. Rather than choosing our preferred answers, we reflected the range of interviewees’ ideas back to the UFI CLT board in our report (see UFI Stakeholder Interviews, pages 28-37, for more).

After we synthesized our interviews, we regrouped as a team to grapple with this question: beyond the ideas and needs of various stakeholders, what information could we provide UFI CLT? How could we avoid telling the organization what they already knew? To address this question, we identified key areas for further exploration from other urban and rural agriculture CLTs in the United States. In particular, we wanted to know how other CLTs navigated stewardship, land agreements, governance, community engagement in the context of farming and supporting commercial enterprises. After surveying the field of Community Land Trusts around the country, we conducted interviews with representatives of five key cases from Providence, RI, Anchorage, AK, Madison, WI, Great Barrington, MA, and Roxbury, MA. In our report, the stories of these cases came alive in “vignettes” that illustrated the opportunities and challenges they faced in vivid color (see Case Studies, pages 39-69).

Now that we’d collected the inside and outside perspectives on urban farming via the CLT model, it was time to synthesize these practices as tools for UFI CLT. Rather than forming rigid recommendations, we opted for a “value framework” strategy for conveying our findings. Our team identified fairness, inclusivity, and balancing responsibilities as critical for a successful initiative. From this foundation, we developed tools that the UFI CLT board could use as potential next steps in developing their land agreements, policies, and operational procedures (see pages 72-80 for a description of a Stewardship Compass, a Land Agreement Checklist, and a Governance Checklist). We also provided guides to inform the writing of leases, the development of stewardship plans, and how to adjust these expectations and agreements for farmers at different levels of training–early, beginning, and advanced. Finally, we outlined possible roles for UFI and UFI CLT at each stage of a farmer’s development (see page 81 for Farmer Development Scenarios).

Since finishing our field project in the spring, our team has sent the report out to dozens of urban agriculture and community land trust practitioners. We see the resource as a set of organizational development tools that any CLT or urban agriculture initiative can use to bridge the two movements. The process of creating an urban farming CLT touches on dozens of considerations: how can the model best support farmers at different stages of training? How is adapting the CLT model to housing similar to and different from farming? Who should be on the board and included in the membership? We hope that readers from across the CLT and urban agriculture movements will use our report as a guide to ask themselves the most important questions as they negotiate how to act on their values and implement fair, inclusive, and sustainable practices that fit their particular contexts.

Teaching Democracy: Popular Education Training 2018

By Zoë Ackerman

Teaching Democracy is a train-the-trainers program and web platform for building the capacity of Tufts and community practitioners in popular education and community-based education methods. It was co-created by Tufts Department of Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning (UEP) with several of its community partners. These methods arise from community organizing and empowerment practices, particularly with marginalized groups. They support reflection and action in order to transform the world. They break down the rigid separation between teacher and learner—all are learners and can facilitate learning for others.

The workshop was piloted in the spring of 2016 with a group of nine students and 10 members of four partner groups. In the spring of 2018, 30 participants completed the training. About half were from Tufts and half from seven partner organizations. The diverse mix of participants helps to enrich the learning, as well as deepen UEP’s community partnerships. With the support of Tisch College at Tufts, Teaching Democracy will be offered as a one credit hour course starting in spring 2019. The course will be open to both students and community partner members.

The following vignette describes my experience in the 2018 Teaching Democracy program. The scene starts with a practice workshop on the second day of training, which my small group planned and ran for other participants. We were simulating a meeting for public school parents to discuss proposed changes to school start times.

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Teaching Democracy participants discussing approaches to community engagement.

“Welcome to our community meeting on school schedules. Let’s start off with an icebreaker. Please stand up and wave your arms if you’ve attended a meeting with us before!” I said. My team waited for a few seconds, but not a single one of the 10 Teaching Democracy training participants stood up.

“I’m sorry, who are you?”

“Yeah, and how long is this going to take? I don’t have all night.”

“I don’t really feel comfortable with standing up.”

“No hablo ingles. ¿Alguien me podría ayudar?”

