The Fenway means different things to different people. For baseball enthusiasts it is home of Fenway Park -- the oldest ballpark in the country; for entertainment seekers it is the hub of Boston's nightlife offering dance clubs, theater, concerts and symphony; for horticulturalists, it is the gem in Olmsted's Emerald Necklace -- the Back Bay Fens -- with its beautiful Rose Gardens and World War II Victory Gardens; for the infirm it represents one of the top medical centers in the world; for students it is a core of wide-ranging intellectual activities related to music, art, law, medicine, engineering, science and more; for art lovers and aficionados it is a mecca for some of the world's most famous works of art. For those of us who live in The Fenway, the neighborhood is all that and much much more -- it is a vibrant urban community that is rich in history, diversity and political activism.
Although we refer to it as a single neighborhood, The Fenway is actually an amalgamation of five areas contained within 1.24 square miles: Audubon Circle, East Fenway, Kenmore Square, Longwood, and West Fenway. Each of these sub-neighborhoods has a separate character of its own though all contain one or more major medical, cultural or educational institution. Many of these institutions have been in The Fenway since it was created in the 1880s, when the area was drained and the surrounding marsh land filled to form its namesake, The Back Bay Fens.
The Fenway is home to 33,000 people, nearly half of whom are students attending one of seven universities, music or art schools in the area. For this reason, 60% of the population is comprised of people who are 18-24 years old. Conversely, only 5% of the population is elderly with sadly half living at or below the poverty level. 40% of Fenway's residents are single parents, 40% of whom are supporting families on incomes that are at or below the poverty level.
The neighborhood has a large immigrant population 15% speak a language other than English and 9% profess to speak English very poorly, if at all. 72% of the area's residents are White, 11% are Black; 10% are Asian and 7% are Hispanic. The community is also home to a large number of gay residents.
In the late l950s and early 1960s, Boston began its first experiments with "Urban Renewal" -- a federal planning concept that advocated the wholesale removal of distressed neighborhoods for higher-income, higher-quality housing. The West End, a tight knit community of mostly Italians and Jews, was one of the first to be demolished. With the City sanctioning the effort, the entire neighborhood was leveled, scattering its residents across Boston neighborhoods and outside its borders. More than a decade later the project was complete -- 2,700 low-rent buildings had been replaced by 2,300 luxury-priced high-rise units.
By the early 1970s, The Fenway too was threatened with West End-style urban renewal. The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) had approved the Fenway Urban Renewal Plan (FURP), which made possible the expansion of the Christian Science Church to include a new plaza and high-rise office buildings on Massachusetts Ave. By the time community residents mounted a legal challenge, part of the plan had already been accomplished and over 300 units of low-income housing had been destroyed.
Frustrated and angry, local residents pushed harder to draw attention to their law suit against FURP (Jones v. Lynn) which had been drawn up by the Boston Legal Assistance Project. In it, the community fought for the right to have a neighborhood-elected board become part of the decision-making process in neighborhood development planning. In a landmark decision, the lawsuit succeeded, leading to the formation of the Fenway Project Area Committee (FenPAC) -- a community-led planning organization that elicited and advocated neighborhood positions on local planning issues.
However, many of the Fenway residents who spearheaded this effort saw the need for an organization that would do more than just help shape development proposals. They envisioned an organization that could both preserve and develop affordable housing. With this vision in mind, they formed the Fenway Community Development Corporation which was officially incorporated on March 29, 1973.
One of FCDC's first projects involved a group of apartment buildings owned by the Massachusetts Historical Society at 15-25 Hemenway St. FCDC learned that the Society had received permission to demolish six row houses containing 24 affordable apartments in order to build a parking lot. Residents of the buildings were being told to move out of their homes even though no formal eviction procedures were being followed.
Acting quickly, FCDC obtained an injunction halting the evictions and utility shutoffs, organized building residents, and generated publicity on their situation. The Society responded by scrapping its plans to demolish the apartments and instead agreed to an innovative lease agreement devised by FCDC and the tenants that gave residents a key role in managing the buildings.
Today, FCDC is once again helping to keep 15-25 Hemenway St. affordable by working with residents to devise a plan for purchasing the property from the Society.
In 1974, a new and deadly trend emerged. Over a three-year period, 15 buildings went up in flames, killing seven Fenway residents and displacing hundreds.
