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Mattapan housing nonprofit faltering

Group struggles with leadership, finances

The Mattapan Community Development Corp., founded in 1996 to create more affordable housing for low- and middle-income residents, is all but defunct as it confronts financial struggles and a leadership vacuum, according to local officials.

Unpaid taxes on some of its properties are piling up, city records show. It has failed to file a tax form, required of all nonprofits, with the state attorney general’s office. Its website has not been updated in nearly a year.

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The organization’s office at 221 River St. still bears a sign declaring the space as the home of the Community Development Corp., but nobody was present to answer the door on a recent morning. The status of the group’s board is also uncertain. Several officials did not return phone calls and e-mails seeking comment, and those who did were vague about the group’s predicament and prospects.

One thing is clear: For an area in dire need of more affordable housing, the apparent decline of the organization leaves a void in Mattapan.

The Mattapan group, like other community development groups in Boston and elsewhere, subsists on federal and local grants, members’ fees, and fund-raising. In thriving neighborhoods, they benefit from wealthy business owners and residents coming together to support a strategic development mission. But that has been a challenge in Mattapan, officials say.

The Mattapan organization lists Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development among its funders.

Evelyn Friedman, director of the department and chief of housing for the city, confirmed that her organization had provided operational support to the Mattapan group in the past, but said it is not doing so at this time. She said the city had tried to get the Mattapan group to become more organized.

“Most [community development corporations] in the city have their acts together, but this CDC has been struggling financially for quite a while, and we are disappointed,’’ Friedman said.

The group’s apparent decline is of particular concern in a neighborhood like Mattapan that does not have other such groups to pick up the pieces, she said.

“In Mattapan, the big problem we have is that they are the only game in town. It’s a big loss,’’ Friedman said.

City Councilor Charles Yancey, who represents Mattapan, said a strong community development group is a priority for the neighborhood, but said he has been unable to meet at length with members to discuss its status.

“There is a great need for a CDC that focuses on Mattapan rather than outside organizations and interests that don’t have a stake in the community,’’ Yancey said. “When it first started, we had high hopes, but unfortunately the CDC ended up going out of business.’’

State Representative Russell Holmes, whose district includes parts of Mattapan, said he is attempting to meet with the group’s members to determine how to move forward.

“We are still working with the board for a solution,’’ Holmes said. “It’s pretty much defunct. . . . We’d like to have a CDC, but the struggle has been trying to sit down with the board.’’

The Mattapan Community Development Corp. has rehabilitated 23,688 square feet of multifamily buildings and purchased 6,749 square feet of vacant land, according to its website. Some of the properties are owned solely by the group or in partnership with other organizations.

The properties include the 95-unit Adams Court at 431-439 River St., on which the group partnered with Roxbury-based Nuestra Comunidad Development Corp., and a property at 327 Wood Ave. City records show the organization owes $4,738.38 in unpaid property taxes on the Wood Avenue property.

The city also lists the Mattapan group as the owner of properties at 134 Ballou Ave., 130 Ballou Ave., 10 Elizabeth St., 8 Elizabeth St., and 10 Verrill St. It owes a collective $23,198.99 in taxes on those properties.

In the group’s most recent tax form required of nonprofits, in 2009, it listed a negative net worth of $781,445. The group has not submitted its 2010 form to the state attorney general’s office, so it is out of compliance. A representative of the office said the agency will be contacting the Mattapan group.

The office said that the group has not filed forms for dissolution or bankruptcy. In addition to its tenuous financial position, the Mattapan group’s leadership appears to be inactive.

Its website lists Michelle Ward, who has been with the group since 1999, as the interim executive director. Ward did not return phone calls and e-mails.

According to the former state senator William Owens, who is a member of the group’s board, the nonprofit is assessing its position.

“We have asked a person to come in and do an assessment,’’ Owens said during a brief phone conversation.

“Once the assessment is done, then we will come out with a plan about how to move forward,’’ he said.

Owens declined to identify the person.

He said Axel Starke, the executive director of Greater Grove Hall Main Streets, is chairman of the board.

Reached by phone, Starke declined to comment on the Mattapan group’s financial status, but predicted a clearer picture would be available at the end of the month.

Patrick D. Rosso can be reached at patrick.d.rosso@gmail.com.
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