Center for Social Policy Rewriting Boston Anti-Poverty Strategy

Scott Van Voorhis | November 24, 2009
Center for Social Policy Rewriting Boston Anti-Poverty Strategy

The Center for Social Policy has launched a broad campaign to tear down public policy barriers which keep many in poverty, part of an expanded relationship between the CSP and the Boston Foundation.

As part of a five-year partnership, the Boston Foundation recently awarded an annual grant of $100,000 to the CSP, a sum matched by the UMass Boston and the McCormack School, in which the CSP is based. The partnership is expected to build upon the CSP’s already cutting-edge work in identifying areas where state and federal policies may be inadvertently creating roadblocks that keep low-income workers in poverty. The CSP’s role in the partnership will be to serve as the “eyes and ears” of the Boston Foundation as it refocuses its financial resources, according to Donna Haig Freidman, the center’s director.

“With this grant award and a matching grant by the University of Massachusetts Boston and the McCormack Graduate School, we are taking our effort to the next level,’’ said Friedman.

The new partnership comes as the Boston Foundation shifts its approach to a more targeted effort to improve the quality of life in Boston. The effort will be concentrated on select Hub neighborhoods which have been identified by the CSP as both in the most need of help and most likely to gain from Boston Foundation assistance. Research and analysis conducted by the CSP will be given to the Boston Foundation and Boston Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC), as well as the Foundation’s other partners, as they roll out and evaluate a new “sustainable communities” initiative in Boston.

“Our role will be to be their analytical arm,’’ Friedman said. “We are going to be helping them measure change over time.’’

The CSP’s first project in the partnership is an analysis of renters across Boston living in foreclosed buildings and facing eviction. More than 4,000 housing units in Boston are in either foreclosed buildings or buildings in the process of being foreclosed on; in many cases, lenders evict renters from a building after foreclosure to clear it out for sale.

Legislative proposals to curb such evictions have so far not gained political traction, with Boston officials now scrambling to buy up buildings as a way of preventing further evictions. The CSP is hoping to shift this political dynamic by providing in-depth and timely research to advocates pushing for legal protections for tenants in foreclosed buildings, including the Coalition for Occupied Homes in Foreclosure, housing policy advocates and city and state policy makers.

“We are definitely going deep, making visible what is happening for tenants living in foreclosed properties in the Boston area,’’ Friedman said.

Along with working on the foreclosure issue, the Center for Social Policy is also pushing for changes in state and federal housing and childcare assistance. In particular, the Center, in collaboration with the Crittenton Women’s Union, the National Center for Children in Poverty and members of the Massachusetts Asset Building Coalition, will push to change the “cliff effects’’ in which crucial public supports are pulled back too quickly as families move up the economic ladder.

“I feel as if this is a really important new approach. Rather than fixing and mending, we are looking at all the implications and the intersections of policies,’’ said Elaine Werby, a senior fellow at the center, who spent 17 years on the faculty of the College of Public and Community Service.

Meanwhile, the CSP is also looking to get the word out about the work it is doing with a series of quarterly and annual events. Last June, the CSP hosted a major event to launch its new initiative, called “Reshaping Poverty Policy for 21st Century Families and Communities.” The conference drew a wide range of participants, including leading advocates in the field as well as UMass Boston faculty. This “change through engagement’’ approach, Friedman notes, involves “engaging sectors in our community who don’t usually get into conversations about poverty. The business community is one.’’

“There is a weariness about these kinds of issues,’’ she said. “We really want to get past those attitudinal hurdles and get into meaningful conversations with people who can fix things.”

For her part, Maureen Scully, an assistant professor of management as well as an advisor to the College of Management’s Emerging Leaders Program, said she is excited about the prospect of working more closely with the CSP. While the specific issues the fellows will work on during their team project are still being hammered out, this year the focus will be on getting the business community involved in a larger discussion about poverty.

“We are looking at how can business play a role in thinking about solutions to poverty, or, flipping it around, the creation of better economic health for the region,” Scully said, adding that “business is part of the solution, not through the business of philanthropy, but through the core of how business operates, through the jobs it provides.”

Researchers at the CSP, in turn, say they are excited about the partnership, and the opportunity it provides to reshape policies that hold low-income workers back.

“The center really thinks outside the box,” said CSP graduate assistant Jennifer Cohen, who spent years working for community nonprofits in Israel and New York. “The center’s approach is based on a different assumption on how you look at the world, and make changes.”

Tags: center for social policy , csp , the point

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