Managing Boston’s Working Class Neighborhoods : The Example of Urban Edge

Cécile FLEUREAU, 2002

Profession Banlieue

This fact sheet presents an original initiative for managing housing and neighborhoods abandoned by the public authorities in Boston. Residents come together as a community to manage housing and neighborhood life, based on socio-economic criteria but also on shared values and norms.

Urban Edge is a Boston-based Community Development Corporation (CDC) created in 1974 by a group of seven religious congregations in response to neighborhood abandonment. Its area of operation includes the neighborhoods of Roxbury and Jamaica Plain, with a population of nearly 20,000, 40 percent of whom are Latino.

Urban Edge is a major CDC in Boston, with an overall budget of $30,000,000 and 70 employees in four departments: development, finance, administration and asset maintenance. One of its main activities is to manage the rental stock. Urban Edge is governed by a 15-member board of directors, all of whom are residents of the neighborhood and half of whom are tenants. The three communities (White, Black and Latino) have equal numbers of seats. The board is elected every three years and one-third of the board is renewable each year.

The discontent of the tenants with the degradation of their living conditions has directed the activity of Urban Edge more towards the rehabilitation of housing than towards its construction. For example, Urban Edge supported a tenants’ association that purchased all 202 units of a residence with the Department of Housing. It helped the association find funds to rehabilitate the units. The Boston City Council agreed to help them and gave a grant of $500,000 (571,680 euros).

As for the acquisition of the houses by the association, it is financed by « tax credits »: the creditors who finance the purchase benefit in exchange from tax deductions. These creditors can demand immediate repayment if the program performs poorly, but if it is profitable, the money goes back to the association. There are no individual landlords: it is the tenants’ association that owns and has chosen Urban Edge to manage its units. In fact, the tenants decide if the rents should increase and Urban Edge takes note. The monthly rent in this type of residence is $300 (343 euros) for a 2-room apartment, compared to the market price of $600 (646 euros).

Urban Edge directly manages 14 different programs, representing 1,065 housing units and 5,000 square meters of commercial space for a total budget of $10,000,000 (one-third of CDC’s total budget). Forty Urban Edge employees are in charge of housing management (maintenance, garbage disposal, etc.), which favors proximity with tenants (this is not the case in all CDCs, which may also choose to outsource housing management once the units have been rehabilitated). Housing allocation rules are strict. Are examined :

Each applicant is interviewed individually before being placed on the waiting list, which includes more than 3,000 people.

This CDC has gradually extended its action to other areas: social action (vacations, leisure activities, parties, homework assistance, help in structuring tenants’ associations), economic development and employment (Urban Edge has opened a shopping center, for example). The fight against violence is also the subject of close collaboration between the CDC and the police. The police report cases of crime or domestic violence to Urban Edge. The CDC provides support and legal assistance to victims. Repeated offenses or acts of violence can result in homelessness.


Interview with GREENE Betty, President of Urban Edge, 03/21/2002