Mayor Martin Walsh releases quarterly housing report

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ILLUSTRATION BY SARAH SILBIGER/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh released a quarterly housing report Tuesday that stated that 565 new housing units were permitted this quarter to reach a total of 17,183 units that have been permitted or completed since the launch of the city’s housing plan, “Housing a Changing City: Boston 2030,” according to a Tuesday press release.

The results of the report show that Boston is still on target to meet the goal of creating 53,000 housing units by 2030, according to the release.

“Our population is growing faster today than at any time in our city’s history, and I’m committed to making sure that Boston stays affordable by meeting the demand of our growing city,” Walsh said in the release. “By working across multiple agencies, this administration is working everyday to bring new units on line at a variety of income levels, and we are seeing results.”

By the end of this year’s first quarter, enough housing was completed to house 20,237 new residents. This exceeded the projected population growth, according to the release.

The release stated that the Department of Neighborhood Development and the Neighborhood Housing Trust approved eight projects geared toward low-income housing this quarter. These projects will help create 325 new housing units that are “low-income affordable,” according to the release.

“The City recently awarded $27 million in funding and 143,000 square feet of City real estate, which will leverage more than $200 million in other private and public resources,” the release stated. “Since May, 2015, the Walsh administration has awarded more than $66 million in funding for affordable housing.”

Nick Martin, spokesperson for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, explained in an email that the BRA’s role in creating affordable housing is to collaborate with builders in order to abide by city rules.

“We work with developers to ensure that any new housing proposals comply with the Mayor’s executive order known as the Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP),” Martin wrote in an email. “IDP requires that at least 13 percent of units within new developments of ten or more units that require zoning relief, which represents the vast majority of large-scale housing projects in the city, be deed-restricted as affordable.”

Martin also said he was enthusiastic regarding the results of the quarterly report.

“Mayor Walsh established an ambitious housing plan early in his administration, and we have been working collaboratively with other city agencies to deliver upon the Mayor’s vision,” Martin wrote. “In order to meet the needs of Boston’s rising population, we must grow inclusively, meaning we should foster housing opportunities that are accessible to the diverse population of our city.”

James Connolly, a public policy and political science professor at Northeastern University, pointed out developments in the report.

“We can see clear progress made on the market-rate and middle-income units being produced,” he said, “and Boston does a really great job of creating deed-restricted, middle-income units, which means that there are restrictions on the deed on the level of income that a person can have in order to purchase the apartment.”

Connolly also said that while the report shows progress, it also shows that the City of Boston still has a long way to go in terms of low-income housing.

“The city has created funding for more low-income units to come online in the future,” he said, “but given the rapid pace that we’re creating new market rates units in the city, if we don’t keep the creation of low-income units moving on par … then we’re going to end up in a city where it’s only accessible to the wealthy, and it’s going to be difficult for people who don’t have higher incomes to live here.”

Several Boston residents said affordable housing in Boston is often unattainable, while others said they benefited from the city’s housing situation.

Lamya Karim, 31, of Brighton, said she believes Boston housing is too expensive for most residents.

“I don’t think housing is affordable here,” she said. “I grew up in the Midwest, so everything is cheaper and more affordable. But here it’s almost like you need two people to be able to afford one apartment, so living alone is not very feasible here.”

Joanne Demoura, 49, of Brighton, said Boston’s public housing is what has allowed her to live here.

“I have public housing through Boston’s [Department of] Housing and Urban Development, and it’s a lifesaver,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to afford to live in Boston if they didn’t have it.”

Patrick Leonard, 41, of South Boston, said the results of this report are a good step up for the city.

“The housing stock is way too low,” he said. “We need it to be more of a residential city where people are going to live and raise children and really plant roots. We need to get more housing here and keep it affordable so that people can stay and raise their kids.”

Lavanya Prabhakar contributed to the reporting of this article.

Originally published here: http://dailyfreepress.com/2016/04/29/mayor-walsh-releases-quarterly-housing-report/

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Mayor Walsh allocates new funds to address homelessness

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ILLUSTRATION BY SARAH SILBIGER/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

By: Amanda Kaufman and Kyler Sumter

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2017 includes the allocation of $1.3 million to further the progress of the city’s “Action Plan to End Veteran and Chronic Homelessness in Boston,” according to a Wednesday press release.

