The survival of the Lower Roxbury community was at risk. Bulldozers were demolishing hundreds of homes, churches, and businesses through the City of Boston’s urban renewal program. A small, but determined, group of activists fought back. Led by community members including Ralph Smith and C. Vincent Haynes, the group mobilized residents against the further destruction of their neighborhood. They created their own vision for the area and procured the resources they needed to rebuild their once-thriving community. This effort resulted in the creation of the Lower Roxbury Community Corporation in 1966 – with Ralph Smith as its founder and first Executive Director. The organization was a community-based, non-profit that independently developed affordable housing for low and moderate-income residents – making it one of the country’s first Community Development Corporations.
The organization was first known as Lower Roxbury Community Corporation and was later renamed Madison Park Development Corporation in honor of a local park which was a victim of the demolition. The new name staked the community’s claim to the land, promoted the concept of resident-led development, and supported a new vision for the neighborhood. Roxbury had experienced “white flight” – due partly to federal housing policies and discrimination. It had become a predominantly minority community made up of African Americans, Latinos and Cape Verdeans. It was also one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. MPDC continued their efforts to revitalize the area and, over the next 20 years, successfully developed over 500 units of affordable housing on the land originally cleared by the city.
Ralph Smith’s tenure as MPDC’s Executive Director lasted for 23 years – during which time the 546-unit Madison Park Village development was built. In 1989, Danette Jones took over as Executive Director. She oversaw a refinancing and major rehabilitation of the older properties, the purchase of a commercial building with planning for homeownership housing, and the beginning of the youth and resident services programs. Jeanne Pinado, the current Chief Executive Officer, assumed her role in 1998. MPDC is now the state’s largest community development corporation – as well as being among the nation’s oldest – and continues its work to redevelop and revitalize the Roxbury community.