Historic Housing and Affordable Housing in One Fell Swoop

In the past, the conquering and development of natural land has been a mark of progress in the United States.  This is apparent in the settling of America during the eighteenth and nineteenth century and the American dream for the pursuit of manifest destiny.  Despite this deeply rooted ideology, expansive development of natural lands was not readily apparent until the 1950’s and the arrival of a new set of standards for driveways and backyards for every home.  From a land use perspective, the 1950’s suburban movement set the stage for the developmental pressures we continue to see today.  In New Bedford, as well as other small industrial cities in the area, the suburban movement has been met with a transitioning economy struggling to redefine itself.   The abandoned homes and businesses my dog and I see on our evening walks are a grim reminder of these circumstances. 

But looking forward on a more positive note, it’s been refreshing to witness a growing debate about what to do with these vacated homes and storefronts (particularly the historic ones) with weeds growing in them instead of people and businesses.  Is it possible to find ways to preserve them AND put them to good use?  In extreme cases, local authorities have no other option but to call on the bulldozers and start over.  This was the predicted fate of the 19th century Victorian, located on the corner of Allen and County Streets in New Bedford, before the Community Action for Better Housing (CABH) stepped in.  The historic house lay vacant for 17 years when CABH purchased it in 2010 to historically preserve and transform it into an affordable housing complex. 

Historic housing and affordable housing are rarely used in the same sentence, but perhaps this story is testament to a desire among new generations to find creative ways to invest in what we already have, rather than expanding into new territory, leaving these historically rich buildings behind in the process.  The 12 unit complex, renamed the Oscar Romero House, is predicted to open in June 2013.

Meet Jason, Our New Graduate Research Asst.

When I graduated from college with a degree in plant and soil sciences, I never would have guessed that 6 years later I’d be writing an introductory blog about my upcoming work here at the Urban Initiative. I’ve always been captivated by the winding roads some of us take to finding a career we can be passionate about.

My winding (and occasionally hilly) road leaves me filled with excitement and anticipation as I begin my second year in the MPP program at UMass Dartmouth. During my first year, I was fortunate enough to work with the Town of Dartmouth in a 1-year public policy fellowship designed to present a real-world application of my MPP coursework. The experience was tremendously valuable in a professional sense, but perhaps even more so on a personal level. Not being a native to the South Coast, the fellowship provided a unique setting to begin learning about the challenges and opportunities the region faces, from which my appreciation of its history, charm, and culture quickly followed. So much so that when I cheerfully acquired my new position, Graduate Research Assistant in the Urban Initiative program, my first priority was finding a cozy New Bedford home for Budder and I (the “Bud” and I are pictured below) to experience life on the South Coast first hand.

Looking forward, my hope is to merge my natural resource science and policy background with the more urban focused work taking place at the Urban Initiative. One of my first projects will be helping to launch the Urban Indicators Project, a web-based platform used to present object information, such that the interconnectedness of complex community issues can be interpreted holistically. Whether it’s in an urban focus, environmental focus, or both, trying to understand these overlapping causes of a community problem, obstacle, and/or challenge is fascinating to me.

Thanks for reading!

The author and his fury companion, Bud, are out retrieving water samples for runoff control analysis.