Walsh stated in the release that he hopes the new funding will help improve conditions for
the homeless population within the City of Boston.

“I’m proud that through thoughtful savings and finding new efficiencies, we are able to increase funding to help our homeless residents and not only find safe, stable housing, but to access the supports and services they need,” Walsh said in the release.

The $1.3 million allocation will fund the formation of a full-time triage staff at the city’s Southampton Street Shelter, provide necessary assistance for homeless families to move them into housing as quickly as possible and cover the cost of resources needed to offer emergency shelter to homeless families who do not qualify for state assistance, according to the release.

The release stated that the budget also outlines an increase of $2 million in federal funding to build permanent housing for the homeless, and an additional $1 million investment to improve safety and services at the Woods Mullen and Southampton Street shelters.

The new allocation for funds is a part of the Walsh administration’s plan to address homelessness within Boston, according to the release.

“The Walsh administration’s action plan to end veteran and chronic homelessness set forth the goal of ending veterans homelessness by 2015 and chronic individual homelessness by 2018,” the release stated. “In his January 2016 State of the City speech, Mayor Walsh announced that Boston had effectively ended chronic homelessness among veterans.”

Joe Finn, president and executive director of the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, expressed his support for Walsh’s allocation of funds to end homelessness in Boston.

“It’s a very positive, positive thing,” Finn said. “Splitting the money to go to both the needs of housing and services for the chronically homeless is a big step toward ending chronic homelessness in Boston as a whole.”

Thomas Byrne, a professor at Boston University, praised Walsh’s administration for its action plan to end homelessness, and he specifically commended the allocation of funds to develop the rapid rehousing program.

“I think it’s a positive step in the right direction,” Byrne said. “Especially the $900,000 that they’ve pledged to support rapid rehousing, which is essentially a means by which to provide people with financial assistance and a bit of case management to help them exit homelessness as quickly as possible and to get into permanent housing.”

Byrne also said Walsh’s FY17 budget is representative of national trends in solving the problem of homelessness.

“I think what they are planning to do with the money is a really good idea,” Byrne said. “It is in line with a lot of what is emerging nationally as some of the new best practices for dealing with single adult homelessness.”

Several Boston residents expressed their approval for the new funding despite Walsh’s other budget measures.

Margaret Morrill, 74, of Allston, said she agreed with Walsh’s effort to reduce the number of homeless individuals in Boston.

“I think it’s a really good investment,” she said. “It should work, and they should definitely give it a try. I’m in favor of it because I think it’s commendable of the mayor to extend this effort.”

Dusten Pettengill, 29, of Allston, expressed his dissatisfaction with some of Walsh’s practices but approves of the mayor’s plan to end homelessness in the city.

“I think that sounds like a good plan,” he said. “I think it’s great. I’m not a big fan of Walsh, though. He took $20 million out of the public school budget, and I don’t think that was in the best interests of Boston. That’s a great plan, though. Anything for the homeless is awesome.”

Patrick Harrington, 26, of Fenway, said Walsh’s plan to provide housing for homeless individuals is a logical step.

“In theory, it makes sense for the city to be dedicated to getting homeless people to the next step, which is the hardest part,” he said. “The idea of getting people away from homelessness by transitioning them into homes and a more normal, stable life makes a lot of sense to me.”

Originally published here: http://dailyfreepress.com/2016/04/24/mayor-walsh-allocates-new-funds-to-adress-homelessness-in-fy17/

City Councilors vote to extend term limits

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PHOTO BY BRIAN SONG/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

The Boston City Council voted Wednesday to increase its term limits from two to four years, according to a same-day report from the Committee on Government Operations and Special Committee on Charter Reform.

The councilors voted to increase their term limits in order to reduce the amount of money the city spends on biannual citywide council elections, according to the report.

“Having a municipal election every two years where oftentimes voter turnout is low is burdensome on city resources,” the report stated. “Making the term of office for city councillors a four-year term will reduce costs in having multiple elections and will allow the city to operate in a more effective and efficient manner.”

