Jane Matheson, who for 20 years ran the Fields Corner Community Development Corporation with a philosophy against using public money to develop affordable housing, retired earlier this month.
"I consider all 20 years the highlight. It has been fantastic," said Matheson from her home on Tuesday. "There were lots of crises and I loved every minute of it."
Matheson was the driving force behind several gut rehabs of what became rental apartments during her tenure, including a group of properties called the Fields Corner Granites, the Ditson Street Senior Housing and a number of addresses along Sumner Street. But she was also criticized by some for limiting the CDC to private funding, a stance she is still very proud of.
"We are different from all of the CDC's in that we try very hard not to take taxpayer money," she said, adding that the CDC's Sumner Street rehabs were finished without a "cent of taxpayer money."
"I don't know of any other CDC's that do their work without government support," said Joe Kriesberg, director of the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations. "That is definitely not the standard way that CDC's function. CDC's are often taking on projects that the private sector won't do. They need to be subsidized by the government to make them affordable. Of course each one and its community has to decide for itself how it does things."
One property owned by Fields Corner CDC at 1400 Dorchester Ave. is considered an asset that could be better utilized by some. Tenants live in the apartments on the second and third floors of the building, but both storefronts on the Avenue are vacant, one with a pink grate covering its entrance.
"It's a beautiful building and there's two store fronts and they have been vacant for at least 10 to 15 years," said Evelyn Darling, director of Fields Corner Main Streets. "To have that boarded up for so long, it's been disappointing. I know she had ideas for developing it but didn't want to take funds to do so."
Matheson said such a renovation would have been impossible. It would cost $750,000 to bring up to snuff she said, and multiple lenders on the property would make it complicated for new investors to come in. And in the end, they would struggle to find a tenant.
"There's no parking, no nothing, nobody would want it," said Matheson, adding that any criticism of the CDC's inability to rehab the space was "simplistic."
President of the CDC's board Donna Finnegan said she and the rest of the board are more open to various types of funders, but have yet to really set solid guidelines in their search for a new executive director.
"At this point in time I think the board is open to look at all our options," said Finnegan. "The reason I say that is economics are dictating how we proceed. I can't give you a definite yay that we are going to take whatever [funding] we can get, because I just don't know."
Joe McPherson, formerly of Kit Clark Senior Services, is now serving as interim director of the CDC after working as Matheson's assistant for the past six months. Board members met on Tuesday to form a search committee for a new executive director. Finnegan said a new director would have to be found by a June 30 deadline.
Matheson's retirement brings to three the number of Fields Corner-based organizations that are undergoing leadership changes.
Duy Pham resigned from the Vietnamese American Civic Association in June 2008 after a major financial deficit was discovered, forcing the non-profit to layoff its employees and go into all-volunteer mode. Quoc Tran became the new director there in recent months.
Then in mid-July came the controversial firing of Viet-AID director Hiep Chu, attributed to differences in direction between board and director. Matt Thall is currently serving as interim director and Viet-AID is also on the hunt for a new director.
"There have been so many surprising changes in Fields Corner over the last year," commented Darling. "It's really hard to imagine Fields Corner CDC without Jane."