Building Community from the Inside Out

Developing affordable housing and building safe neighborhoods has been nothing less than a major movement in Boston—but it hasn’t been a movement spurred by politicians or outside developers—rather, it has been created from the inside out, by the people who actually live and work in the city’s neighborhoods. Two organizations that began as grassroots movements to fight for the rights of residents have turned into national models of community organizing and development.

Dudley Street
Neighborhood Initiative

The Dudley Street neighborhood is an area of Boston which covers about one and a half square miles—where Roxbury runs into Dorchester, and Dudley Street crosses Blue Hill Avenue. To some, it might be considered one of the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in Massachusetts.

To anyone who knows about the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), however, such a designation would be a perversion of the truth because of a citizen-led movement that has galvanized the power and the energy of the people who live there in a massive effort to build the neighborhood from the inside out.

The initiative began when the directors of a local foundation called the Riley Foundation presented residents with their plan to develop and rebuild the neighborhood. Residents were upset that they had not been consulted during the develop phase and, much to the Riley Foundation’s credit, its directors threw their plan out and started over, involving residents in every phase of the rebuilding plan. Eventually the residents simply took
over the entire process of building their own community.
Today, DSNI is the only community-based nonprofit organization in the country to be granted eminent domain authority over abandoned land within its boundaries. To date, more than 300 of the 1,300 inherited abandoned parcels have been transformed into high quality affordable housing, gardens and public spaces. Even more important than the transformation of properties, however, is the human transformation reflected in the residents of the Dudley Street Neighborhood—who stand as an example for the rest of the country and the world—of what can be accomplished when people take control of their own lives and community.

Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion

In the 1950s and ‘60s, many residents of Boston’s South End were driven from the area by the city’s urban renewal plan. Joining other activists to save the neighborhood, in 1968 the Puerto Rican community established Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion (IBA). IBA fought to control the future of a piece of land called Parcel 19. Rallying to the cry, “We shall not be moved from Parcel 19,” residents conducted a multi-year campaign that won the right to redevelop the site.

The Jorge Hernandez Cultural Center at Villa Victoria

The result was a large, tenant-owned housing development called Villa Victoria, a community achievement that combines 884 units of
low- and moderate-income housing, and today provides homes for more than 3,000 residents as well as commercial space and services—which is a national model of community empowerment and neighborhood preservation. In addition to housing, IBA has infused Villa Victoria with state-of-the-art technology, wiring all of the units with high-speed Internet access, and creating a center for Latino art and culture.