SOC 350 blog posts – Affordable housing in New Bedford

Affordable Housing in New Bedford

Authors: Sayyida Jean-Charles, Michael P. McCarthy (Urban Initiative research assistant), and Ashley Hurley, students in Professor Gloria de Sa’s SOC/ANT 350, ‘Urban Issues in Public Policy’ (learn more about their collaboration with the UI by reading this post)



For our service-learning project, we focused on the effectiveness of affordable housing in New Bedford. We wanted to know how many affordable housing units are available for low-income families, and if these low-income families are benefiting from their subsidized housing. This led us to ask the question, does New Bedford have effective affordable housing programs? We started our research by identifying the two major types of housing assistance. The first type, “project-based” housing, is owned by the federal, state, or local government agencies. The second type is “mobile” subsidies. These are provided to tenants and homeowners to make independent housing more affordable. The New Bedford Housing Authority oversees about 5,435 HUD subsidized housing units in New Bedford. About a third of the 5,435 HUD subsidized housing units are project-based and approximately more than half are mobile subsidies, such as housing choice or Section 8.


The research for this question was based heavily on data provided by the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). For our research, we stayed away from survey questions, feeling as if the subject was too personal for the participants. We thought we could answer our question best by looking at New Bedford’s Subsidized Housing Inventory (SHI). We examined the application public housing authorities use to evaluate a low-income family’s eligibility. By examining this data and researching literature relating to this issue, we felt confident that we would be able to suggest possible policy measures to increase the overall effectiveness of affordable housing in New Bedford.


In our examination of the literature surrounding affordable housing, its impact and effectiveness on the surrounding community, we frequently encounter the concept of a Neighborhood Condition Index (NCI). The NCI is created by comparing various indicators which are associated with healthy neighborhoods to the city baseline. In our case these were the poverty rate, housing burden rate, unemployment rate, the number of single parent families, rental housing stock, housing vacancy rate, amount of new residents (less than one year), as well as the neighborhood median income and rent. These ratios were calculated on a variable by variable basis, and then averaged by the total number of variables.

The resulting NCI number is then compared to the city average. In this case the city average is 1.0, and since we are dealing with variable which are mostly considered negative indicators of neighborhood conditions (meaning that a larger occurrence would be worse quality of life) any number larger than 1.0 means that the conditions of that particular area (in this case Census tract) are worse than the city as a whole. We adopted this strategy of analysis in order to examine the potentially adverse impact concentrations of affordable housing can have on the conditions of a neighborhood.

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From our research, we know that New Bedford surpassed the state goal of having affordable housing represent 10 percent of the total housing stock. Indeed, New Bedford has an SHI of 11.8, meaning that percent its housing is considered affordable. However, this means New Bedford has 5,064 units of affordable housing. Our estimates, based on the Census’ American Community Survey, show that there are 8,325 extremely low-income households in New Bedford. Therefore, we feel it is safe to assert that only 61 percent (5,064/8,325) of them may be benefiting from the available affordable housing.

Affordable housing is not awarded to anyone there is an application process low-income families have to fill out. The Public Housing Authorities do full background checks on all applicants. This shows that not just any type of person can receive assistance.


New Bedford must make affordable housing an appealing place where people would like to live. In part, this can be accomplished by paying more attention to the city’s existing housing projects. It is important to make these housing projects more attractive and integrated into the surrounding community. Also, we feel that affordable housing should be made available for those who need it, where they need it instead of meeting a state minimum requirement.


We were able to answer our question on the effectiveness of affordable housing. However, due to our approach and limited time, the research lacks the view point of low-income residents. To hear what they believe would be beneficial to them would be an insightful way to measure the effectiveness of their housing and the role it plays in not only providing a shelter but also in increasing individual efficacy. Another limitation was that we were unable to interview people that are in charge of handling the cases for affordable housing. In sense, our research lacks a significant qualitative portion.