My team had lofty goals during this first practice workshop. Through interactive methods, we aimed to center lived experiences around school schedules and give our participants the tools to collectively plan a campaign. But before our workshop had even begun, we were running into problems. In real-time, we experienced the effects of not establishing trust with our members. By diving right into an interactive and unnerving exercise without introducing ourselves and clarifying our goals for the session, the participants felt reticent to engage.

Through this simulated practice, we learned how popular education methods can result in bottom-up learning and fruitful action plans only when built on a foundation of trust. Most people who attend traditional meetings or classes expect that experts will deposit information in a top-down fashion. Popular education, on the other hand, shifts who is seen as a “legitimate source of knowledge” to include those experiencing direct effects of an issue. Depending on how sessions are facilitated, the environment can feel chaotic or like an intentional exercise in community-building. Learning to walk that line takes practice, and the Teaching Democracy training created space for Tufts and community members working on social justice issues in Greater Boston to explore these methods and learn together.

Over the course of two Saturdays, we were introduced to the principles and values of popular education as well as strategies for effective facilitation. The majority of the training was interactive; only so much can be learned from the books about popular education. One of the most important takeaways for me was learning how to set agendas in a way that allowed a group identify root causes to a problem. I won’t give away how we ran our second workshop, but it involved more transparency and trust-building, centering participants’ complex lived experiences, decentralizing leadership roles, and ending on unexpected and energizing new problem to solve together.

CORE Fellows Summer 2018

Each summer, two Tufts UEP graduate students work with community partners for a 10-week fellowship through the CoRE (Co-learning/Co-education) partnership.  Funded by Tisch College, fellows get hands-on experience in community planning, organizing and development.  And the fellows help to deepen collaboration between  Tufts and its community partners. In summer 2018, Lydia Collins worked with Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative’s community land trust in Roxbury and Zoë Ackerman was a fellow with Community Labor United. Read their accounts below.

Lydia Collins, Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative

This summer I worked with the Dudley Neighbor’s Incorporated (DNI) Community Land Trust (CLT). A subsidiary of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), DNI was created to implement and develop a resident-driven comprehensive master plan that guides the revitalization of the neighborhood. As a Tufts UEP CORE fellow, I was placed with DNI for a summer fellowship as part of a larger university-community partnership. The CORE program, “moves beyond the typical one-off project model of community engagement towards a more reciprocal, place-based model in which both university and community partners ‘co-learn’ and ‘co-produce’ knowledge.”

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3 UEP generations at DSNI (from left to right: Lydia Collins, Sharon Cho, Ben Baldwin) with Amethyst Carey at the August Multicultural Festival

During these ten weeks at DNI I engaged in many different activities with a wide range people. I worked on a youth engagement process, a fundraising initiative, multiple mapping projects, and significant community outreach. I spent my days brainstorming with coworkers, watching presentations from developers and municipal planners, and talking with neighbors. The setting of my fellowship stretched from the DNI office in Roxbury to the Tufts library printing room in Somerville to triple decker porches and many places in between.

To provide a richer glimpse into this experience, please join in a day in my life:

9:30AM-10AM: Boston is awake and so am I! I bike from my house in Somerville across city to the DNI office in Roxbury. Depending on the humidity level, some days I find myself nearly swimming down Mass Ave…

10AM: I roll into work promptly at 10 o’clock, sink into my chair, and exclaim how hot it is to my boss and past DSNI CORE fellow, Ben Baldwin, who, as per usual, passed me on his bike 20 minutes earlier. We talk briefly about the day and any upcoming meetings before getting started on work.

10:15-12: Opening my computer, I begin editing a flyer advertising an upcoming “Pop Up” event to showcase DNI’s newly acquired building in Upham’s Corner. I toggle over the (pop)sicle my coworker’s daughter modeled the previous day for the flyer and muse over how creative we are in serving this sweet treat at a pop up. I blow up the word “Pop!”, translate the flyer into Spanish, send a request to community organizer, Jose, for a Cape Verdean Creole translation, and print out copies to get feedback from other staff.

12-12:45: Hungry, I pop up over the cubicle wall and invite my coworker, Amethyst, to grab lunch with me at Nos Casa, a Cape Verdean restaurant down the street. Over couscous and fish, we brainstorm for our upcoming youth engagement meeting at Teen Empowerment.

