WATCH was formally created at the first Annual Meeting on October 22, 1988 at the First Congregational Church in Waltham, when local residents paid membership dues and agreed to the goals of the organization.
The action of many individuals led to that day. A subcommittee of the Waltham Concerned Citizens peace and justice organization began focusing on Waltham’s affordable housing and neighborhood deterioration. Speculation and mass evictions were devastating the Charles and Myrtle Street areas, and arson seemed to be rampant in the city. Members of this subcommittee met with the local group Tenants United for Fair Housing (TUFFH) and conducted research on how to create a community development corporation (CDC).
Another key influence was the early members' desire to preserve and promote diversity in Waltham. In an editorial submitted to the News Tribune, Board members write, "…there is much work to be done to develop a city proud of its diversity and interested in collaborating across cultural boundaries. If you'd like to help break through these barriers, please join WATCH. We are working daily to build the cross-cultural ties essential to achieve our mission of empowering low income residents of Waltham."
WATCH members had been active even before the organization’s official creation. In early fall of 1988, the city's largest rooming house, The Golden Maple Lodge, was purchased by a developer and tenants were given eviction notices asking them to leave by Thanksgiving. WATCH became involved to delay the evictions, and relocate the 236 low income and elderly tenants, WATCH helped by locating housing, offering funds for a security deposit, finding furniture and providing temporary housing.
By the summer of 1989, WATCH was well into its Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) project. After conducting extensive research, WATCH members found that local Sterling Bank’s performance did not meet CRA requirements to invest in the community in which the bank was located. WATCH filed a CRA challenge to the merger of Sterling Bank and Lexington Savings Bank. As a result, the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) required Sterling Bank to act in ways in order to meet its CRA obligations. The FDIC ruling validated WATCH’s concerns and lead to greater involvement by local banks to invest in local communities.
A major effort in the early 1990's involved a campaign over the Riverfront Overlay District, a zoning proposal designed to encourage the redevelopment of Waltham's downtown area along the Charles River. WATCH was concerned that the district would only further fuel speculation and displace local residents.
Over sixty WATCH members and supporters attended the public hearing regarding the Riverfront Overlay District. WATCH introduced five amendments to ensure that affordable housing was a component of the District, including a suggestion for the city to create an inclusionary zoning law to promote more affordable housing development in the area, and WATCH’s efforts paid off! In 1991 the City Council passed an Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, requiring affordable housing to be included when new housing was built.
Community organizing has always been a critical component of WATCH’s work and mission. In 1991, WATCH grew by adding professional community organizers to the staff in order to maintain the capacity to engage our members in making the kinds of changes that they wanted in their community.
In the mid to late 1990’s WATCH also began providing numerous services to Waltham's low-income community including:
- English as a Second Language (still offered!)
- Nursing Assistant Training
- Health education on lead paint
- Tenants' Rights education and assistance (still offered!)
- First Time Homebuyer classes (still offered!)
- In 2008, WATCH merged with Breaking Barriers, Waltham's Latino empowerment organization. This allowed each organization to strengthen programs, pool resources, consolidate capacity and create one unified, stronger organization that helps low-income families, immigrants and any other residents who feels that their voice is not heard to develop as leaders, gain skills and act to make their community as strong as possible.
All told, WATCH has had over 30 years of making a difference! Our many accomplishments include:
- Working with the City Council to support passage of the inclusionary Zoning Ordinance which requires housing developments to include affordable units or put funds toward affordable housing.
- Developing 15 properties to create 21 units of affordable housing mobilizing over $10 million investment in Waltham neighborhoods.
- Organizing citizen demands around Cronin's Landing development.
- Developing tenant associations at 144 Moody Street, Northgate Heights, Gardencrest Apartments, Garden Maple Lodge, Prospect Hill Terrace, Chesterbrook Gardens and Whalen Public Housing.
- Supporting tenants to negotiate lower rent increases, advocate for building repairs, facilitate help with moving costs, and require a tenant Representative on the Housing Authority Board.
- Mobilizing residents of Charles/Fenton Neighborhoods to address safety & traffic concerns.
- Working with the city to upgrade playground equipment at Thompson Park.
- Partnering with Waltham Land Trust to win passage of the Community Preservation Act which allows the city to collect a property tax surcharge, to be matched by the state resulting in $3 million/year to be used for developing affordable housing and preserving historic buildings and open spaces.
- Educating hundreds of immigrants to become proficient in English and gain new skills.
- Assisting over 500 tenants at our Housing Clinic to find housing, report safety code violations, understand their rights as tenants, and connect with other community resources.
- Assisting more than a dozen low income Waltham families with a volunteer work day to help weatherize their homes and lower their heat, energy and water use and bills.