Editor’s note: Danielle Ngo and Ben Baldwin, two UEP graduate students supported by Tisch College and UEP to work with UEP’s CORE (Co-Research/Co-Education) community partners, report back on their 2015 Summer Fellowship experiences.
Tisch Summer Fellow at Chinese Progressive Association
I was a Tisch Summer Fellow at the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA) as part of the CORE community partnerships. I spent my summer in Boston’s Chinatown with CPA, a multi-service organization with a staff of eight community organizers. For their services, CPA works with the Chinese immigrant population of Chinatown, Quincy, and Malden on labor and workers rights, tenant and housing rights, social services, and ESL. I provided additional capacity and research support to the Chinatown Community Land Trust (CCLT), founded in January 2015. The CCLT promotes community control of public parcels in Chinatown, with focus on maintaining the working class and immigrant population in the area through affordable housing.
The CCLT board members are a mix of Chinatown residents, Chinatown business owners, and other stakeholders in the community. Together, they have deep working knowledge about the community and relationships of Chinatown, and have experience working in housing, urban, and business development. I collected basic research on existing practices to establish, finance and protect a community land trust for long-term strengthening of the CCLT. I researched the national registry, local historic and conservation districts, and overlay districts and identified their criteria, legal protections, and financial benefits.
Although a lot was done over the summer, there are still many large steps for the future of the CCLT. The CCLT is currently searching for rowhouse owners willing to consider selling or negotiating a deal with the CCLT before putting their properties on the market.
I also assisted a variety of side projects related to the Stabilize Chinatown Campaign. In July, CPA hosted their first Chinatown Block Party, with the goal of getting residents to know their neighbors and educate the community on tenant rights. For the block party, I created English and Chinese subtitles for Losing Home: Displacement in Boston, a video created by City Life/Vida Urbana. With permanent translations on YouTube, the video can now reach a broader, multi-lingual viewership. I also did some policy research for Boston’s Right to the City Alliance regarding Just Cause Eviction legislation and home repair funds in San Francisco and New York City.
For me, interning at CPA was an invaluable experience in Asian American community organizing. I loved being in a space to discuss and challenge assumptions of the Asian American identity, markers of success, and pathways of progressing our goals. These conversations helped contextualize my work at CPA within the larger movement against chronic disinvestment and misunderstanding of communities. At CPA, it is clear that their work and successes could not be furthered without community-based decision-making, organizers, researchers, cross-sector partners, and inter-generational support.
At the same time, there were many things I could not do for CPA. I was severely limited by not being a Cantonese speaker, which are the majority of their membership. With the CCLT’s work, there are many layers of complexity such as community politics, municipal relationships, and financing challenges that are still not completely addressed. With these limitations, I hope I was able to generate work that the CCLT can build upon to strengthen their case and activity for the future of Chinatown.
My focus at UEP is urban food policy and planning, and so this work in affordable housing and community control was a learning process for me. It advanced my understanding of community organizing and Asian America, two things that are valuable to my personal and professional goals. In thinking about my thesis and career after Tufts, I reflected on which communities are closest to my identity and background, where is the most appropriate place for me to affect change, and where is the most potential for grassroots, community-based development? So far, I am interested in the possibilities of a multi-racial and justice-framework in California’s food and environmental policy, but I still have much to think about after my time at CPA. I am thankful for the CORE Fellowship for sponsoring me this summer. Without CORE, I would not have been able to learn as much as I did during my first summer in Boston, from the vibrant Chinatown community and their deep history, leadership, and organizing success.
Tisch Summer Fellow at Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative
I applied to be a Tisch Summer Fellow at the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) as part of the CORE community partnerships. As a future urban planner interested in community development, creating beneficial interactions with community members will serve as the basis for my work. DSNI was established nearly thirty years ago as a response to the kind of development that has historically come from planners far removed from local people and neighborhoods. Thirty years later, DSNI continues working for a community voice in determining the direction of the neighborhood. Their programs range from education and youth development, to urban agriculture, to affordable housing through community land trusts. The work of my internship was almost as varied as DSNI’s mission. One goal was to assist the nascent Greater Boston Community Land Trust Network in getting off the ground to prevent gentrification, and allow community driven solutions to problems across the city. Another project was managing the creation of an operations manual for the Dudley Neighbors Inc., DSNI’s Community Land Trust. Finally, there was a community organizing component to my work, which included phone-banking, door-knocking, and facilitating meetings for new home marketing and education, the Department of Neighborhood Development’s Neighborhood Homes Initiative, and local neighborhood issues around drug use in vacant lots.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity of working with DSNI as a Tisch Summer Fellow after already having worked on a project with four other UEP students where we completed a report on Community Land Trusts in Greater Boston the previous semester. This fellowship allowed me to continue delving deeper into the CLT movement and apply my knowledge to Boston.
One of the conclusions of the spring semester report my group produced was that there is a need for assistance with CLT financing. This is especially true as DSNI assists new CLTs in acquiring parcels of Boston’s increasingly expensive real estate. I managed to coordinate the beginning of my fellowship with a summer course on nonprofit real estate development finance, which opened up resources for me to understand the finer financial details, as well as giving community groups input from the professor, an experienced non-profit developer. My internship gave me opportunities to use this knowledge in context through finance-specific meetings with the development team of the Coalition of Occupied Homes in Foreclosure. I also created an outline of the myriad of financial tools available for nonprofit real estate development of affordable housing.
Every day I was welcomed by a friendly and inclusive group of staff at DSNI, each of whom was able to combine technical skills around finance and land management with the ability to communicate to neighborhood residents and organize effectively to get the job done. Staff could spend one day talking with homeowners and neighborhood residents about issues, the next meeting with city officials to communicate those issues, then planning with other organizations about how to achieve neighborhood goals. These are skills that must be learned over years of experience, but getting to participate for a summer has set me on the right path to be able to do the same in my career. DSNI was an excellent place to learn and work on these skills.
The summer was not without its challenges. DSNI employees are busy, and rightly so. I was appointed as the project manager for creating the operations manual, but my ability to contribute to the manual itself was limited by my lack of experience. I helped to consolidate previous work and draft new ideas, but nothing could be finalized until the operations manager and consultant had time to look it over and make edits and contributions. Because our meetings were weekly, progress was limited to the 10-or-so weeks of my internship. My time at DSNI was limited, so the end of the summer meant attempting to bridge my work with a subsequent intern to continue writing the operations manual. Having a short-term intern work on a long-term project is not the most efficient way of getting the job done, but it seemed to be the only way considering the limited capacity for new projects like these.
Language barriers represented another challenge in my internship. I have a reasonably good grasp of the Spanish language, but Cape Verdean Kriolu was another story. There was one main organizer for the large Cape Verdean population of Roxbury and Dorchester, so people would come in every day looking for him. When he was not available it meant trying to coordinate with a non-English speaking resident in a combination of Kriolu and Spanish.
Before writing my spring semester report on CLTs in Boston, I expected to be able to provide concrete solutions after only a few months of research. The difficulties facing low-income neighborhoods in Boston are many, and community land trusts are only one solution in a blend of programs that can bring about the development that a community actually wants and needs. There are a lot of folks working on this problem in the Boston context and beyond, and there is no one best solution and definitely no set plan for how to get there. I believe that there will have to be a collective “aha moment” between community members, organizations, and city government. It will need to be creative and will require novel financial approaches. It will require a lot of organizing, but first there needs to be a concise plan and message to organize around. My one summer at DSNI obviously did not solve a citywide problem, but it is part of the process of developing that plan and message.