1PM-5PM: Stomach full, I settle in for the afternoon, which could include a variety of any of the following activities: updating a database of potential urban planning professors in Boston as a fundraising strategy to bring people to the CLT for tours; walking around handing out flyers for an upcoming community meeting; dancing for 2 marvelous minutes when the development team lands a grant; completing surveys in living rooms and on porches with CLT homeowners to improve DNI’s operations; and teaching myself graphic software to update a parcel map.

5PM-6PM: Ready to talk to some teens at Teen Empowerment, Amethyst pops up from her desk, exclaims how we really need a fisheye mirror to make cross-cubicle communication easier, and let’s me know it’s time to mobilize. Twenty minutes later, Amethyst and I are standing in front of 25 young people from the DSNI neighborhood at Teen Empowerment’s summer programming. Fan humming in the background, we take turns explaining the community land trust, the recent acquisition of a new building, and why it matters that young people in the neighborhood have their voices recorded and implemented in development processes. We hand out paper and pens for the teens write down their visions for both the building and the neighborhood. They then stand up and tape their pieces of paper on a large cityscape poster of the neighborhood. We wrap up with a debrief, having them share their ideas with the group.

6:30PM: Buzzing with energy from the youth and the sugar from all the popsicles, Amethyst and I put the feedback in our backpacks and bid farewell until the next day…

I learned so much this summer and attribute much of that to the responsibility my coworkers gave me, exposing- and trusting- me with a wide range of projects and people that the organization interacts with on a daily basis. I grew not only professionally as I began to understand the realities, challenges, and victories of maintaining a community land trust, but also personally as I built lasting friendships and a deeper sense of what it really means to sustain healthy communities.

Zoë Ackerman, Community Labor United

When I think about designing an inclusive public meeting, several considerations come to mind. Is the location close to public transportation? Will there be language interpretation? A meal? Is the room physically accessible? Will there be child care?

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Zoe presenting to the Care that Works coalition (photo: Sarah Jimenez)

Before my Tisch CoLearning/CoResearch (CoRE) fellowship with Community Labor United, I’d never considered that child care at public meetings is essential because there is no affordable after-hours child care system in place for families. If parents are unable to find reliable care, they can’t attend meetings, night classes, or accept jobs that operate outside of typical business hours. The dearth of affordable and accessible child care is an underestimated barrier to building a thriving economy.

Community Labor United is an organization based in downtown Boston that strives to bring together unions and community-based organizations around strategic campaigns that advance the interests of low and middle-income working families. In an effort to build a universal child care system—one that serves the needs of both families and child care providers—Community Labor United convened a coalition called “Care That Works.” A short-term goal of the coalition is to make nonstandard care available for union construction and hospitality workers’ children. When I came on board, members were trying to understand the barriers and opportunities for providers to offering nonstandard schedule care. This became my main line of inquiry.

Answering this question was not so simple, however, as conducting a literature review. Very little has been written about child care from providers’ perspectives—and recommendations I encountered also needed to fit with CLU’s values and strategy. Throughout the summer, I worked closely with CLU’s Senior Researcher Sarah Jimenez, Senior Organizer Lindsay McCluskey, and coalition members to understand their previous work and short and long-term goals. After an initial literature scan, we designed an interview protocol and interviewed 15 child care experts to fill in holes in our understanding. Sarah and I continuously checked in about our findings and methods with the base-building members’ experiences and worked collaboratively to establish priorities. By the end of the summer, we had delineated dozens of interconnected answers about how MA could cultivate a child care system that offers affordable care for families with nonstandard schedules. A few highlights of the research process included attending a CLU-sponsored briefing about child care at the State House and presenting at the Care That Works August coalition meeting. In both experiences, I learned strategies for translating dense research into relatable and action-oriented terms.

I can’t overstate how important this summer was for my development at UEP. The project not only laid the groundwork for my thesis and a GIS project, but clarified how I want to spend the rest of my time here at Tufts—learning the tools, methods, and strategies of movement-based research so that I can apply these skills to child care and other issue areas in the future.

