Housing advocate Josephine McNeil will be the recipient of the prestigious R.L. Tennant Award - the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber’s highest honor - at the chamber’s annual Fall Business Breakfast on Nov. 7.
McNeil co-founded CAN-DO (Citizens for Affordable Housing in Newton Development Organization), the non-profit developer of affordable housing for low- and moderate-income families in 1994 and continued in that role prior to her retirement in 2017. She has remained an active tireless advocate for services for low wage workers, domestic violence survivors and children; most recently with U-CHAN (Uniting Citizens for Housing Affordability in Newton).
“Josephine has been talking about, fighting for and raising money to purchase homes for those who need them, long before our current housing crisis was on most people’s radar,” said Chris Teachout, chair of the chamber’s board of directors. “She’s made a tremendous impact and the chamber is thrilled to honor her contributions.”
Each year the chamber’s executive board recognizes one member for their outstanding commitment to the region’s economic and cultural vitality. Last year the award went to Walter Tennant, the chamber’s long-time treasurer and proprietor of the R.L. Tennant Insurance Agency in West Newton. Prior recipients include Newton Mayor Setti Warren, Marshall Sloane of Century Bank, Dr. Michael Jellinek of Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Peter Smith of Green Newton and Ken Brennan of The Village Bank.
CAN-DO is a community-based nonprofit housing development organization with a mission to create and manage affordable housing in the City of Newton. She was one of the organizing members in 1994 and the first president of its Board of Directors until 1999 when she was hired as its part-time Executive Director in 1999 and in 2000 her duties were extended to a full-time position.
McNeil brought to that position knowledge of real estate development with a focus on affordable housing, as well as knowledge and skills in structuring affordable housing projects. Prior to her appointment as executive director, she ran her own affordable housing and economic development firm. Her background includes employment as a real estate attorney for the Boston law firm Brown Rudnick Freed and Gesmer and a position as senior project manager for a real estate developer whose focus was on affordable housing.
Under her leadership, CAN-DO developed approximately 50 units of housing serving a diverse population. Forty-three of the units are deed-restricted to ensure that they remain affordable. The individuals and families residing in these units include individual with developmental disabilities, households headed by female victims of domestic violence, formerly homeless families including veteran families. She collaborates with local social service organizations, the Department of Veteran Affairs Healthcare for the Homeless program and other organizations to provide the supportive services many of the residents need in order to use their housing as a platform to more stable and secure futures for themselves and their families. During her tenure she started a program which provides services to help residents to gain the skills necessary to become financially self-sufficient. In order to ensure the continuation of the program after her retirement, the board created the Josephine McNeil Legacy Fund.
McNeil’s work in the area of affordable housing is widely recognized in her local community, as well at the state level. She received the Human Rights Award from the Newton Human Rights Commission in 2001.In 2002 she was selected as one of the subjects in the 2002 Portrait Project Subjects by the Newton Women’s Commission as well as the recipient of the Robert Swett Award in recognition of her efforts to develop affordable housing in the City of Newton. In October of 2006, she was designated as a Star and presented with an award from the Newton Community Service Center as part of its annual Night of Thousand Stars Benefit. Boston College Law School presented Josephine with its David Nelson Public Service Award in 2008. In 2009, she received the City of Newton’s Mayor’s Medallion Award as well as an award from the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership for “going above and beyond” for CAN-DO’s tenants. That same year she was one of the recipients of a Women of Justice Award from Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.
She was awarded the Haystack Award from the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ in recognition of her exemplary work in the area of justice and charity specifically her work with homeless families both hands-on and through advocacy.In 2017, she was recognized as an Unsung Heroine by the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women. In 2018, she was named the recipient of the 10th Annual Woman of the Year by the Women’s Law Center of the Boston College Law School.
McNeil’s legal and bar association activities include membership in both the Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA) and the American Bar Association (ABA). As an MBA member, she served as co-chair of the Property Council, a representative to the MBA House of Delegates and currently serves as a Massachusetts’ Delegate to the ABA House of Delegates. Her ABA activities include serving as a member of the Resolutions Impact Committee, the Standing Committee of Pro Bono, and the Standing Committee of Law School Accreditation. She currently serves as a Special Advisor to the Commission on Homelessness and Poverty, which she chaired on two separate occasions. From 2011-2014 she served on the Board of Governors. She also serves on the boards of two Massachusetts legal service organizations - the Volunteers Lawyers project of which she is vice-president and as a members of the Lawyers Clearinghouse.
In Newton, she is a member of the Community Advisory Committee of Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Co-Chairperson of Uniting Citizens for Housing Affordability in Newton, a member of the Fair Housing Committee of Newton, a member of the Newton Housing Partnership and a member of the Mission and Social Commission of the Eliot Church of Newton.
She is a graduate of Vassar College and the Boston College Law School.After law school she served a two-year clerkship at the Massachusetts Appeals Court and was admitted to the Massachusetts’s Bar in 1989.