This research changed our views on affordable housing. Especially in regard to who receives low income housing; it has to be people who are clear of a criminal background and owe no more payments to previous housing authorities. Even though New Bedford exceeds the SHI goal, we learned that having this type of housing is beneficial to the family. Affordable housing is important because it can be used to place low-income families in better neighborhoods and integrated them into a mixed income community. Also, New Bedford’s affordable housing only benefits about 61% of its residents. The 5,064 affordable units do not satisfy the 8,325 extremely low income households, Therefore, we can expect the number of affordable housing units to further increase as Massachusetts implements more policies aimed at improving the quality of life of its residents who are stuck in a cycle of poverty.


Reflections on my work at the Urban Initiative

Katya Starostina

Graduate Research Assistant

I am graduating on Friday, May 16th from UMass Dartmouth with a Master of Public Policy. Sadly this means that my time as a graduate research assistant at the Urban Initiative is coming to an end. This year, I got the chance to work on many great projects across a spectrum of local issues. This was a wonderful opportunity through which I gained extensive experience in applied research and learned many valuable skills along the way. And needless to say, Colleen Dawicki is the best manager anyone could ask for. For my last blog, I answered a few questions about my work this past year.

What was your favorite project at the UI and why?

One of my favorite projects at the UI has been publishing SCUIP pages. SouthCoast Urban Indicators Project is a website developed to measure quality of life factors in the Gateway Cities of the SouthCoast, which are Fall River and New Bedford. The goal of the project is to inform decision-making by presenting and analyzing data in a way that is easily understood by any stakeholder and members of the communities. I developed web pages on school performance, teacher characteristics, public investment in education, and college access.

The first page that I had developed on public investment in education proved to be very relevant for New Bedford and Fall River school districts at the present time. Both of the Gateway Cities have a history of spending the bare minimum required by the state for its public education. Both communities fund less than 20 percent of their school district budget while the average Massachusetts municipality contributes 57 percent of local dollars toward their budget. The rest is covered by Chapter 70 Aid from the state.

In New Bedford, there is currently a great debate about whether the school budget should be increased. The new superintendent Pia Durkin requested a budget of $4.6 million above the state-mandated minimum for the upcoming year, making the case that money is needed to update the 11-year-old literacy curriculum among many other things. The proposed budget was approved unanimously by the School Committee. Whether the City Council will approve the budget or not will send a strong message about how invested New Bedford is in improving its public education.

What was your most challenging project at the UI and why?

The LifeWork Project was a challenge but also one of my favorite projects. It is a pilot program from the Women’s Fund of Southeastern Massachusetts that supports women with children to become self-sufficient. Through a partnership with Bristol Community College, LifeWork participants take college classes there, get trained in financial literacy, and receive job training. The Urban Initiative has designed a program evaluation for LifeWork, customizing data collection through tools like the Quality of Life Index and the Bridge to Self-Sufficiency, developed by the Crittenton Women’s Union. I had received training in Salesforce to then design a database for tracking participant data and train the client on the use of the software. Using Salesforce to aggregate and analyze data, I was able to report on the characteristics of the women that the project is currently serving.

LifeWork Project meets a great need in the community. Program evaluation is a powerful tool to measure program efforts and report on the outcomes. It has been a challenging process to implement the pilot evaluation as there are many critical pieces to the puzzle, but I am really excited about it continuing in subsequent years and measuring the impact LifeWork is having on its participants.

What’s something you’ve learned during your time here that surprised you?

Having conducted extensive research on the present state of public education in Gateway Cities of Massachusetts, it has surprised me to learn how low education attainment is across these urban cities and how much it affects the economy of the state. High school dropout rates are extremely high: Gateway Cities School Districts have an annual dropout rate of 5.6 percent, almost four times the rate of other Massachusetts districts. Of the students that do graduate, many are not college-ready. As a result, only 21 percent of Gateway Cities residents who are 25 years of age or older have attained a bachelor’s degree, compared with the state average of 39 percent. Many of these young adults do not have access to the economic streamline and do not earn a living wage. There is a great effort currently among state and education sector leaders to improve public education, ensuring a sufficient supply of skilled labor force and igniting local economic growth.