A recent conversation with Sarah highlighted how CLU benefited from the partnership as well. In general, the organization seeks to be more intentional and strategic about drawing on existing resources available in higher education. CLU wants to work with more students and develop a pipeline for bringing them into movement research and organizing. The summer fellowship, in particular, is a valuable model because of its “full-time” nature; it’s different than having a student come in for a few hours each week. The organization is also looking to engage with academics to figure out how higher education as a whole can better support movement work. Throughout the summer fellowship, CLU developed a stronger tie with Tisch College and is moving closer to achieving these long-term objectives.

This summer showed me first-hand how a marriage between research and organizing can propel movement work forward. Even though my focus was on child care, I am deeply inspired by movement research, and look forward to applying the methods to other issues in the future: transportation, climate change, energy, housing, and more.

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CLU convened a “People’s Field Day” in July 2018 (photo: 617MediaGroup)

CORE Summer Fellows 2017

Each summer, two Tufts UEP graduate students work with community partners for a 10-week fellowship through the CoRE (Co-learning/Co-education) partnership.  Funded by Tisch College, fellows get hands-on experience in community planning, organizing and development.  And the fellows help to extend the collaborative work between the Tufts and the community partner. Below, Minnie McMahon reflects on her summer 2017 experience with Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts, and Sharon Cho writes about her summer with Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative.

Neighbor to Neighbor – Minnie McMahon

I spent the summer as a Co-RE intern with Neighbor to Neighbor in Lynn, MA. Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts is a membership organization that fights for racial, economic and environmental justice. Operating out of four offices across the state, N2N works on justice campaigns that are central to the experiences of their local membership, and they organize their community through door-knocking and political education. In Holyoke and Springfield, organizers are focusing on CORI (criminal records) reform and environmental justice, while in Lynn, housing and immigration justice are current priorities.

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Minnie door knocking with Neighbor to Neighbor organizers in Lynn

On my first day at N2N Lynn, the Lynn lead organizer, Estrella Diaz, and Executive Director, Maria Elena Letona, greeted me with a work plan with three projects aimed at supporting N2N’s campaign against displacement. Having a work plan with clear goals and measures put my mind at ease. My fears about being an outsider temporarily placed in a community, and therefore unlikely to do any work of substance, were allayed. Estrella and Maria Elena welcomed me into N2N, and made it clear that, while I had a lot expected of me, I wouldn’t be doing it alone.

During my internship, I organized 30 door-knocking shifts, co-organized a community forum on development and displacement, and conducted research on other communities’ efforts to prevent gentrification-fueled displacement. By the end of the summer, we had knocked on many doors, generating a long list of contacts with which to build up long-term campaign work; held an informational community forum with decent (but not high) turnout; and gathered information on other groups’ anti-displacement struggles.

As I focused on research and door-knocking with members, others worked on electoral politics for the upcoming City Council and Mayoral elections. (As an organization with 501 (c)3 and 501 (c)4 status, N2N can engage in community and in political work.) As a result, I was able to observe the endorsement process. I learned not only how it works and why it’s done, but was privy to the strategizing and process around who to endorse and why.

Lessons Learned

This summer, I was exposed to a lot of ideas, and to the actions tied to those ideas. Some key takeaways for me have to do with the role and the power of the nonprofit; of door-knocking as a method of organizing; and engaging in local electoral politics.

Role of the non-profit

I entered the summer excited about the unequivocal radical message and mission of N2N, but also with a critical eye toward the role of the non-profit in transforming society. At N2N, I experienced the challenge of organizing the broader public, but also N2N membership, itself.

This is because our target constituents in Lynn, and most current members, are highly impacted by the increasing cost of living and lack of good jobs. As a result, some people are already stretched thin, and while their hearts and minds may be behind N2N’s work, they are limited in their ability to show up for certain tasks. For example, many people work nights and weekends, have childcare needs, and/or are working to keep their homes.

In this context, the non-profit is able to provide leadership, to help set an agenda, to prioritize goals, and to set and organize the tasks associated with meeting those goals. N2N requires deep training and political education of its staff, and only hires organizers who are from the community where they organize. This ensures that leadership is very skilled, and is attuned to the needs of the wider community.

