Dudley Neighbors Incorporated Celebrates Its 25th Anniversary

Twenty-five years after its founding, the community land trust looks back at its achievements.

With all the improvements happening over in Dudley Square these days, it’s hard to believe that true change in the neighborhood started decades back.

Thirty years ago, a group of people were inspired to found the Dudley Square Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), a community organization laser-focused on bringing change and opportunity to the Roxbury and North Dorchester neighborhoods. Five years later, the organization founded Dudley Neighbors Incorporated (DNI), a community land trust with the purpose of partnering with non-profit and private developers to buy up as many of the 1,300 abandoned lots in the area as they could to build residential housing on them. This year, the organizations are celebrating their successes with a series of events.

Over the years, DNI has created 225 affordable homes and 95 ownership units, along with 77 cooperative units and 53 rental units. DNI now owns 34 of the 62 acres of land in the Dudley Triangle, which is roughly bordered by Blue Hill Avenue, Dudley Street, and Howard Avenue/Brookford Street. Meanwhile, the other 1,100 empty lots have been turned into parks, open space, community centers, affordable housing, and small businesses.

Land trusts are a unique and interesting form of property ownership. Basically, the landowner—in this case, DNI—leases its land to a developer to build homes, and then sells the homes to homeowners, who own any improvements to their properties, through a 99-year land lease. The lessees can sell their homes, but they remain affordable with restrictions on resale prices. The concept that someone can “own” their home even though they don’t own the land below it is a somewhat confusing idea at first, but it’s not that uncommon and we see it on occasion in Boston, most commonly on land owned by the state—the Fenway Center will be on land leased from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. Homeowners are in charge of their community through the election of a board of directors.

DSNI and DNI have enjoyed many years of success, having suffered through a fair share of setbacks (continued years of neglect of Dudley Square under the leadership of Boston mayors Ray Flynn and Thomas Menino and the replacement of the Orange Line Elevated with the Silver Line bus); controversy (being given the right to take property through eminent domain); and even heartbreak (the death of its first executive director, Peter Medoff, who died in 1994 at 37 years old). The organizations persevered, and now, they can look back quarter of a century later and know that hundreds of people have spent thousands of hours working to improve their neighborhoods.

DNI’s lasting legacy will be having shown other neighborhoods across the country how to grow and improve their communities through the responsible and practical use of land trusts. There are now more than 218 community land trusts in the United States.

For more info, there’s an excellent book, “Streets of Hope The Fall and Rise of an Urban Neighborhood” by Peter Medoff and Holly Sklar. You can learn more about DSNI and DNI in this video:

The community will celebrate the 25th anniversary of Dudley Neighbors Incorporated from 6-8 p.m., Friday, May 30, at St. Patrick’s Church, 400 Dudley St., Roxbury, dsni.org.