Beginning in 1986, the Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency (MHFA) initiated a culture change: MHFA pioneered the idea that financiers of affordable housing can no longer address only "bricks and mortar" issues. Particularly in inner-city areas, residents face a lack of services, economic disinvestment, and a rising tide of drug- and gang-related violence. In order for subsidized rental housing developments and their residents to thrive, tough community issues had to be addressed. Based largely on resident feedback, MHFA began an incremental process that would fundamentally redefine its approach to asset management, empower residents, and reclaim neighborhoods, one building at a time. This holistic approach, known as the Building Community Campaign, across a portfolio of over 50,000 rental housing units is significantly enhancing quality of life in these buildings and neighborhoods and helping MHFA protect its financial bottom line.
In an effort to ensure that residents have a voice in the decision making process, a cornerstone of Building Community, the MHFA convened the Inner-City Task Force in 1986. Through the task force, residents have a forum in which to voice concerns and assist in the development of solutions. As a result of resident input, security issues are being addressed through patrols of more than 300 separate buildings in Boston by local, minority-owned security companies. Youth are being given an alternative to the street through year-round programs (now serving 3,000 youth statewide) that provide jobs and educational opportunities. MHFA's Tenant Assistance Program has been expanded to more than 46,000 units to address contemporary issues such as violence prevention, AIDs awareness, and single parenting. Minority business enterprises are also encouraged through an aggressive program aimed at assuring that business generated by MHFA-financed housing contributes to neighborhood economic empowerment, especially in communities of color.
By assessing risk factors associated with properties and developments, MHFA is able to determine which properties are high risk and in more urgent need of intervention. Understanding risk factors also helped to efficiently allocate program resources. As a result of MHFA, the number of high-risk properties fell each year by approximately 20 percent. Resident survey responses indicate a high degree of satisfaction with MHFA programming, and civic participation in neighborhood programs is increasing by the year. By fostering community development within formerly neglected neighborhoods, MHFA has successfully fostered a sense of trust and empowerment among its targeted residents.