Strengthening Families and Communities with Urban Edge
Urban Edge is a non-profit organization based in Roxbury, Massachusetts, that is dedicated to creating affordable, sustainable housing and vibrant neighborhoods throughout the city of Boston. The organization partners with many others around Boston to build transformative urban projects that support Boston area residents, with a particular focus on serving residents in their local communities.
We recently spoke with Emilio Dorcely, Chief Executive Officer at Urban Edge, to hear about their latest community engagement work and learn how the organization has helped families manage the financial impacts of the COVID-19 epidemic.
Can you tell us how you make an impact in the community?
Urban Edge strives for economic justice through financial counseling, wealth-building through homeownership education, anti-displacement efforts through foreclosure prevention and family success through resident services as we construct more and more affordable housing.
Since 1974, we have developed more than 1,500 affordable rental homes, created 2,074 first-time homeowners, prevented 1,532 foreclosures and developed hundreds of resident leaders. As many agencies did during this historic crisis, we shifted to the virtual world via Zoom video conferences and continued to serve the community through our programs.
How are you tackling the crisis locally?
Urban Edge established the Roxbury/JP Family Resiliency Fund, offering $500,000 in cash and tangible items for families facing hard times. Half the residents we polled have seen a reduction in their income or lost their jobs altogether. While there has been a groundswell of response, we’re still seeing a gap between what families have and what they need. So we have been helping families with applications for unemployment and developing modified emergency family budgets.
We’ve distributed 1,200 cash cards worth $150 each to families. Why cash? We believe that people know how best to allocate their resources. Such assistance also keeps that money in our local economy. Our team also served another 1,300 families through four community support drives: distribution of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to seniors, home school supplies for kids, food for Thanksgiving dinners and toys to children during the holiday season.
As families faced tough financial decisions and fell behind on rent, we facilitated the approval of $83,000 in rental assistance for 24 families. We have an additional 86 applications totaling $113,000 pending approval. Of the 1,369 families we helped to stabilize in affordable homes, 304 of them are only making partial rent payments, so we have more work to do in 2021
We’ve also set the stage to work alongside families, reaching them where they are now, while simultaneously preparing for what they may need in the future. One such project we’ve just launched creates learning hubs so students have an appropriate environment with high-speed internet to attend school remotely. We have one set up in collaboration with and located at the Egleston YMCA in Boston.
How will your new Holtzer Park development serve Boston residents?
When we complete Holtzer Park, 62 families will have quality and affordable homes steps away from public transportation in Boston’s Jackson Square. Jackson Square is a proud and diverse neighborhood where Boston’s Latin Quarter meets its historic Black district at the Roxbury and Jamaica Plain border. All apartments will be affordable, with more than 30% of the units reserved for extremely low-income households.
Holtzer Park is part of an affordable housing boom happening in Jackson Square now. Alongside neighborhood residents and partners JPNDC, The Community Builders and Hyde Square Task Force, Urban Edge is part of advancing a decades-long redevelopment effort to transform a checkerboard of vacant lots and crumbling buildings into more than 1,700 brand-new homes.
What lessons have you learned from the redevelopment?
The Holtzer Park project has reinforced that it takes a team to deliver excellent affordable housing. Partner relationships are so important not just to plan for the many challenges anticipated in complex affordable housing developments, but also to help navigate unforeseen difficulties.
How has Boston Private contributed to Holtzer Park?
Boston Private provided highly competitive financing for the project, including resources they leveraged as a member of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston. They also maintained flexibility on a highly complex deal. The project ended up stronger as a result and we’re excited to deliver 62 affordable new homes to the neighborhood.
Boston Private and Urban Edge have a longstanding relationship. We enjoy working with Boston Private because of the competitive financing terms and because of their staff. The Boston Private team is highly responsive and helps deals run smoothly. They are collaborative problem solvers who regularly contribute their expertise in the interest of developing great projects.
What are your top priorities looking ahead?
For the first quarter of the calendar year 2021, we know rental and utility assistance are essential. We see a prolonged economic recovery and the need to be nimble as we continue to respond to the needs of the low- to moderate-income, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) families we serve. Moving forward, we are not interested in returning to normal. Our nation needs to change our existing systems fundamentally and we know we have a role to play.
This summer, we’ll be rolling out our new strategic plan. While it’s still coalescing, we know we’ll be redoubling our efforts on racial justice, constructing new homes, wealth building, stemming displacement and working side-by-side with our neighbors and partners in the community.
How can the Boston Private community support Urban Edge programs?
We must elevate the need for affordable housing and building wealth for low- to moderate-income and BIPOC families as we head toward community immunity and focus attention on long-term economic recovery. We invite you to advocate for this critical work across Massachusetts.
To learn more about Urban Edge and how you can support our work in Roxbury, Jamaica Plain and the Greater Boston area, please visit urbanedge.org.