Residents suspected that the fires, many of which occurred on Symphony Road, were no coincidence. FCDC members played a key role in forming the Symphony Tenants Organizing Project (STOP) to mobilize the neighborhood and stop the arson. STOP members were able to document a clear pattern in which several property owners "milked" rental properties (keeping rents high while investing little or no money in upkeep) and eventually torched them in order to collect on the insurance.
Due to STOP's work, 27 people were convicted in a wide-ranging arson-for-profit scandal. STOP's efforts put arson-for-profit in the national spotlight, and Massachusetts became the first state to adopt legislation aimed at preventing arson-for-profit schemes. Three years after the fires began, Governor Michael Dukakis signed the legislation at a ceremony in the Fenway.
With arson-for-profit no longer a threat, FCDC was able to focus on development. By 1979, the maturing organization had secured funding from national and municipal sources to rehabilitate some of the buildings lost to arson on Westland Avenue. As part of this package, FCDC sought and won a Solar Energy Grant from the federal Housing and Urban Development agency to redevelop one of the buildings to include a solar energy system.
But as plans moved ahead, it was learned that private developershad obtained options to develop all of the gutted buildings on Westland Ave., including ones FCDC had targeted for renovation. As testimony to the growing political clout of FCDC, negotiations with the developers resulted in it being named a Sponsoring Limited Partner for the new plan. The partnership with private developers proved to be a success for both parties. FCDC found itself part of a much largerdevelopment plan than originally envisioned and was able to secure key goals: more low-income and family housing, and the solar building project. The developers benefited as well; they were able to invest in valuable new property and avoid a costly battle with the neighborhood. The 97 unit mixed-income project which encompassed five buildings, was finished in 1982 with a grand opening in the unique solar building. The award-winning innovative solar energy system is working effectively to this day.
During this period of arson and renewal in the East Fenway, another part of the neighborhood was struggling with its own problems. In the early 1970s, a group of 15 apartment buildings on Peterborough St. in the West Fens was bought by a group of investors who sharply increased rents despite existing housing code violations. Many of the buildings tenants were low-income elders and families who feared they would be priced out of their homes.
In response, a handful of FCDC founders and West Fenway residents worked to form a neighborhood union -- the Fenway Area Tenants Union, which later became the Fenway Tenants Development Corporation (FTDC). Union members organized a rent strike in 1976 after it became clear that the investors would not renegotiate rents. Services were cut by landlords, and some tenants were forced to leave. However, after 18 months, the strike succeeded and the investors' bank took possession of the property.
FTDC soon initiated plans to rehabilitate the buildings by using state financing and the development expertise of a private developer. The public funding, however, fell through and the bank sold the property solely to the developer. That notwithstanding, the developer continued to work closely with FTDC to ensure that affordable housing remained for low and moderate-income people. In 1978, the developer's 220 units of renovated apartments were completed. A federal Community Development Block Grant was later secured for a small Peterborough Senior Center. In 1982 the FTDC officially merged with FCDC, linking the interests and goals of the East and West Fenway neighborhoods. 4
In the early 1970's neighborhood families banded together to build a simple playground corner of Edgerly Road and Haviland Street. though dutifully maintained, the site was worn down by use over the years. To serve a new generation of kids, FCDC rebuilt it and installed better play equipment in 1985. Today we are working with the City Parks Department to develop plans for a second major renovation which will be completed in Spring, 1997.
Later in 1985, FCDC began planning construction housing development. A celebration of firsts, it would become the first new housing built in the Fenway since the 1930's and the first housing in the nation to feature set-aside units for people with AIDS.
Completed in 1990, the Kilmarnock or "K-Street" Apartments are home to 55 mixed- income families while the West Fenway Apartments are occupied by elderly and disabled residents who live in 52 affordable umts. Although they were built simultaneously and appear as a single structure, the buildings' finances and organizations are independent.
In March 1990, FCDC was invited to join the Department of Mental Health, the Boston Citywide Land Trust, and the AIDS Action Committee in their efforts to acquire and rehabilitate a foreclosed lodging house at 57 Hemenway Street. Two years later FCDC succeeded in creating "supported housing" for people with chronic mental illness, and people with AIDS. Hemenway House is home to13 residents and staff who provide in-house services to residents.
In 1985, 53 units in two four story buildings at 64-70 Burbank Street were converted to condominiums by Bill Lilly, the self-proclaimed "Condo King." Lilly sold the majority of the shoe box-size units to absentee owners who were interested in making a quick profit on their investment. "No-doc" mortgage financiers provided most of the funding.
