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Amy Anthony, groundbreaking affordable housing leader in Massachusetts and beyond, dies at 74

December 17, 2018

By Bryan Marquard, The Boston Globe

Halfway through her tenure as Massachusetts secretary of communities and development, Amy Anthony toured a part of Lowell that had fallen on tough times — a neighborhood she was revitalizing in 1986 through the construction of 38 units of affordable housing.

The building site was one of dozens that dotted the state during the eight years she oversaw development of an unprecedented 25,000 units, while persuading more than 90 communities to build affordable housing for the first time.

She was the first woman Governor Michael S. Dukakis named to his Cabinet in 1982 — a job that “in all my dreams I never envisioned,” she told the Globe that day in Lowell. She relished “the tremendous sense that you can do almost anything. I like having access and empowerment. I like taking something on and helping make it happen.”

Ms. Anthony, who went on to found the nonprofit Preservation of Affordable Housing, which brought her vision and expertise to communities across the country, was 74 when she died Dec. 9 while visiting Arusha, Tanzania. She lived in Brookline and had been treated for heart issues in recent years, her family said.

“Amy is one of a small group of folks in the housing and community development world who did have a real national impact,” said Shaun Donovan, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development in president Barack Obama’s administration.

“What was particularly unique about her was that she was one of the most creative thinkers, and she was a real innovator, but she was a doer as well,” said Donovan, who later served as director of the Office of Management and Budget. “And it was that combination of thinking and doing that set her apart.”

In Massachusetts and across the country, Ms. Anthony “was a major, major positive force both in formulating housing policy and getting housing built,” said Barney Frank, a former US representative from Massachusetts who worked with her on various projects. “Amy was a practitioner and a theorist and an executive.”

Her work was informed by pragmatism and a strong belief that affluent communities don’t adequately address affordable housing needs. She also promoted mixed-income housing to help those from varied financial backgrounds, including the young and the elderly.

The middle class thinks “the government has no role in their housing,” she told the Globe in 1990. Such homeowners, she said, either forget or never realize that a host of government programs make their mortgages affordable and turn their homes into good investments.

“They don’t see those things. They think they’re the private sector, and the poor are something the federal government needs to take care of,” she said.

“I absolutely agree that the vast bulk of the funds should be addressed to the very poor,” she added. “But I don’t believe the national agenda should be directed solely at the poorest of the poor because, candidly, they lack political clout. We need a broad constituency behind housing programs.”

The oldest of four siblings, Amy Stanley was born in Havana in 1944 while her father was stationed in Cuba during World War II. Her parents were William Stanley, an attorney with the firm Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C., and Margaret Bell, who volunteered with various organizations.

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