by Paul Ognibene
Over the course of my career in real estate development, I have had the opportunity to speak with thought leaders regarding our industry and its potential to have a positive impact on communities. One of the most prevailing conversations has been the issue of affordable housing. In the Boston area and key locations throughout our nation, many citizens have struggled to find affordable, accessible housing options despite working hard in pursuit of the American dream, and this was a key to my decision to start Boston Partnership for Community Reinvestment (BPCR).
The BPCR was founded in collaboration with a business partner of mine, Ralph Parent, and his Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) development firm, Parent + Diamond, to address the issue of affordable housing in our area. We realized that the City of Boston was offering for sale numerous housing sites scattered throughout the city, including vacant lots in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan. Utilizing these sites, our goal was to construct affordable properties thoughtfully and quickly, which would require assistance from a wide variety of local, minority vendors and builders to facilitate. One of the issues with the original Requests for Proposals that were issued by Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) was that they could not be processed quickly enough to address the growing need for affordable housing in the area. As a result, land would remain undeveloped rather than be revitalized to contribute to the inventory of affordable housing.
This is where BPCR’s plan to streamline the process came in. Through the assistance from experts within the MBE and Women Business Enterprise (WBE) communities, we developed a framework for controlled, specialized mass production of affordable properties. Maxime Charles, CEO of Massachusetts Construction & Management, has been instrumental to the team, as he has helped facilitate the production of affordable properties at the scale necessary for BPCR’s plans. Currently, we have already begun production of our first set of single-family homes within Dorchester and we have plans to begin a second group of home sites in short order as well. No project is too small or large in our eyes – with our committed team of experts, many great things are possible.
The BPCR is committed to doing voluntarily in the private sector what is now mandatory for developing public sector housing. In both, the BPCR is implementing sustainable Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) programs that link large well-established contractors with smaller less-experienced minority builders for substantial portions of the work. The BPCR’s model projects a minimum of 30% of total construction budgets to be allocated for MBE, WBE, and other often-overlooked minority and women contractors. Strategies for encouraging micro-equity investment participation in our developments is also one of our tools for wealth creation throughout the community.
Through our approach, we intend to not only create affordable housing, but to create an economic development engine. As such, we aim to keep as much of the money spent on development circulating within the neighborhood. The idea is that properly uplifting our local communities cannot simply be done through affordable housing alone. When citizens see economic opportunities within their own neighborhoods, it contributes to their pride in their hometowns, economic stability, and mental wellness.
In many ways, our goal for this partnership goes beyond the issue of affordable housing and into what a stable place to live means for so many of us. BPCR does not just want to connect individuals with properties they can afford, but also use these revitalization efforts as steppingstones to address the intersect between access to affordable housing and a path toward economic success.
Paul Ognibene is founder and CEO of Urban Spaces LLC.