Just as The Neighborhood Developers (TND) celebrated its 40th year in existence, the Chelsea-based organization that has expanded to Everett recently announced its new Director, Rafael Mares, at a celebration function on May 31.
Mares is a Revere resident and will replace 15-year Director Ann Houston – who will be moving on to a new collaboration project between TND and Nuestra Comunidad in Roxbury. Houston was also honored at the event May 31.
Mares has been working at the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) in the fields of housing, environmental justice and transportation – often working in the Chelsea, Revere, Everett area that TND serves.
“My work has always been on the state and regional level,” he said. “From time to time I had the opportunity work with Community Development Corporations (CDCs) in Somerville and Lawrence. I really enjoyed partnering with CDCs…So, I was particularly attracted to running a CDC in my own community of Revere…I always felt particularly excited about working on issues where I live.”
Part of the celebration will be to mark the creation of 400 affordable housing units in 40 years at TND, but Mares said he wants to do the same in much less time.
“My goal is to continue that good work, but speed it up,” he said. “We need to be working to do what we did in 40 years in a shorter time period. We need to be able to do that same thing in seven years…I think Greater Boston has seen significant growth and there has been pressure on people who have become displaced from housing…I feel in Chelsea, Everett and Revere – unlike other areas close to downtown Boston – we still have opportunities for affordable housing unlike other areas where it’s rare. It’s extremely important to develop affordable housing before the opportunity is missed.”
Mares moved to Boston in 1996 to attend law school. After that, he worked at the Legal Services Center in Jamaica Plain for 10 years. Then he went to CLF. He now lives in Revere with his family, including three young children. Incidentally, his home in Beachmont Revere burnt down last February, and he is living temporarily in Winthrop until the home there is rebuilt.
Houston said Mares is a great follow-up for what she did, and she challenged him to speed up affordable housing development.
“I think maybe he can do even better,” she said. “I’m going to challenge him to do that much development in six years.”
CLF President Bradley Campbell wished Mares well and said he is very capable.
Rafael has been a steadfast advocate for healthy communities across New England,” said Campbell. “His work ensuring equitable access to the MBTA and fighting for environmental justice in places like Lawrence, Massachusetts will have a lasting impact on countless lives. All of us at CLF will certainly miss his energy and the passion he showed for his work over the last nine years.”
For Houston, she will be moving on to head up a new collaboration called OppCo, which offers services to CDCs – with the founding collaborators being TND and Nuestra.
She said there are a lot of things that can be done to scale, such as some services and administration of CDCs. However, she said they are looking to create something that keeps the power local and keeps the local touch in place while also saving money on combining services.
“The challenge we face is our work grows increasingly complex and to be efficient, we need greater scale,” she said. “You see savings, but you can lose that local connection. That connection is our most precious resource and we can’t lose that. TND has always been an organization that didn’t do well having to make a choice…OppCo is the answer to how we can do both.”
She said some of the services could include financial management, real estate development, asset management, residential services, data analysis.
“We hope OppCo becomes something that allows CDCs to increase capacity to serve local communities without sacrificing that local connection,” she said. “We’re encouraged by the excitement it’s received from CDCs so far.”
OppCo was in the planning stages all last year, and was launched officially on April 1.
Rafael Mares, formerly of the Conservation Law Foundation, will step in as the new executive director of TND in Chelsea, Revere and Everett. He replaces long-time director Ann Houston who has moved over to lead a collaborative organization between TND and Nuestra Comunidad in Roxbury.