The Castle Square Tenants Organization

Boston, MA

The Castle Square Tenants Organization was founded in 1987 in response to the need to save affordable housing in the Castle Square Community. Since its founding CSTO has worked to maintain affordable housing in their community. Castle Square Apartments is composed of 500 units of multi-family housing, located in the South End of Boston. Currently, the property is owned by Trebershaw, a joint venture between CSTO and Winn Development Company.

CSTO works collaboratively with other organizations in the community on a variety of programs and activities. The organization is a strong advocate of programs and services needed to build vibrant and safe communities.

Supported Projects

Community Wireless Network Administrator

Gabriel Fishman

Within the past year, the Tenants Organization, with central help from an AmeriCorps*VISTA Member, has developed an extraordinarily high-density, publicly accessible wireless mesh network that covers most of Castle Square Apartments and provides free Internet access to residents. It has also developed a computer repair and refurbishing system that provides services to residents.

Starting in August 2007, a new VISTA Member will play a central coordinating role in:

* Enhancing assessment systems to monitor and analyze the capacity of the community wireless network at Castle Square to provide needed service to residents

* Develop practices and procedures to improve the network capacity

* Further develop a technical assistance system to enhance Castle Square residents’ home computer use, including use of work/study students from the nearby Benjamin Frankin Institute of Technology and youth peer leaders who are Castle Square residents

* Design and initiate a Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher program at Castle Square Apartments, including outreach to potential donors of equipment, and assembling and coordinating a team of work-study students, youth residents and volunteers to implement the program.

* Expand community partnerships with other Boston area housing developments interested in establishing free WiFi networks for residents and provide technical assistance to the work at these other sites.

* Attempt to secure additional financial and other resources to provide ongoing support to Castle Square Tenants Organization and other Boston area CDCs and tenants’ organizations seeking to establish WiFi networks

* Develop and offer multilingual, largely locally-produced, content on a LAN server

Gabriel had a very successful year of service with our organization and we are very happy with the work he has done. He was responsible for a number of improvements at our center.

1. Gabriel established a relationship with RCN and was able to arrange a deal to change all of our organizations phone and internet service, including our wireless backhaul, to RCN, saving us more than $1000 each year, and more than doubling our bandwith.

2. Gabriel developed a plan to have our organization host three technology events, titled Boston Tech Days, where low income residents would be given the opportunity to interact with technology professionals in Boston to receive computer repair services and computer trainings. Gabe wrote a short proposal to help us fund these Tech Days. This proposal won us over $1500 for each Tech Day (approximately $5000 total) to help us pay for equipment, staff, and other expenses.

3. Gabe assisted us in establishing a new location for our Computer Repair Clinic that offers free technical support to all Castle Square residents. With his help, we were able to respond to over 250 requests for technical support from residents during his year here. The Computer Repair Clinic also offers refurbished PCs to residents in need, and under Gabe’s management, we have already donated approximately 100 computers this year. Before he left, he initiated a plan to move the Repair Clinic to the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, which will significantly increase our capacity and ability to serve residents of the entire South End.

4. Before Gabe left, he helped us to write a proposal that won us $5000 from Social Justice Works! an organization in Cambridge that funds programs by Cambridge Public School graduates. This money will enable us to start a Youth Council that will be entrusted with redesigning our playground over the next few months.

Gabe has helped us to improve many of our technology systems, has found us grants for events and community groups, and has publicized our work to the community and to the city of Boston. This is a huge help to us and will impact us for many years going forward. Over 100 families now have working computers and improved internet service, and some of them are enrolling in technology programs in our center, or in other centers in the area to improve their skills.”
- Emilio Flores, supervisor

Wireless Network Deployment and Community Outreach

Emilio Flores

Goal 1: Advance opportunities for free or inexpensive broadband Internet access by low- and moderate-income Boston residents through innovative technology and tech support

Goal 2: Enhance cooperation among the first Boston area nonprofit housing development efforts to experiment with WiFi wide area networks

Goal 3: Evaluate MIT Roofnet software as a low-cost potential component of attempts to improve citywide access to broadband

Emilio developed a detailed deployment plan for a free community Internet program at Castle Square using MIT Roofnet mesh networking software. He recruited and trained two Castle Square resident youth and six Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology (BFIT) students to assist in the deployment and outreach to the community. He did outreach to residents about the opportunity to participate in the project and the availability of technical support. He led the team that installed and configured customer premise equipment and provided training and technical support to enable residents to join the wireless network.

Additionally, Emilio enhanced cooperation among the first Boston area nonprofit housing development efforts to experiment with WiFi wide area networks by such means as: 1) Played a central, hands-on role maintaining and upgrading pre-existing wireless networks in collaboration with Madison Park Development Corp. (MPDC) and the South End Technology Center (SETC) at Tent City. 2) Convened meetings at Castle Square of representatives of the City of Cambridge, Mass Housing, MPDC, SETC, CSTO and BFIT to share experiences and plans, learn from each other and devise ways to assist each others’ work. 3) Held a series of outreach/training events to share our results with other housing developments.

Emilio Flores, serving as an AmeriCorps*VISTA Member started some months after the project was initiated but it didn’t really get rolling until he came on board. He took the lead in organizing communications with the 120 families that joined the network and in arranging for them to be served by the free wireless Internet. In doing that, he managed a team of resident youth, work-study teams and volunteers. He played a principal continuing role in monitoring the network and working to improve its performance. Emilio served as chair of a distinguished advisory committee that worked to enhance communications among existing and developing housing-based wireless projects in Boston and Cambridge and awarded $10,000 in grants to support such projects. He also took the lead role in organizing presentations about the team’s work.

Transmission Project