Rox group aims to keep Dudley homes affordable

Christopher S. Pineo | 4/8/2009, 4:51 a.m.

An affiliate of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative is taking steps to avoid what it fears could be a housing crisis in Roxbury triggered by big-money investors that purchase foreclosed properties and sell them at inflated rates to make a quick buck.

Dudley Neighbors Inc., the neighborhood nonprofit’s business arm, is trying to stem the fallout by rehabilitating foreclosed homes and getting them back on the market at affordable prices. The organization’s work is part of the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s Roxbury Strategic Master Plan.

This past Saturday, the affiliate showed a refurbished model home at 13 Dean Street, one of 210 units in its land trust.

“We’ve modeled one of the units where we’ve finished it to 100 percent and we’ve decorated it, and we’re actually allowing folks to walk through the unit and really get them a sense … that they could actually own one of these units,” said Jason J. Webb, director of operations for Dudley Neighbors Inc. “We want to give them a sneak peak at what the unit looks like and what it could look like when it’s finished, and then ask folks to apply to purchase one of the homes right there.”

The three-bedroom, 1.5-bathroom, 1,800-square-feet property is priced at $185,000, according to Webb, who said his organization has been promoting growth and redevelopment in the Dudley Square area by spreading the word about its housing offerings.

“We’ve done newspaper ads, we’ve done radio ads, we’ve done word of mouth, we’ve done mailings,” he said. “We’re right now going into a new segment where we’re going to a lot of the colleges, to a lot of the graduate programs, and making sure that they know that this great opportunity exists.”

Banks and large-scale developers can quickly drive up the prices of houses by adding equity to foreclosed properties and quickly flipping them to new buyers. According to the real estate Web site http://www.homes.com, housing prices in Roxbury have risen as high as $559,000.

Substantial increases to housing prices can displace lower-income families, which could then open the door for an influx of more affluent people who can afford to buy properties. The notion of gentrification taking place in Roxbury makes City Councilor Chuck Turner uneasy.

As Turner explained, when people with more disposable income enter an area, businesses tend to start catering to that wealthier clientele.

“And so the economy begins to gear itself to take what the businesses feel is a reasonable share of the new income that comes in,” said Turner, whose district includes Roxbury.

He means that when prices go up across the board, those who can’t afford them often find themselves forced out.

“People with affluence aren’t comfortable around people without affluence,” Turner said.

He compared this kind of displacement to the plight of Native Americans.

“This group of people came over here and they want what the people who were already here have, and they just keep driving them further and further and further because they don’t want them around,” he said.

That’s what Dudley Neighbors Inc. is trying to prevent from happening, according to Webb.

“Right now we’re working very hard to try to get control of some of these foreclosed properties, and try to get them into much more productive use,” he said.

For more information on Dudley Neighbors Inc.’s rehabilitated properties and open houses, visit http://www.dsni.org/dni.