Interview with Perry Newman of Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation
Building stronger neighborhoods while fostering economic development, opportunity and racial justice is a challenge in the best of times and even more so during a pandemic. For more than forty years, Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation (DBEDC) has worked to meet these goals while building strong, thriving and diverse communities in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhoods. Working closely with neighborhood residents, businesses and partners, the nonprofit develops and preserves housing across income levels, creates and sustains economic development opportunities for businesses and individuals, and builds community through organizing, civic engagement and leadership development.
Boston Private has worked with DBEDC for many years, financing multi-family affordable housing and promoting economic development through small business financing. Most recently, in August 2020, during the pandemic, Boston Private provided a tax-exempt construction loan of $8.2 million to the nonprofit that will help acquire, preserve and rehabilitate 56 currently-occupied affordable apartments at Dudley Terrace in Dorchester.
We reached Chief Executive Officer Perry Newman to discuss how the organization is managing during these challenging times as they continue to work to build more vibrant and resilient neighborhoods, while also addressing the severe needs brought on by the pandemic.
How are you helping your residents and communities in this challenging time?
We've reacted quickly to respond to those in greatest need in our neighborhoods during the coronavirus pandemic, while shoring up our resources to move proactively in anticipation of a long-term challenge. Specifically, our immediate response involved reaching out to hundreds of our residents, particularly seniors and shut-ins, to determine their critical needs first and foremost, but also to just lend an ear and offer reassurance. In the last four months, we've served over 4,000 meals, delivered fresh food to families and made personal protective equipment available to residents. We've also worked hard to give our younger residents a summer experience that will be healthy and break the monotony of quarantine. We offered our summer camp to a smaller cohort of kids in the interest of safety, and a great time has been had by all!
During this time, we've also provided technical assistance to hundreds of area entrepreneurs, helping them apply for the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, and working with them to pivot their business plans to respond to continuing challenges. We've helped eateries turn to curbside pickup, and have helped others access online resources. We're happy to see that our loan pipeline is beginning to fill once again, and we anticipate being able to continue to put capital in the hands of aspiring entrepreneurs through our Dorchester Bay Neighborhood Business Loan Fund.
How can others in the Boston Private community help you right now?
Nonprofits such as ours truly need philanthropic support to continue our work. We are an organization that develops affordable rental housing and commercial space, offers small business assistance and lending support, assists citizens returning from incarceration, provides services to our 2,000+ residents, helps youth develop leadership skills, and much more.
Some of our work generates revenues that we reinvest in our programs, but much of our "high mission" work – for example, work with returning citizens or expanding the reach of our loan program – requires investment of funds that are particularly difficult to secure. Unrestricted support that enables us to innovate and dedicate resources in the areas of greatest current need is critical, and we appreciate the great support we receive from Boston Private and other committed partners. You can support our work directly by visiting our website at dbedc.org.
What has your experience been like working with Boston Private?
We have a longstanding, trusting and deep relationship with Boston Private. For many years Boston Private has been a dedicated partner on complex real estate projects and financing, especially for multi-family affordable housing and economic development initiatives. In recent years, we have expanded our relationship to include broader banking services. The service has been excellent and Boston Private has helped us modernize and facilitate many of our daily banking transactional needs.
During this pandemic, Boston Private has worked with us closely not only to facilitate payments to our partners through electronic checking procedures, but also to help us navigate the PPP loans created by the federal government. This was entirely uncharted territory for all of us, but we were able to complete the application in a timely fashion and, with the indispensable support of Boston Private, receive significant funding in the very first round of PPP loans issued.
What’s one lesson you’ve learned throughout this crisis?
This crisis has presented a number of management challenges. The ground seems to shift underneath us every day, with changing conditions dictating changing rules and regulations governing everything from construction of our real estate projects to the number of people we can permit in our offices.
While it would be desirable to say to all of our partners, and our employees, “here is what we will be doing effective such and such a date,” that has quite literally been impossible. So, we have to be flexible, patient and able to tolerate considerable uncertainty.
The principal takeaway is this: Problems don't often come to us in neat, tidy packages that are amenable to obvious or quick solutions. For me, the challenge and the lesson has been to exercise patience, to assure others that although things are uncertain now, there will ultimately be resolution, and to underscore that, challenges notwithstanding, we as an organization remain 100% committed to the community and the welfare and safety of all.