History of Dukakis Center

The Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy was established in 1999 with a small staff committed to providing Northeastern University with the capacity to carry out state-of-the-art applied research on a broad range of urban issues from affordable housing and local economic development to workforce training, state and local finance, and transportation planning.

Within the first year of its founding, the Center was encouraged to focus on the growing problem of housing affordability. With support from the Boston Catholic Archdiocese and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, the Dukakis Center undertook new research which culminated in the release of the “New Paradigm” report on housing in late 2000. That highly commended report would demonstrate the need for 38,000 new units of housing in the region in order to slow what had been double-digit annual price appreciation and noted the need for action to change zoning to permit the development of more affordable housing.

By 2002, the Dukakis Center was producing its annual Greater Boston Housing Report Card which each year has kept track of housing prices and production. In 2003 and 2004, it was involved in a wide range of housing evaluation studies for several cities and towns in Greater Boston. The Center’s research in housing helped lead led in 2005 to the creation of the Commonwealth Housing Task Force, a broad coalition of business and civic leaders, housing advocates, and developers. With the support of the coalition, the Dukakis Center staff would end up producing the model that led to enactment of “Smart Growth” legislation in Massachusetts (Chapter 40R and 40S) which in turn has made it possible for dozens of municipalities in the state to gain state funds in return for re-zoning land for housing construction. As such, the Dukakis Center has pioneered a “social change” model that begins with fundamental applied research and works its way all the way through to the formulation and implementation of new public policy.

This “think and do” model has now been applied by the Dukakis Center in other fields, including local economic development and workforce training. By 2004, the Center had embarked on the development of the Economic Development Self-Assessment Tool (EDSAT) to assist municipal leaders in attracting business investment and jobs. Over the next four years, nearly fifty Massachusetts cities and towns would take advantage of the EDSAT process. In 2006, the center worked with the Boston Redevelopment Authority to create the Labor Market Assessment Tool (LMAT) which is being used to better understand workforce training needs in the Commonwealth. After the 2008 completion of its “Staying Power” report on manufacturing in Massachusetts, the center has helped create a statewide task force to help market manufacturing in the state and align training programs to the needs of this industry.

Along the way, the Dukakis Center has carried out survey research for the City of Boston on “elder-friendly” retail trade and on city services; assessed the level of minority enterprise in the state; evaluated public housing programs; investigated career ladders in key sectors of the local economy; built software tools for high school students, journalists, and city agency personnel; researched the importance of state revenue sharing for promoting the economic development activities of local municipalities; studied the burden of property taxes in older industrial cities; and studied the impact of transportation systems in the Greater Boston region.

To complete all of this work, the Dukakis Center has employed faculty along with graduate and undergraduate students from Northeastern University as well as other local educational institutions and has employed a bevy of associates and consultants with specialized expertise. It has enjoyed support from a wide array of local and national foundations, federal, state, and local agencies, and corporations. During its first decade in operation, the center received approximately one hundred grants and contracts with a value of over $5 million.

In November, 2008 the center was renamed in honor of Kitty and Michael Dukakis for the extraordinary work that both of them have done to make the City of Boston, the Commonwealth, and the nation a better place to live and work. Now known as the the Dukakis Center, this “think and do” tank looks forward to its second decade of pursuing path-breaking research with the goal of meeting the urban and regional challenges of the 21st century.

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