Diane Stafford is a mother and a grandmother, and she has lived at Westminster Court since it first opened in 1967. Diane and I met for the first time at Ula Cafe in Jamaica Plain. She’s on the smaller side and was dressed relatively formally. She has short hair that was straightened every time I saw her. Diane is pretty soft spoken and doesn’t express emotions intensely. Her personality could best be described as friendly and professional. When I was explaining the project guidelines to her the first time we met, she was interested to know more about my school and how important this project was to my grade. Throughout my time observing her routine and involvement with affordable housing, Diane was welcoming. She introduced me to many of the people she works closely with at Westminster and beyond.
Even though Diane is a retired school teacher, her life still includes a lot of work. She is heavily involved in the Westminster Court Apartment’s Tenants Association. This is the group of residents at Westminster Court who co-own the complex with Urban Edge, a housing organization which owns multiple affordable housing locations in Boston. I was connected with Diane through Katie Provencher who is the Deputy Director of Urban Edge. Diane has been affiliated with Urban Edge since 1995 when they first began working with the Tenants Association. The Tenants Association meets monthly in the community room at Westminster Court. After our first meeting at Ula Cafe, Diane invited me to their April meeting.
Westminster is only 18 minutes away from Meridian, but going there I find myself walking through a part of Boston that I do not recognize. This is a rare feeling for me. I get to most of my daily activities on my own using public transportation and I've been doing that since middle school. As a result of that and living in Boston for my whole life, it felt uncommon for me to be somewhere I had never seen. Westminster is located across the street from the David A. Ellis School on Walnut Avenue. The two buildings are similar looking. At Westminster there is a common area in the middle of the grounds that includes green space and benches where residents can spend time. The entirety of the complex is surrounded by trees and garden space. There is also a parking lot for residents.
At the first meeting I went to, Diane was the only other person there. After a few minutes a young man who I had seen come in on a bike got there. He introduced himself as Stephen, and Diane explained to me that he worked with Urban Edge. Occasionally, he attends the meetings that the Tenants Association holds at Westminster Court. There is a different representative from Urban Edge each month, usually not Stephen. Before the rest of the tenants arrived, Diane discussed an issue with Stephen. There are some residents who might have to leave their apartments at Westminster for new ones because of over and under crowding. For example, a family has been living at Westminster for many years in a two bedroom, but then maybe one of the children moves and that bedroom is no longer being utilized by the family at all times. This family might be forced to move into a one bedroom despite having lived in the two bedroom for many years. Diane sees this as a big concern and brings it up again later while the meeting is in session. After explaining this issue to Stephen, Diane started the meeting. More tenants had arrived by that time.
The meetings are about an hour long. The one I went to started with residents Aliyah and Regina sharing about what had been going on since their previous meeting in March. Aliyah started by sharing about an event called “Network Night,” which is a resource for residents to find jobs and activities (for both kids and adults) over the summer. Network Night takes place weekly through the summer. After Aliyah was done explaining this, Regina shared. She discussed more of what had been happening at Westminster over the past month. She talked about maintenance work that needed to be done, such as a leak in the roof that a few residents had reported. Diane said that water had been getting in through her ceiling and dripping on her while she was in bed. When I returned for a second meeting in May, this had still not been fixed because the weather had been so bad. But someone was planning to come and fix it on the upcoming Monday despite the rainy forecast. They also discussed some spring cleaning that would need to be done in the garden spaces surrounding the complex. Regina said that some residents had reported mice, so another board member said he would get in touch with an exterminator. She said that Westminster was 99% full with one new person planning to move in the following week. She also shared that delinquency had gone up from March to April. There were a few tenants falling behind on rent, but she expected they would be caught up by May.
Before retiring, Diane spent her career as a Boston Public School teacher. She taught elementary math at the Tobin and Ellis Elementary schools, which worked well for since it is across the street from Westminster.
Diane’s involvement with Urban Edge began in 1995 when the Westminster Court Tenants Association was deciding whether to keep Westminster a purely rental apartment complex, or if it should become a housing cooperative. Because renting was more affordable, the Tenants Association and Urban Edge decided to keep every unit in Westminster Court for rent. Diane explained to me that the most important thing to her is that people at Westminster get to know each other as neighbors. She has planned family activities that all residents are invited to such as the annual barbecue that’s now been going on for about 15 years.I asked Diane about what happens at Westminster when tenants are unable to meet rent. She named a few ways that tenants are able to deal with rent through. Urban Edge can help people get funding for their rent through Project Hope, an organization that assists people in finding affordable housing. There is also a voucher program for low income residents through the Boston Housing Authority. Urban Edge helps tenets make these connections.
In 2016, Urban Edge helped 167 families in the city of Boston become new homeowners and countless others find affordable housing. At their annual meeting, which I attended at the end of April, CEO Frank Shea discussed some of Urban Edge’s accomplishments over the past year. He said that all housing locations maintained a steady 99% occupancy rate throughout the year. Over a thousand families were provided with back-to-school supplies and Thanksgiving turkeys. Volunteers like Diane help with many of these efforts. During the meeting, Diane presented a group of women from the Academy Homes with an award for their commitment to volunteer work in their community. This group was similar to the tenants association at Westminster Court. Similar to Diane, many of these women were original residents of Academy Homes.