Dorchester Bay CDC sees opportunities in 2009

Despite a crippling economy, the Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation is in good standing according to its staff, and the CDC plans to push through 2009 by taking advantage of a number of unique opportunities.

"We're entering a very tough period," said Don Walsh, outgoing board president. "It's all the more reason for Dorchester Bay to keep doing the work that we do."

Executive Director Jeanne DuBois said community development corporations (CDCs) are more adaptive and flexible in this economy because they fundraise and can receive grants.

The nonprofit held its annual meeting this week, presenting the completed five-building Dudley Village as a triumph of 2008. The audience cheered as a slide of the roughneck old Fundonzinho Lounge was swapped with a photo of the stately new complex, an almost $20 million project. The transformation of the Uphams Corner streetscape was positioned as a symbol of the community-oriented mission of Dorchester Bay.

The 50 affordable apartments and 6,000 square feet of street-level commercial space replaced vacant lots and the notorious bar, site of a number of shootings and murders. The CDC had previously purchased the establishment to make way for construction.

Dorchester Bay will celebrate its 30th anniversary this May. Since 1979, it has worked to develop and preserve affordable housing, business opportunities and community services. The nonprofit has completed some 800 rental units and 200 home ownership projects during its history.

"If I have to guess which properties are ours, I usually pick the best ones and I'm usually right," said Walsh.

DuBois said reducing the amount of abandoned and dilapidated property, as well as increasing available jobs, helps curb crime. In addition to Dudley Village, Dorchester Bay completed six buildings of affordable housing in 2008, including almost 50 apartments.

"Little by little, block by block, that's how we reverse trends," said DuBois.

Though the foreclosure crisis hit the community hard last year, Dorchester Bay succeeded in keeping more than 150 families in their homes through its counseling program. Only a couple of cases were lost.

"We're intervening with solutions, not refinancing," DuBois said.

Maria Barros is one of the beneficiaries of the program. She said she was frightened when initially faced with foreclosure.

"I'm so happy that everything is fine now," she said. "They've been a great service."

Despite the credit crisis and the loss of a few regular grants, funding continues to flow into Dorchester Bay's coffers. The nonprofit just scored two new commitments for economic development support and others have been larger than expected.

"We're still attracting money because we're delivering," said Walsh.

The tax credits Dorchester Bay receives for its projects are attractive and can be sold to investors, according to DuBois. While the investors become majority owners, they are silent partners and the CDC remains the controlling owner. In addition, more for-profit developers are seeking joint ventures with the organization.

"They're looking for deals and we're looking for capital," DuBois said. "If things had been better, they might not have come to us. But they realize that together we can get more done."

One example is the planned rehab of the more than 250-unit Quincy Heights multi-building development around Quincy Street. The for-profit United Housing Management recently invited Dorchester Bay and the Quincy Geneva Community Development Corporation to be partners in the four or five-year project.

Phil Hillman, Dorchester Bay's chief operating officer, said it's the largest rehab the organization has undertaken. Families must be relocated during the process, which Hillman hopes to launch next fall if funding is secured.

Adding nonprofits to the project will bring community programs and services to the development, according to Hillman, which for-profits don't provide. This could include tenant organizing, senior activities, computer training and workforce training.

One service the organization highlighted at its annual meeting is Youth Force, an initiative geared toward creating jobs for teens. Dorchester Bay's Dan Gelbtuch said the program was created after forums with teens identified work as a "winnable" goal.

"Way more young people want to work than have the opportunity," he said. "The city provides some jobs, but not enough."

Youth Force employs a number of teens itself, such as Troy Brandon who has been with the program for more than two years.

"The more teens who have jobs, the less violence there is," he said.

Dorchester Bay is at an advantage rehabbing one and two-family units as well. While for-profits often get stuck renting units they can't sell in the current housing market, it's easier for a nonprofit to lower the price with outside funding and get properties in the hands of their occupants.

During the past year, Dorchester Bay bought four foreclosed properties. The organization hopes to purchase up to 20 in 2009 with the help of city and state "gap" money.

DuBois said she's looking forward to the upcoming Fairmount Line commuter rail project, which will add new stations at Four Corners, Talbot Avenue and two other neighborhoods. Dorchester Bay is working to secure properties along the route to develop housing on top of street-level commercial space.

"We want to make sure that as the train comes in, the people who live here can stay and get the benefits," she said.

Also in the development pipeline is an unused industrial center at 259 Quincy St. The concept aims to transform the location's 22,000 square-foot warehouse into a green-centered project that will bring jobs to the community. Dorchester Bay is discussing possibilities with a launderer and a window shade company, both dedicated to the promising new green sector.

Though opportunities have arisen, Director of Real Estate Development Andy Sedensky admits the economic crisis has reduced the number of investors interested in housing development and is leaving more projects in the pipeline. In the past, completed projects were snatched up immediately. Now many stay on the market for months, Sedensky said.