Role and power of door-knocking

In order to base-build and raise awareness around the issue of development-fueled displacement, I found myself knocking doors or making phone calls (on rainy days) two or three times a week. This is an energizing and exhausting experience! I learned that it’s typical to have a response rate of 10-20% in the wards we canvassed. Often times, people are not home, have moved, or simply didn’t show much interest in showing up to our community forum. Still, as the weeks marched on and turfs were knocked, we collected many names and phones numbers of people eager to be engaged with the housing issue. Step-by-step, we built up a robust list of Lynn residents with a stake in the issue.

Talking to people on their own stoop or in their living room about their experience, how they think about their experience, and then tying it to the larger political issue is the most basic and essential form of political participation I know.

Role and power of local electoral politics

While electoral politics in America have always been deeply problematic (and nominally democratic), I learned at N2N that getting local political representation inside City Hall is one important tool in a larger toolbox to craft political and material change. During my first week at N2N, the organization held a statewide member assembly where I met, among N2N’s membership, 2 elected officials and a handful of others running for local office. When pushing for CORI reform or inclusionary zoning, it’s necessary to have advocates with voting power to tip the scales in favor of more progressive politics. While this approach feels like a bitter pill to swallow, I am inspired by the candidates and the successfully elected N2N members who are courageously entering the mainstream political arena.

I am now staying on at N2N, one day a week. My work includes wrapping up the summer research into a useable package that includes a narrative about our ongoing campaign. We’d like anyone from inside or outside the community to look at our packet and be able to learn something about political strategies and policy tools to fight displacement. We also think our narrative can serve others as they consider their own strategies to defend their communities against political and economic disenfranchisement.

Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative – Sharon Cho

I had the opportunity to spend this summer as a Tisch fellow at the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), a community-based nonprofit organization located in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston.  I primarily worked with the Dudley Neighbors Inc. (DNI) team, which stewards the neighborhood’s community land trust (CLT).

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Ben Baldwin (UEP 2016) and Sharon Cho tabling in Dorchester

At UEP, I have focused on community-controlled development and my work with community land trusts had been somewhat limited to the world of academia.  For justice-minded academics and activists, CLTs are often lifted up as the most virtuous model of housing affordability and tool to fight displacement.

Yet we seldom hear about what it takes to run a land trust.  How does a land trusts balance efforts to ensure organizational and financial sustainability with its mission to empower the community and support neighborhood stabilization?  What happens when the homeowner you are reaching out to about a community event is also behind in their ground lease payments?  How does a land trust navigate the tensions that arise when acting as both a place-based planning organization and a “landlord”?

With DSNI and DNI, I had the opportunity to see first-hand how to operate a CLT project. My main summer work — finalizing the DNI Policy and Procedures Manual — was built on the work of my two predecessors (Ben Baldwin 2015 and Gabo Sub 2016).  The manual documents and formalizes DNI’s operating procedures, to ensure that organizational practices become institutionalized over the years even with staff changes.  It covers a breadth of topics including how to determine eligibility for CLT homeownership, addressing violations of the ground lease, managing resales, and board governance.  Moreover, DNI’s manual may serve as an operations template for emergent land trusts seeking resources and guidance from more established land trusts.

In addition to completing the operations manual, I supported DNI’s Project Manager, Ben Baldwin (UEP ‘16), in a variety of day-to-day operations tasks such as preparing and mailing monthly ground lease invoices and addressing DNI homeowners’ requests to remedy structural issues on DNI land.  I additionally provided as-need support to DSNI in its community outreach efforts for its two of its major annual events.

Working at DNI brought to reality the many challenges and contradictions that community land trusts must learn to negotiate.  However, my greatest takeaway from DNI was not the realization that the community land trust is an imperfect model: what became clear is that despite the obstacles and shortcomings, CLTs are a profoundly powerful tool to empower communities and stabilize neighborhoods because they are founded on the principle to value people over profit.

I feel deeply grateful to have had the privilege to work alongside DSNI’s talented and dedicated staff, and to have contributed to and learned from an organization with such an extraordinary history of grassroots planning and organizing.  Working for DNI gave me a glimpse into the messy yet important work of running a land trust and I leave feeling inspired by the many people who are committed to growing the land trust movement.

