Worcester Common Ground, Inc. (WCG), a Community Development Corporation (CDC) was founded in 1988 in response to concern about absentee ownership of land and property, the high cost of housing, the displacement of families from their homes into shelters, and the fading dream of home ownership and economic opportunity for those living in the most underserved neighborhood of Central Worcester, Massachusetts. Our member-based organization is composed of land trust residents, concerned citizens, housing advocates, and community leaders. We are an open membership, not-for-profit organization run by an elected board of land trust members.
The mission of WCG is to promote and develop permanent and sustainable improvement in the neighborhoods of Central Worcester through affordable housing, community activism and economic development. We act as a developer of last resort, rehabilitating abandoned housing and acquiring parcels of vacant land for new construction to provide area residents with affordable rental units, the opportunity to own their own home, and an avenue to contribute to an increased level of neighborhood investment, pride and stability. As WCG has grown as a CDC, we have come to understand the vital importance of implementing a sustainable and comprehensive neighborhood improvement strategy to support out affordable housing objectives.
WCG engages in partnerships with other community organizations to address area residents' varied needs including public safety, youth involvement, recreation, community planning, and neighborhood business development. In order to ensure that our initiatives are successful, we encourage residents and partners to participate as community activists and stakeholders in creating a stabilized, viable and thriving neighborhood where there is opportunity for home ownership and quality rental housing, within a safe, affordable and family-friendly community.
Worcester Common Ground Staff and Board Members
Our staff is highly qualified in each of their specialties and frequently collaborates to implement events or to get out a grant or project application on deadline. The stability that is reflected in the length of service has helped us manage even with the reduction in staff that was required in past years due to the financial challenges facing CDCs.
A second-year at Mount Wachusetts Community College, Ryan is our resident artist and marketing manager. He has a keen eye for photography, and is currently learning other art forms such as cartooning, water color, spray painting, and graphic design. He incorporates these skills into the designs for his community-building signs for our gardens, our building murals, and all of our publicity materials. He is also taking a leadership role in the creation of our new youth artist group, Urban Revival BlaQ Ink'D. This group is playing an active role in building positive perceptions of our Piedmont neighborhood, and empowering youth to make their communities more beautiful.
Jon joined us in January 2015. He will lead WCG’s real estate development activities and support management of its diverse asset portfolio. Coming in with 22 years of experience as a Project Director of a Boston low-income housing organization, Jon knows how to skillfully navigate affordable housing development projects. He will guide WCG’s new projects from inception through close out. His strong communication skills and attention to detail will surely come as an asset when negotiating and driving new real estate projects for our Piedmont community.
Front row from left to right: Eddie Jimenez, Phil Stone, Lisa Stewart; Back row from left to right: John True, Robb Zarges, Jono O'Sullivan, Jeff Ortiz, Jose Reyes, Marge Purves; Not pictured: Arline Rosario, Ramon Borges-Mendez
WCG-CDC is governed by a Board of Directors of up to (18) individuals, 51% of whom must be neighborhood residents and all of whom are elected at the annual meeting. The composition of the board reflects the organization's commitment to developing resident leaders in the neighborhoods it serves.
Jono O'Sullivan, President - Piedmont Neighborhood Resident & Business
Marge Purves, Clerk - Piedmont Neighborhood Resident
John True, Treasurer - Central MA AHEC
Jeffrey Ortiz - Piedmont Neighborhood Resident
Phil Stone - Attorney / Activist
Eduardo Jimenez - Piedmont Neighborhood Resident & Business
Lisa Stewart - Piedmont Neighborhood Resident
Ramon Borgés-Méndez - Piedmont Neighborhood Resident & Business
Robb Zarges - Kainos Coaching and Consulting LLC
WCG has identified a range of needs that affect the community from basic public safety to the leveraging of strategic reinvestment of public and private capital. The following are key indicators of neighborhood instability that have been confirmed by WCG, its community partners and the City of Worcester's planning office:
Low Rate of Owner-Occupancy/Affordable Housing: Merely 11% of the target area's housing structures were owner-occupied in 1990, according to Census data. Nearly half (40%) of all housing structures citywide had the stability of an owner-occupied residence. As the 495 corridor becomes unaffordable, rents in Worcester increase. This, combined with an antiquated housing stock of triple-deckers, creates challenges for providing an adequate number of affordable units.