The conversion, which was problematic for building residents from the start, snowballed to the extent that within two years the Massachusetts Attorney General's office sued the investors for systematic neglect of building maintenance (including more than 1,000 code violations). Six years later, Lilly was convicted of real estate fraud, sent to prison, and fined $5 million for his underhanded dealings in Massachusetts.
In 1992 FCDC sought to rescue the property and the surrounding neighborhood from the drug dealers and prostitutes that were overrunning it -- initiating a four year legal battle to gain control over the buildings. In 1995 it began refurbishing them into 35 one and two bedroom apartments -- two of which are handicapped-accessible and all of which are affordable to low and moderate income residents. Reclaiming the structures has done much to restore a sense of safety to Burbank St. and surrounding blocks.
In the midst of FCDC's accomplishments as a developer in the 1980s, another problem was emerging over which The Fenway, and many other city neighborhoods, initially had no control.
In the mid-1980s, as property prices rose to new and unheard of heights, conversion of rental units for resale as condominiums dramatically increased. In The Fenway, 3,000 of the community's 12,000 apartments were transformed -- the vast majority by absentee owners who bought units with an eye toward short-term financial gain. In fact, only 17% of these condos where purchased by owner-occupants. Later that decade as property values plummeted, many absentee owners defaulted on their mortgages and monthly condo fees, leaving a significant number of buildings in a severe state of disrepair. Between 1987 and 1990, 91% of all condominium foreclosures in Boston were investor-owned properties.
Tenants in these distressed buildings were left with few resources to fight off severe and growing problems. The lack of condo fees left them unable to do even the most basic repairs leaving buildings vulnerable to rats, drug dealers and prostitutes. Crime rose as a result, affecting not only the tenants but the entire neighborhood. At the same time bank lending standards prohibited buildings with lower owner-occupancy rates from selling vacant units to first time homebuyers -- the most likely purchasers to become owner-occupants.
To address these issues, FCDC launched a successful multi-faceted strategy which has dramatically increased the number of owner-occupants while simultaneously stabilizing the operating structures of troubled condominium associations. The elements of this strategy, which are described below, resulted in an 180% increase in sales to owner-occupants in a single year (May, 1995 - April 1996)!
As a first step toward making foreclosed property accessible to new owner-occupants, FCDC negotiated a landmark affordable mortgage product with Fannie Mae -- the largest secondary mortgage holders in the United States -- that removed purchase barriers for low and moderate income first time homebuyers who wanted to buy a unit in a building with few other owner-occupants. FCDC has subsequently counselled over 300 potential Fenway homebuyers on the fundamentals of homebuying and homeownership, and developed strong working relationships with local Realtors who could provide them with a pipeline of affordable properties. The FCDC continues to sponsor new homebuying trainings throughout the year in conduction with mortgage lenders entering the market.
As part of its strategy to shore up the viability of condo associations, FCDC formed the Fenway Condominium Coalition to inform association . members and tenants of actions that can be taken to prevent "condo blight," and to act as a resource for technical and legal help. In 1993 it sponsored the publication of a manual for condo residents entitled "Stabilizing Condominiums," and has since worked with the Coalition to produce a common marketing directory, quarterly newsletter and is working to explore a joint purchasing program for materials and supplies.
Throughout its history, FCDC has developed 536 units of rental and cooperative housing of which it manages 276 units -- the remainder are held under separate agreement. Aside from the day-to-day property management issues and planning for long-term capital improvements that all property managers undertake, FCDC must also involve itself in refinancing properties whose structures may change due to shifts in government subsidies for affordable housing. This is a cumbersome and time consuming process.
In addition, FCDC works with residents in each of its properties to organize committees where neighbors can support each other by, for example, creating policies for working with building managers, developing local crime prevention strategies, and hosting building social events.
In 1989, with key financial and organizational help from FCDC, West Fenway residents formed the Kenmore/Audubon Circle/Fenway Neighborhood Initiative (KAFNI) to respond to a plan by local medical institutions to develop West Fenway property into a biomedical center. KAFNI developed a master plan for development of its neighborhood that focused the interests of the community on common goals, including: preserving low and moderate-income housing; improving the quality of life through careful development planning; and improving local economic activity. FCDC assisted KAFNI in drafting its master plan and today is engaged in discussions to redevelop the defunct Sears Building as the cornerstone of revitalizing the Boylston St. section of the West Fenway. FCDC is also involved in work on neighborhood transportation issues as well as discussions involving the possible reuse of Fenway Park.