The report mentioned that the bill will not immediately go into effect following the City Council’s vote.

The cost of conducting a citywide election is currently $800,000, while voter turnout for these elections has decreased from 40 percent in 2013 to 12 to 15 percent in 2015, the report stated.

“[Increasing terms] could lower costs of elections, reduce the constant need to fundraise and, most importantly, it would give elected officials on the council more confidence to try ideas that challenge the status quo by having a little bit of security,” said City Councilor Timothy McCarthy, who voted in favor of the bill.

McCarthy also discussed how the two-year terms force elected officials to constantly campaign and fundraise.

“I know that some people will argue that four-year terms tend to get you entrenched, but I would actually argue just the opposite,” McCarthy said. “When you are out campaigning for an entire year and you win and you only have a year off, people always say, ‘You’re kidding me, Tim, you just won.’”

McCarthy also mentioned how increasing term limits would benefit the councilors and their potential opponents in future elections.

“I would argue that it’s more difficult for people to gear up and run against you in a two-year span than it would be in a four-year span,” McCarthy said. “The logic there being … they have four years to get a war chest together or to attend the meetings you’re attending or to start their campaign against you.”

Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, expressed support in a Thursday statement for City Council President Michelle Wu, the only councilor to oppose the bill. Wilmot said that for her, the bill goes against democratic values.

“It simply makes no sense for a Boston City Councilor to hold office for four years while state legislators and Members of Congress are elected for two,” Wilmot said in the statement. “For offices that are supposed to represent the people, regular elections at short intervals ensure that politicians talk to voters consistently and can be held accountable to them.”

Wilmot said there are alternative options to help increase voter turnout and lower election costs.

“Low voter turnout in council elections is a problem, but there are more direct ways to solve that issue, such as shifting city elections to even years to be held concurrently with state elections,” Wilmot said in the statement.

Several Boston residents said the City Council’s decision seemed unreliable, while others said they understood the motives behind the decision.

Adam Barsoum, 36, of Jamaica Plain, said he finds it difficult to trust the City Council.

“If there’s evidence that they’re just trying to extend their time to make money, I’ve never seen any good reason to trust them,” he said. “I haven’t seen them do any of the things they always talk about doing.”

In light of the councilors’ vote to raise their own salaries, Ryan Marvin, 22, of the North End, said he believes the City Council only makes decisions for its benefit. In November, the City Council voted 9-4 to raise the salary of its members, The Daily Free Press reported on Nov. 3, 2015.

“I’m disappointed that City Council would increase the amount of money they’ll make instead of [putting] money into the community,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with them voting to extend their terms, I just have a problem with it when they also voted to raise their own pay.”

Barry Walker, 38, of Back Bay, said he understands why the City Council wants to move toward four-year terms.

“These days, every campaign process seems to start earlier and be more involved,” he said. “A two-year term is short, and you’re going to constantly be in a campaign cycle and it may be more difficult to govern and make decisions outside of your desire to be reelected.”

Originally published here: http://dailyfreepress.com/2016/04/11/city-council-votes-to-extend-term-limits/

MBTA to eliminate cash payment option

 

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PHOTO BY ERIN BILLINGS/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority plans to eliminate cash payments for its services, MBTA spokesperson Jason Johnson stated Wednesday.

Johnson wrote in an email that the MBTA’s goal is to update the payment system to align with the technology of the current generation.

“The goal is to develop a system that would allow riders to pay with phones, contactless credit cards or a next-generation Charlie Card,” Johnson wrote.

Johnson also mentioned how the MBTA is trying to mirror fare collection systems present in other metropolitan areas.

“Similar automated fare collection systems are in place in London, Salt Lake City and Chicago,” Johnson wrote. “Riders will tap their card or phone on a reader as they board a bus or enter a fare gate.”

Paul Regan, executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board, explained the reasons behind the change in the fare payment system.

“The MBTA has been trying to get cash out of its fare system ever since they adopted the Charlie Card,” Regan said. “It’s more efficient for the MBTA and it’s faster for the customers because it cuts down on the time it takes to board the bus and allows the bus to stay on schedule.”

