East Boston’s Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH) began in the basement of Our Savior’s American Lutheran Church on Paris Street. It started in the basement of this church fighting slumlords in Eastie at a time when there was an influx of Vietnamese and Cambodian immigrants coming into the neighborhood.
At times these families wouldn’t have heat for two years. When buildings burnt down because the families were forced to use space heaters the landlords unfairly blamed the residents and began the rumors that these immigrants cooked on the floors of the apartments or in bathtubs.
“I remember NOAH’s first day. We got a call to assist a Vietnamese family which was being intimidated by an absentee owner over nasty conditions in an Eagle Hill apartment,” said NOAH’s Executive Director Phil Giffee. “The owner was also threatening them with eviction. East Boston has always been a welcoming community (and it should be proud of itself) but that event was a too-common experience in those days. If memory serves, we got the landlord to back off.”
With a goal to help these residents in Eastie because they had no one else to turn to NOAH was born.
“At the time the community needed two things,” explained Giffee. “East Boston needed an active enterprise that helped low income residents and a voice to resolve the housing crisis here.”
Giffee said there were too many absentee landlords taking advantage of the poor and having them live in substandard conditions. NOAH was there to take these immigrants complaints to the attorney general’s office and although it was hard at times it was these fights that helped NOAH emerged as a vital neighborhood organization.
This month NOAH turned 25 and while it began as a way to improve housing conditions here it has blossomed into a respected organization that lends its name to community building, social and environmental justice and entrepreneurship for thousands of residents here.
In the early days NOAH ran on inspiration and spirit and today works on partnerships with local and area non-profits as well as community leaders and elected officials.
“And the many, many residents that do not have an official title with NOAH but were the backbone of the organization then and now,” said Giffee.
The misconception that NOAH somehow contributes to the demise of urban neighborhoods because it provides affordable housing has been disproved over the years as NOAH emerged as a stabilizing force in Eastie. Over the years NOAH has helped to drive out slumlords for the community, improved countless dilapidated buildings, improved Eastie’s housing stock and jumped on most environmental projects that added more green space to the neighborhood.
“I couldn’t be happier and I’m eternally grateful that I landed here in East Boston 25 years ago,” said Giffee. “I met so many hardworking passionate dedicated people that have became close friends over the years.”
Giffee said from the beginning NOAH built on the human instinct to help other people move up in the world and year after year that original mission has been reaffirmed.
“Our role has always been to foster the human connection between people and help generations realize its not a South American and European divide in this neighborhood but that the people that come to East Boston now come here for the same reasons our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents did,” said Giffee.
So whether NOAH responds to seniors who need their homes repaired, a young family needing an affordable rental apartment, or yet another family facing a draining foreclosure – or to residents who need an advocate to help fix up a schoolyard, create open space or preserve our precious environment, Giffee said NOAH will continue to answer the call.