“We Shall Not Be Moved”: Capital Investment and Community Development in Boston, 1968-1986

Claire Dunning

Applying a business history approach to the history of the postwar American welfare state, this paper examines efforts by nonprofit organizations to adapt business and financing strategies from the corporate sector to anti-poverty efforts. It presents research on the activities of the Emergency Tenants Council (ETC) in a moment when faith in markets began to eclipse faith in the state as the source of social welfare provision. Founded as a nonprofit community development corporation in Boston’s South End in 1968 by grassroots activists, ETC challenged the city’s urban renewal plans for the low-income neighborhood and won control over the renewal process for the community. To jumpstart its redevelopment efforts, ETC looked to for-profit developers and formed a limited-dividend partnership. This innovative arrangement managed to serve the interest of the community (through affordable housing) and of investors (through competitive returns and tax shelters). Those in government, philanthropy, and banking saw this as proof that linking community development and capital investment was possible and profitable; ETC saw it as a disappointing reality that used affordable housing to increase the wealth of investors not the wealth of the community.