Regan also pointed out that one major consideration is how to accommodate low-income riders who often rely on using cash to pay for MBTA services.

“How can you handle the rider who doesn’t have the kind of resources to buy multiple smart passes or to store a lot of money on a card?” Regan asked. “Those people are going to have to be protected, because that’s a sizable proportion of the bus ridership.”

According to Regan, the MBTA is still figuring out exactly what the new payment system will look like, but it is looking to the next generation to create solutions.

“The genesis of this is that the system that the T has now, the Charlie Card system, is aging,” Regan said. “The Control Board is thinking hard about what the next generation for fare payment is going to be. There are a lot of problems that currently exist in the system, and they’re hoping that the next generation will fix [them].”

Charlie Ticotsky, the policy director for Transportation for Massachusetts, said the potential advantages of the new system would better the customer experience.

“We’re interested in learning more about how the new system will benefit riders,” Ticotsky said. “There’s definitely some reasons to be encouraged by the new system, and that includes some operational advantages with faster boarding and flexibility.”

Ticotsky also said a lot of standing issues must be resolved before the new system takes effect.

“We want more detail on how the new system will work in regards to elimination of cash fares and how that will impact those who are unbanked,” Ticotsky said. “There are going to be a few years before it’s live, so we’re hoping that those questions will be resolved, and ultimately, that the system is a good thing for riders.”

Several Boston residents shared their opinions on the new cashless system.

Jamal Pinnock, 26, of Mattapan, said he disagreed with the MBTA’s decision to switch over from cash payments.

“I understand the Charlie Card is supposed to make it easier and it has, in a sense,” he said, “but taking away the cash value for public transit is not going to help.”

Daniel Moore, 33, of the South End, said this new system will encourage riders to engage in illegal activity for rides.

“[The new system] is going to make lower-income riders do things they wouldn’t normally do because they don’t have the income to be able to pay the fares with cards,” he said. “People will try to cheat the system and essentially rob them by finding ways to sneak in or piggyback behind someone going in because they’re not going to have a credit card or phone to be able to make the payments.”

Eric Buehrens, 62, of Back Bay, said eliminating cash payments will have a negative impact on many T riders.

“I understand the point of trying to get people on and off the bus more quickly, but a lot of people who take the bus either don’t have a credit card or don’t have a smartphone,” he said. “They pay with nickels, dimes and quarters.”

David Franco contributed to the reporting of this article.

Originally published here: http://dailyfreepress.com/2016/04/01/mbta-to-eliminate-cash-payment-option-for-services/

 

 

BU students and staff safe after Capitol shooting incident

March 28, 2016

After reports of shots fired at the United States Capitol Visitor Center, all BU students and staff in Washington D.C. are safe, BU spokesperson Colin Riley said.

“There was a shelter-in-place instruction in the Capitol, and that order has now been lifted,” Riley said. “We’ve checked, and all of our students are fine.”

Riley said there are several BU students interning in the House office building and one interning in the Senate building, and they are all accounted for. It is unknown if they were in the buildings at the time of shooting.

U.S. Capitol police locked down the entire U.S. Capitol Complex due to a potential security threat, according to an email sent to those working in the complex.

Those working in the Capitol received emails Monday at around 8 a.m. that informed them that there would be shelter-in-place drills for actions they would take if a shooting occurred, according to the email. The drills only applied to the Capitol and not the Capitol Visitor Center.

CNN reported that when the suspect went through a metal detector in the Capitol, an alarm sounded and he drew his gun. The male suspect was immediately shot by Capitol police this afternoon.

The suspect is now in custody and was injured by shrapnel, according to CNN. A female bystander was also injured.

According to the Senate sergeant at arms, the lockdown has been lifted and the Capitol is open for official business only. The Capitol Visitor Center remains closed, and road closures have been put in place.

The D.C. Police Department confirmed that there is no longer an active threat to the area. “There has been an isolated incident at the US Capitol,” the department tweeted. “There is no active threat to the public.”

Originally published here: http://dailyfreepress.com/2016/03/28/bu-washington-dc-capitol-shooting-incident/