Abandonment & Blight: Abandoned and distressed properties detract from the economic and social capital of a neighborhood. The reclamation of these properties remains the highest neighborhood stabilization priority, as it returns vacant or abandoned land to the tax roles, increases the level of personal and economic investment in the neighborhood and helps reverse the trend of disinvestment in the community.
Family Transience - School Mobility: There is a highly transient rental population that resides in the target area. The Worcester School Department conducted a mobility study in 1994-95 to determine enrollment and transition rates for students enrolled in elementary schools. The two schools with the highest mobility rates were the Chandler Elementary School (53.7%) and the Elm Park Community School (60.1%), the two elementary schools that serve families living in the target area. These percentages reflect the number of enrolled students that did not complete a full year at the same school.
Safety & Aesthetics: Underlying social problems in a community manifest themselves in visible ways such as an increase in crime and poorly maintained housing. These symptoms of neglect and disfranchisement are threatening to a neighborhood and require short-term intervention such as clean-ups and community policing. However, these tactics must be combined with a comprehensive community reinvestment strategy in order to produce long-term results. In order to truly resolve the threats of underlying instability, the affected community must be involved at every level. WCG strives to engage as many residents as possible in each one of its initiatives.
Crime, Drugs, Trash: The result is that these underlying problems become visible and are exacerbated by the increase in crime, drugs, trash, and poorly maintained housing. Though these visible symptoms require short-term intervention, a comprehensive community reinvestment strategy is needed in order to have longer term results.
Housing Production/Improvement: Abandoned and distressed properties still exist in the Piedmont neighborhood. In addition, sixty percent of the housing stock was built prior to 1924, compared to the citywide rate of fifty percent. Consequently, a large proportion of the existing housing inventory does not meet the current building code standards. The combination of disinvestment and the aging housing inventory creates a situation in which market values fall short of the level of investment that is required to bring the existing housing inventory up to up to building code standards. To compound the problem, many properties are vulnerable to the acquisition practices of certain investor owners who fail to make the necessary improvements even when rental income is sufficient to support them.
Community Investment Tax Credit
There is an affordable housing crisis in Worcester. From 1980-90, more than 7,600 units of new housing were built in Worcester, but in the following decade, only 1,400 were produced. The vacancy rate at the Worcester Housing Authority is less than 1%, leaving few available units of public housing. Worcester CDCs produce approximately 100 units per year, whereas the City estimates that 400-500 units per year are needed. As the Greater Boston area and the 128 and 495 corridors have become overbuilt and unaffordable, development pressure has moved west. Once a bastion of affordability, Worcester housing prices have skyrocketed more than 250% in the past several years and new, high-priced developments are springing up all over the city. The dream of home ownership is becoming unattainable for the average Worcester family.
As housing prices have climbed, rents have followed, displacing many of Worcester's lower-income families. Middle-class families now occupy neighborhoods that have traditionally been the home of working-class families. These displaced families then move into the lower-income neighborhoods, in turn displacing low-income families. In response, some low-income residents move to Southbridge, which is more affordable, but has no public transit and few jobs. Others end up in the city's homeless shelters, which are now overflowing. In response to this crisis, area churches have formed the Interfaith Hospitality network, allowing their church basements and other large spaces to be turned into temporary shelters. While there is a movement afoot to establish an affordable housing trust fund, immediate action is needed to stem the flow of dislocation and combat the rise in homelessness.
Worcester Common Ground serves the lowest-income neighborhoods in the city. As housing prices and rents increase, the Piedmont and Elm Park areas have become a haven for low and moderate income families seeking affordable housing. Because of the increased demand, rents here are increasing, as well. The housing stock is more than 100 years old and much of it is in poor condition as a result of disinvestment. The neighborhood has suffered from illegal dumping and neglect, as well. The neighborhood also suffers from economic isolation; although it abuts the downtown corridor, there is a high rate of under- and unemployment among area residents.
As a community development corporation, WCG acts as a developer of last resort, rehabilitating abandoned housing and acquiring parcels of vacant land for new construction, which provides area residents with affordable rental units, the opportunity to own their own home, and contributes to an increased level of neighborhood investment, pride and stability. The entire city benefits as these properties are returned to the tax rolls. This work is augmented by neighborhood initiatives, which bring people together to work collectively on issues of concern and to contribute to making their neighborhood a better place to live.
Worcester Common Ground, Inc. 5 Piedmont Street Worcester, MA 01610 USA508-754-0908
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