Background – Blog posts from ‘Urban Issues in Public Policy’ students

As blog readers (and Twitter followers) will now by now, the Urban Initiative partnered with UMass Dartmouth Professor Gloria de Sa and her students this semester to support project-based learning. The almost 30 students in SOC/ANT 350, titled ‘Urban Issues in Public Policy,’ undertook community-based research projects that focused on issues in Fall River and New Bedford. One of their required deliverables, along with a presentation of their findings, was a post for this blog detailing their work and findings. Over the next month, we’ll be posting their work on the blog and linking to their reports via this post. Here are the research questions students set out to answer:

  • What is it like to live on minimum wage in New Bedford?
  • What is the state of affordable housing in New Bedford?
  • What’s it like to be a homeless adult, child, or family in our region? (3 groups)
  • What’s the difference between perceived and actual crime in Fall River and New Bedford?
  • How is opioid addiction affecting our region’s cities?

Note: As always, views expressed on this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the UMass Dartmouth Urban Initiative or of UMass Dartmouth. In some cases, the text provided by these students has been abridged for length and content considerations; this is denoted by ellipses.

May project update

We’re on the home stretch with two projects this month: our report on the United Way Hunger Commission will be delivered at May’s end, while our year-end report on the impact of the LifeWork Project’s first year is being outlined in anticipation of end-of-semester data (you can read more about those projects here).

While the completion of those tasks–plus our students’ efforts to wrap up their semesters and, in Bob and Katya’s case, their graduate school careers–has kept us busiest, here are some other irons in the fire:

  • We recently wrapped up a survey of New Bedford teachers working with the Center for Education Innovation at Friends Academy, and will begin the data analysis component of this evaluation next month.
  • Bob and Katya just finished interviewing–in English and Spanish–heads of household affiliated with the HOPE VI project in Taunton, as part of that multi-year evaluation project.
  • We continue to support the work of New Bedford’s Regeneration Committee, which will meet twice more before we and our partners at MassINC develop a report documenting their efforts and strategies.
  • The Sociology course with which we partnered for the semester just presented the findings of their community-based research projects. One of the students’ required deliverables was a blog post documenting their findings; stay tuned as we get those posted here!

UMass Dartmouth, Durfee High students to present collaborative photo project on 5/16

Press Release

Fall River Portraits – Creative Initiative Project

Over the past several months, students from B.M.C. Durfee High and UMass Dartmouth have taken their cameras into the Fall River’s various neighborhoods and photographed the people and places they encountered. The result is a wonderfully varied and fresh look at life in various corners of the city. This collaborative portrait features many of the city’s small businesses – barber shops, bakeries, grocery stores, tattoo parlors, clothing stores – as well as neighborhood scenes, moments of everyday life, and often unnoticed but fascinating detail. Their outstanding work of over 200 images will be shown at The Narrows Center for the Arts in an exhibit entitled, “Fall River Portraits: People, Neighborhood, Community.”

The project was designed to create meaningful collaborations between high school and college students and to encourage all of the students to explore and better understand the people and communities that make up Fall River. UMass Dartmouth students gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of the city that is just down the road from their campus, and high school students were encouraged to explore and reflect upon their own communities. Both sets of students found ways to creatively document the city’s diverse cultures and communities.

One of the results of this project is a celebration of Fall River’s family-owned businesses.   Students visited over forty small businesses in the Flint/Pleasant Street and South Main/Columbia Street areas, talked extensively to store owners, and documented the people and interactions in these establishments. Stories about some of these businesses will be featured in the show. Local businesses were also selected to print the images, host the show, and provide the refreshments for the exhibition opening. Participating merchants will also receive personal invitations to the exhibition as well as copies of students’ photographs in thanks for making the students feel welcome in their establishments.

The project is sponsored by a University of Massachusetts Creative Economy grant and organized by Mark Carvalho, photography instructor at B.M.C. Durfee High School, and Andrea Klimt, anthropology professor at UMass Dartmouth.

An Artists’ Reception will take place on Saturday, May 10th from 1:00 – 3:00, at the Narrows Center for the Arts, 16 Anawan Street in Fall River.   Admission is free. The public is cordially invited. The show will be open from May 10th until May 31st, Wednesday thru Saturday, 12-5.

For more information see or contact Andrea Klimt at, 508-999-8331. Exhibition posters and gallery cards are available upon request.