NEIGHBORHOOD REBUILDING. Freeing Boston housing programs from worry of fund-raising

Joan Diver beams broadly every day she reports to work in downtown Boston. ``I'm moving back to Boston,'' she tells everyone, after nearly a decade of life in the suburbs with her husband and children. ``I want to be part of rebuilding Boston, of making it a living city, of proving that neighborhood life is the way to go!'' The Divers moved out of Boston because they wanted peace and quiet, not a struggle to survive, she says. Before summer is past, Mrs. Diver will once more be a resident of New England's largest city.

She also will head a $4.5 million program to revitalize urban neighborhoods. The program, Neighborhood Development Support Collaborative, promotes self-help by providing 10 community development corporations, or CDCs, with services and administrative funds.

Upgrading neighborhoods through self-help is the way to go for people who want to revitalize a decaying city, say urban experts in the seven agencies, national and local, that donated the $4.5 million to establish the collaborative. Heading the list is the United Way of Massachusetts Bay, the first United Way in the nation to invest in housing. It pledged $1.8 million to the experiment to revive the inner city community by community.

Last week the collaborative kicked off its program by naming five nonprofit CDCs, each with a successful track record in creating affordable housing, to initiate the effort with programs that could complete nearly 700 new units of affordable housing, including apartments, condominiums, and cooperatives in five years. Next year the agency will select five other community groups planning self-help housing for low- and moderate-income families in various neighborhoods of Boston. The city ranks as one of the nation's highest in terms of housing costs.

Each selected CDC will be awarded $35,000 to $65,000 a year for five years to develop their projects, says Mrs. Diver, chairman of the collaborative and also executive director of the local Hyams Foundation, a donor.

``If we are successful,'' says Diver, one of the originators of the concept, ``this will be the beginning of an ongoing effort to maintain Boston neighborhoods well past the five-year timetable we've set. It could set a precedent for other urban areas for years to come.''

Success would also provide a model program for the national United Way movement, which has never supported housing in any way, says Mark Hinderlie, agency relations manager of the local United Way. ``The United Way movement, now in its second century, is seeking new areas of meeting the needs of communities it serves,'' he says. The organization traditionally supports health and welfare in communities.

``The participation of the United Way is a giant step forward in this movement,'' says Paul Grogan, president of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, which is contributing $150,000 to the collaborative. The Ford Foundation is investing $1.5 million in the collaborative. Six other donors are contributing $1.2 million.

``The provision of operating funds makes it possible for CDCs to create ideas for revitalization rather than spend time trying to raise money,'' Mayor Raymond Flynn said at the ceremony announcing the allotment of funds.''

Each community program has been selected from among 24 applicants to design projects for development of affordable housing in their neighborhoods.

``The goal of the collaborative is to guide neighborhood CDCs in investing in new and rehabbed housing that is affordable for low and moderate income families,'' says Carol Glazer, who will head the team providing technical and professional assistance to the selected agencies in every phase of their projects.

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