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IBA celebrates 45 years of building community

Martin Desmarais
IBA celebrates 45 years of building community
Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion’s first began putting on public Latino arts and culture performances in the 1980s, such as the bomba performance shown above.

Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion, a nonprofit organization started in 1968 that is dedicated to increasing the social and economic power of the Latino community through education, technology, economic development, and arts programming, has been putting on public bomba performances, such as the one pictured above, for many years.

Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion celebrated 45 years last week with a gala event on Oct. 18 at its Villa Victoria Center for the Arts in the South End.

Organization leaders and several hundred others gathered to reflect on the history of an organization that was one of the first to organize a community in Boston for the purpose of preserving a neighborhood through real estate development and has continued to support the city’s Latino community for over four decades.

“We look into our future to continue to provide the high-quality services we have been providing,” said IBA Chief Executive Officer Vanessa Calderón-Rosado. “We are very committed to continue to push for affordable housing in the city and we are looking into opportunities to do that, particularly in the South End, which is so hard because the real estate is so expensive.”

Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción is a Boston-based nonprofit started in 1968 dedicated to increasing the social and economic power of the Latino community through education, technology, economic development and arts programming.

IBA owns or has developed more than 750 units of affordable housing, including Villa Victoria and Residencia Betances in the South End, as well as elderly housing in Lower Roxbury at the Robert L. Fortes House and in Hyde Park at Neponset Field.

IBA also serves over 12,000 people through arts and cultural programming and more than 800 people annually through programs that include a preschool, an after-school and summer academic program for children, a youth development and employment program, a community technology center, resident services, an education and workforce development partnership with Bunker Hill Community College and arts programming through New England’s largest Latino Cultural Center, Villa Victoria Center for the Arts.

The founders of IBA were a group of predominately Puerto Rican community activists who organized to gain control of development in their Boston neighborhood in the face of a City of Boston urban renewal push (the name Inuillinos Boricuas en Accion means “Puerto Rican tenants in action”).

The first efforts of IBA led to the development of Villa Victoria, a 435-unit affordable housing development in the Boston’s South End neighborhood. Historically, the building of Villa Victoria is considered a seminal moment in the history of affordable housing, civil rights and community organizing in the city.

In the four decades since, IBA has been lauded for its ability to link affordable housing with supportive programming. The organization’s work to “develop and preserve safe and culturally diverse affordable housing communities whose residents will have opportunities to increase their social, educational, economic and political power, in order to reach their full potential” has led to a number of successful efforts.

IBA is also praised for its use of the arts as a community-building tool to strengthen cultural pride and create cross-cultural ties within neighborhoods.

Calderón-Rosado, who has been with the organization for over a decade, said that when reflecting back on IBA’s past, those involved feel a lot of pride for all the “firsts” it has accomplished. The big watershed was the development of Villa Victoria, but other accomplishments of note include the launching of Massachusetts’ first bilingual pre-school program in the early 1970s and the launch of its Villa Victoria Center for the Arts in the mid-1980s.

“IBA has a lot of firsts in its history,” Calderón-Rosado said. “Those three are just examples of the many, many things over the last 45 years IBA has created [that] made a lasting impression on the community.”

IBA has an impressive list of financial backers, including Univision Boston, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Goya Foods, Maloney Properties Inc., Nellie Mae Education Foundation, State Street, Xfinity, Yearup and the United Way.

The organization has four different program areas: education, economic development, technology and arts.

Its education efforts focus on Escuelita Boriken, a multicultural and bilingual preschool; Cacique Children’s Learning Center, a licensed after-school and summer program that integrates literacy development with arts and technology activities that works with more than 45 children (ages 5-13) per year; and Cacique Youth Learning Center, a youth development program serving 200 youth ages 13-24 living in Villa Victoria, the South End and Lower Roxbury.

On the economic development front, IBA has an education partnership with Bunker Hill Community College for the Pathway Technology Campus, which provides low-income residents of the South End/Lower Roxbury neighborhood with opportunities to complete their GEDs and take adult education classes, transition into and enroll in college-level classes and participate in job readiness and workforce development training.

It also has a Community Empowerment Program that helps about 150 elderly residents of Villa Victoria in the areas of health, arts, recreation and social services. The organization also continues its efforts to develop and preserve affordable housing.

IBA also supports the El Batey Technology Center, which is a member of the City of Boston’s Timothy Smith Network. The center offers technology instruction in the form of computer training classes at the youth and college levels, as well as professional development services.

The organization’s art efforts are focused through the Villa Victoria Center for the Arts, which reaches over 20,000 people a year and has a mission to preserve, promote and celebrate Latino art and to create dynamic cross-cultural collaborations. The center has won numerous National Endowment for the Arts grants and presents art through music, dance and visual art.

While IBA has a long and accomplished past, the organization is focused on what it hopes will be an equally long and accomplished future.

Calderón-Rosado said that IBA has recently reorganized and consolidated its organizational structure to improve the way the it works, and also to focus more on developing affordable housing for Boston’s Latino communities. She said IBA is looking at property acquisition and more development in the near future.

According to Calderón-Rosado, 300 people attended IBA’s 45th anniversary event last Friday. The event featured a live show from Grammy Award Nominee and Puerto Rican salsa star Michael Stuart. Also part of the festivities was an awards ceremony honoring Boston’s top Latino leaders. Four individuals were honored with Jorge Hernández Leadership Awards in four categories. Elizabeth González-Suárez won in the Civic category, John Sharratt in the Founder category, Jorge Arce in the Arts category and Betty Francisco in the Corporate category.

“It was a real fun. The house was packed with people,” said Calderón-Rosado. “Friday night was a wonderful night. Three hundred individuals came together to celebrate [IBA’s] contributions to the Latino community and the Boston landscape.”