Report Examines Opportunities to Transfer Private Homes into Permanent Affordability

For the third consecutive year, a team of Tufts UEP Field Projects students partnered with the Greater Boston Community Land Trust Network (GBCLTN). This year, the GBCLTN Field Projects team focused on understanding the challenges and opportunities for private homeowners to transfer their property into permanent affordability.

The project drew inspiration from the challenges faced by the Chinatown Community Land Trust, a key member of the Greater Boston CLT Network.   Since its founding in 2015, the Chinatown CLT has faced severe challenges in acquiring land due to the intensely competitive urban land market in Chinatown.  The lack of vacant and public land for acquisition has forced the Chinatown CLT to seek alternative strategies, which has in turn led them to explore opportunities for existing properties to be transferred into permanent affordability.

The report seeks to answer two main research questions:

  1. What are the barriers for homeowners interested in transferring their homes into affordability?  
  2. How can GBCLTN support the development of tools, programs, policies and partnerships to encourage the transfer of homes into long-term affordability?

The researchers conducted interviews with homeowners and local housing experts to understand some of the barriers homeowners face in transferring their homes into permanent affordability.  For one, the intense market pressure encourages home sales to occur quickly and at steep prices.  Investors with deep pockets are often able to pay upfront in cash and even above market value.   In addition to the barriers caused by market pressures, homeowners often lack access to information about CLTs or how to transfer or donate one’s home.

Graphic: Affordability Options for Homeowners

The report concludes with a breadth of recommendations that offer a range of potential impact.  Some of these recommendations include

  • Support for housing tax policies such as a Donation Tax Credit, luxury tax, speculation tax, and/or real estate transfer tax;
  • Down payment assistance for potential homeowners in exchange for the home being placed into a community land trust or for the CLT to receive a right to first purchase;
  • Monitoring deed restriction Ensuring long-term housing affordability by monitoring and enforcing deed restrictions; and
  • Offering classes on shared equity homeownership models.

For more details, read the full report: Pathways to Transfer Private Housing to Permanent Affordability.

 

Communications Course: Spring 2017 Final Videos

A dozen students recently completed UEP’s Communications and Media course (UEP294-02). The culminating project for this course is a short video for a social media campaign on an issue chosen by the student. Below are links to three of the most outstanding videos for this year. Visit this page for videos from previous years.

  • Sharon Cho: How Just Cause Eviction Protects Tenants
  • Brooke Evans: The Case for a National Soda Tax
  • Koko Li: Beyond Bathroom Bills — the Hidden Struggles of Transgender Rights

Field Project Teams Work on Community Land Trusts and Community-Shared Solar

 

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Tufts UEP’s Spring  2016 Field Projects addressed a range of critical issues that communities, municipalities and organizations face. The Field Projects class strives to bridge theory and practice by offering students the opportunity to partner with a community organization, municipality, public agency, or private firm on a project that addresses a real-life planning or policy issue.

Two projects in Spring 2016 deepened UEP’s community partnerships through the CoRE approach to co-learning and co-producing knowledge between university and community partners.

The Greater Boston Community Land Trust Network (GBCLTN)

The Greater Boston Community Land Trust Network (GBCLTN) is made up of community-based organizations in the Greater Boston area and was created in 2014 in response to the rising cost of housing and land, and the growing threat of gentrification and displacement that many low-income communities were facing.  The network’s goals are to provide support and share best practices amongst member organizations and to advocate for policies that advance the creation of community land trusts.

The GBCLTN student team worked on two products for its community partner.  For one, the student team developed a 12-page report that was released in conjunction with the public launch event of the Greater Boston Community Land Trust Network.  The report highlights the potential benefits of the community land trusts and offers policy recommendations for Boston decision-makers.  The recommendations include prioritizing public land for CLT stewardship, providing sufficient and flexible financing such as a loan fund, and supporting CLT infrastructure through a pilot program.

The second product assessed the threat of gentrification in the Boston neighborhood of Mattapan using GIS (geographic information system) analysis. The team developed a gentrification vulnerability index using indicators such as percentage of renters, non-White residents, population over 25 without a Bachelor’s degree, household income, and proximity to T stations.  The study found that although gentrification has not occurred yet, Mattapan is ripe for gentrification and that policies for affordable housing must be put in place now.

