Last Thursday morning at the Hyatt Harborside Hotel, the East Boston Neighborhood of Affordable Housing
(NOAH) celebrated 30 years in the neighborhood.
This important nonprofit agency began in the basement of Our Savior’s American Lutheran Church on Paris Street in 1988 fighting slumlords in Eastie at a time when there was an influx of Vietnamese and Cambodian immigrants.
At times these families wouldn’t have heat and when buildings burnt down because the families were forced to use space heaters the landlords unfairly blamed the residents. Rumors began that these immigrants cooked on the floors of the apartments or in bathtubs.
So with a goal of helping these residents in Eastie because they had no one else to turn to NOAH was born. At the time the community needed two things. East Boston needed an active enterprise that helped low income residents and a voice to resolve the housing crisis here.
In the mid to late 1980s there were far 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.
While NOAH 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.
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.
The misconception that NOAH somehow contributes to the demise of urban neighborhoods because it provides affordable housing has been disproven 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, jumped on most environmental projects that added more green space to the neighborhood and more recently began to tackle the issue of climate change and sea level rise and its impacts on the neighborhood.
“Let me say a word or two about NOAH,” said longtime Executive Director Phil Giffee last Thursday. ‘It is an honor to do this work. It is my privilege to work in East Boston alongside so many heroic people, diverse residents, non-profits, small businesses, elected officials and government entities. For the 30 years I have been with NOAH, I have been touched and amazed by the depth, wisdom, suffering, character, resolve, imagination and strength of the people. One learns, no matter one’s heritage, all people often need is a helping hand to gain a foothold, a sense of self-esteem, an opportunity to participate, a few extra dollars to make a down payment, a mentor who has been through the struggles, good customer service, an informative class, a place to share their story, a kind word of encouragement. NOAH has been such a place, with our passionate, competent staff, backed by strong and supportive partners. Anyone on the NOAH staff or the Board will tell you- we are blessed to be able to do this work in East Boston, and beyond, where affordable housing needs to be built. My personal thanks to NOAH folks for letting me work here and my wife and son for supporting these efforts. I am as ecstatic about the future as I am in celebrating NOAH’s accomplishments with you. I’m energized and grateful for your ongoing support.”
One of the speakers at NOAH’s 30th anniversary breakfast was longtime supporter and collaborator, former City Councilor Sal LaMattina.
“It’s an honor for me to be here with you to celebrate NOAH’S 30 years here in East Boston,” said LaMattina. “Phil (Giffee) thank you for your commitment and dedication to our neighborhood. I am proud to call you my friend. As we celebrate NOAH’S 30 years of work here in East Boston, I can not thank them enough for what they have accomplished to make East Boston a better place to live, to work and now the hottest place to be in the city.”
LaMattina said that he founded Eastie Pride Day five years after NOAH was organized. It was a time when many families were moving out of the neighborhood for various reasons.
“As I look back at East Boston 30 years ago, it was a much different place than it is today,” said LaMattina. “In our business districts there were many vacant storefronts, there were abandoned houses and we had the lease open space in the city and our parks were in deplorable conditions. And at that time there were a lot of East Bostonians who were skeptical of NOAH’S mission. Thirty years ago NOAH started to rebuild this neighborhood. Those abandoned houses, NOAH bought those houses, did some major renovations to them and sold them to families at an affordable price so families would have a decent place to live and stay in our neighborhood. When I talked about the deplorable conditions our parks were 30 years ago, NOAH step up to the plate, they worked with the City to get a park on the waterfront the Urban Wild and started the School Yard Initiative so the children in our neighborhood would have a nice school yard to play. These school yards are an extension of the beautiful parks and open spaces that we are enjoying today.”
LaMattina added that NOAH’s Mission today is more important than it was 30 years ago.
“It is getting harder and harder every day for families to stay in our neighborhood,” he said. “As a City Councilor I would get calls every day from people getting evicted, looking for an apartment. So it’s more important than ever to support NOAH so I thank you all for being here.”
Scarlett Mitchell concluded the speaking program and told stories of how NOAH has helped her and her family over the years.
“NOAH has embraced me and my two children,” said Mitchell. “Not too long after buying our home NOAH offered me a job as an ESL and citizenship teacher, and my daughter Alexandra had her first job with the youth group when she was fourteen. Thank God for NOAH that helps people like myself to conquer their dreams. Today many immigrants come to NOAH to fulfill their dreams whether is buying their first affordable home, learn English as a second language or get ready to become a US Citizen. And I proudly say that all of our students pass the citizenship test and exercise the right to vote. Thank God for institutions like NOAH. NOAH builds dreams.”