In a move that may mark one of the final milestones in the shift away from the days of Urban Renewal and government-controlled housing development, Mayor Thomas Menino tapped Evelyn Friedman, director of Nuestra Comunidad Development Corporation to be his Chief of Housing and director of the Department of Neighborhood Development. She will be the first from a community development corporation to lead the department.
"It's high time," said Paul Grogan, who served as DND head when it was called the Public Facilities Department under Kevin White's administration. "The CDCs have been a tremendous success in Boston, there's extraordinary leadership that has developed in that network. Friedman's of the best in that group."
Mayor White was perhaps the first to herald a move toward community-based urban design in Boston. Citywide activism during his administration blocked a planned expressway in the southwest corridor and railed against anything that smacked of the 1960s urban renewal-style planning that precipitated the destruction of Boston's West End neighborhood and several areas of the South End.
In the following decades CDC's in Boston, the South Bronx and elsewhere pioneered ways to take state and federal funding and develop affordable housing, commercial space and job training with strong community input in neighborhoods that had been decimated by urban renewal and other factors.
"Boston is one of the few cities in the country that virtually eliminated blight," said Grogan, "which is extraordinary if you saw what it was like here in the 60s and 70s. Some cities are still like that."
Friedman led Roxbury's Nuestra Comunidad for 17 years, building it up from a two-person operation with 35 units of housing to a 45-employee, $6.5 million a year non-profit with over 725 units of rental housing and 300 new homes to its credit. Nuestra also runs three small business incubators, manages 65,000 square feet of commercial space and provides youth services in Roxbury and Dorchester.
"I'm pretty tough," said Friedman in a phone interview this week. "I'm not easily frightened."
Looking ahead, Friedman said she wanted to "get more work done." But specific plans would formulate when she's had more time to look at the department from the inside. CDCs in Boston routinely work with DND when applying for funding from the city or taking advantage of city-owned lots for developments.
Addressing the foreclosure crisis, building more rental and home-ownership opportunities, and looking at ways to prevent expiring use for developments that took advantage of Section 8 federal housing funding decades ago would top her agenda, Friedman said.