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Gentrification Vulnerability Index Map of Mattapan, The Case for Community Land Trusts 

Community Labor United (CLU)/Green Justice Coalition (GJC)

Community Labor United is a Boston-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote the interests of low and moderate income families in the Greater Boston area by cultivating the collective power of community-based organizations and labor unions. The Green Justice Coalition (GJC) is coordinated by CLU and was launched in 2008 to build a base to support a sustainable, equitable and clean energy economy in Greater Boston and Massachusetts.

The CLU student team wrote a report titled, The Potential for Community-Shared Solar in Massachusetts: Expanding Access to Low and Moderate Income Households, which explored strategies to build community-shared solar in low and moderate income communities in Massachusetts.  The project’s goal was to promote resiliency for environmental justice communities by moving towards clean energy and democratizing energy systems.

The CLU team found that although Massachusetts is considered a leader solar energy, that the state’s regulatory structure limits access to solar energy for low-income renters.  Recommendations included a variety of state-level advocacy for community shared solar as well as a range of options CLU and GJC to become partners in a community shared solar project in the state.

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Teaching Democracy Training for Popular Education

In April 2016, a group of students and community participants completed the Teaching Democracy training on popular education. Teaching Democracy is a training and web platform for Tufts students, faculty, and community partners to build their capacity in popular and community-based education methods. Its goal is to build capacity for a community of popular and community-based educators and to provide resources for those seeking to integrate popular education practices into their teaching. Teaching Democracy is hosted by the Tufts University Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning and supported by the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life and a Tufts Innovates grant from the Office of the Provost.

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Popular and community-based education methods arise from community organizing and empowerment practices, particularly with marginalized groups. As articulated by one of its founders, Paolo Freire, popular education is “an educational approach that collectively and critically examines everyday experiences and raises consciousness for organizing and movement building, acting on injustices with a political vision in the interests of the most marginalized.”

Over the 2-day training, 9 students and 12 community participants from 4 partner organizations reflected on their own experiences with education, learned about the principles and framework of popular education, and applied these lessons through practice and interactive workshops.

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In November 2016, more than 50 Tufts students and faculty and community partners gathered for a symposium to share key learnings from the pilot training and discuss how to support the use of popular education at Tufts and in our communities.

For more information, resources and curriculum on the Teaching Democracy project, visit the website https://teachingdemocracyblog.wordpress.com.

2016 CoRE Fellow Reflects on Internship with Community Partner

Each summer, CoRE (Co-learning/Co-education) funds UEP graduate students to work with a community partner for a 10-week fellowship.  The fellowship is intended to provide capacity for community-based efforts and to offer fellows hands-on experience in community planning, organizing and development.  2016 CoRE fellow, Gabo Sub, reflects on his internship experience at the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative. 

Gabriel ‘Gabo’ Sub, CoRE Fellow at the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative

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Getting the opportunity to work with the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) as a UEP through the Tisch College Summer Fellowship Program was a great privilege.  I worked mainly on tasks for Dudley Neighbors Inc, a community land trust that was established by DSNI. Its efforts to promote community control over development and establish a supply of permanently affordable housing for the Dudley Square Neighborhood in South Boston are a national model for CLT development. I was very excited to have the chance to work there, and my excitement was well deserved. I helped to develop an operations manual for DNI to better capture organizational practices and ease transitions and trainings for staff and volunteers. I also helped with day-to-day tasks such as canvassing the neighborhood to promote events and spread information about upcoming legislation, creating fliers, and helping to organize and plan events.

Before starting the internship, I was questioning the emancipatory potential of the American system of higher education. My motivation to study policy at a graduate level had been (and, to be frank, remains) deeply shaken.  Insofar as universities partner with communities, it is usually a relief if the university and its missionaries do no harm. Tufts is relatively unique in that it centers community partnerships and acknowledges that those relationships are indeed reciprocal and based on the equality of both parties. It is the main reason I chose to do my graduate studies here. I am even more excited, however, to continue to help DSNI and other organizations that put people and planet ahead of profit. I am thankful to Tisch College for giving me an opportunity to broaden and deepen my connection to individuals who feel the same.