Established in 1993, FCDC's Walk to Work Program grew out of an agreement it forged with 37 institutions in the Longwood Medical Area (LMA) to link their expansion plans with commitments to neighborhood housing and employment programs. The centerpiece of Walk to Work is FCDC's Employment Resource Center that offers 300 job seekers per year a listing of job postings and recruitment sessions at local businesses and institutions, access to computers, references books, workshops and one-on-one coaching for preparing resumes and cover letters, direct referrals to jobs and employment training programs, and English language training and conversation groups.
FCDC has also taken an active role in promoting local businesses by publishing a Neighborhood Business Directory, helping to launch a Neighborhood Board of Trade, and by sponsoring its annual Taste of The Fenway festival -- a fall event which features the cuisines of over 501ocal restaurants in addition to providing entertainment and educational activities for children and adults. Close to 3,000 people are drawn to the event which is now in its fifth year.
In 1993 FCDC began to sponsor a variety of programs geared to supporting the needs of Fenway's children and their parents. These include the K-RAP afterschool program -- an after-school program for school aged children living in the Kilmarnock Street Apartments, creation of the West Fenway Playground (see below), and the Fenway Family Coalition -- an association of 400 neighborhood families that meets regularly to sponsor social and educational activities for parents and children such as community trips to Iocal museums, holiday parties, barbecues, and parent education classes. The Coalition is currently focusing its efforts on expanding afterschool and day-care programs in the neighborhood.
The West Fenway playground was a neglected schoolyard until its conversion was orchestrated by FCDC in1993. Most of the construction took place over onememorable summer weekend when neighborhood volunteers prepared the site and installed a new climbing gym and basketball court. Their efforts were fueled by food and drink donated by local businesses
The Fenway Senior Task Force comprises hundreds of elders who are working alongside their peers and neighborhood social service providers to FORCEimprove their quality of life. Among their many accomplishments, the Task Force has produced a Neighborhood Guide to Senior Services, and hosted an untold number of educational, recreational and social events for seniors.
In what is perhaps their most significant undertaking, the Senior Task Force has spearheaded efforts to locate and protect more than 200 Fenway elders who are facing the loss of their homes due to the imminent expiration of rent control protections on January 1, 1997. Many of these elders are long-term Fenway residents who were previously protected from substantial rent increases by legal controls that determined how much their rent could be raised. To address their impending crisis, FCDC created The Covenant Of Care -- a document that requested owners of rent controlled property to voluntarily agree to limit tenant rent increases to no more than their ability to pay. As a result, Northeastern University, a major Fenway property owner, signed the covenant while Boston University agreed to similarly protect their tenants. As a second step, the Task Force launched a program with Central Boston Elder Services to "Save Our Seniors", which is working to place endangered elders in safe affordable housing and connect to seniors to much needed social services.
Looking to the future, Task Force members are helping to plan for an enlarged Fenway Senior Center, and for an Assisted Living Facility which would provide critically-needed assistance to the neighborhood's frail elders.
Since its modest beginnings as a tight knit coalition of neighborhood activists, FCDC has fought institutional expansion, arson, disinvestment, crime, and speculation to build and sustain a high quality of life for its lower-income residents.
Today, as a result of its work, The Fenway is a better place to live. From its earliest success stopping a master plan for Fenway's "Urban Renewal", to its role in helping STOP convict 27 arsonists, to its participation in the development of resident-driven master plans, and beyond, FCDC has been a loud and clear voice for resident concerns. It has been a lightning rod for resident-led coalitions that are working to influence the shape of the neighborhood and to provide service to neighborhood people.
At the same time FCDC has been a community developer -- creating 560 units of affordable housing that are home to more than 1,000 individuals. It is this marriage of community advocacy with community building in the physical sense, that has brought FCDC to where it is today. Hundreds of neighbors have contributed to the work of the Fenway CDC and hundreds more have been touched by it.
Yet sadly, many of the forces that lead to the creation of FCDC persist in predominating the Fenway - the pressures of institutional expansion, the volatility of the housing market, the need for seniors, families, children, immigrants, and the disabled to be well cared-for and to have access to good-quality affordable housing, the demand for a safe community and a healthy business climate -- are as poignant today as they were in 1979. To meet these persistent challenges, FCDC must continue on a course that is continually shaped by community leaders, embrace institutions and organizations that are committed to its efforts, and monitor critical market trends.
Although its work is far from finished, FCDC has made a significant impact on the neighborhood. With your help and continued involvement, it will persevere in shaping Fenway's future.