Notes On A Mayoral Debate.

  1. A hit from Jackson on rebranding the BPA to the BPDA equals … what? Is that too insider baseball for the voter who might be tuning in for the first time? He then calls the BPDA the BRA, cites its lack of transparency without explaining what it does or why it’s important in the thru-line of establishing ‘good housing’ in the city, let alone the role the agency (or an agency like this) will have to play when it comes to protecting the city against the future of climate change. The seeming key point on his comment — that the money that’s supposed to go towards ‘planning and development’ — doesn’t go back to the city operating budget. (But, again: what could be done if it did?)
  2. How does Jackson define ‘moderate’ income when it comes to housing in Boston?
  3. Walsh speaks of a goal of 53,000 units of new housing with 9,000 units being for low-income — but how does he square a comment like that with this report from The Boston Foundation?

Given the enormous demand for housing (evidenced by a rental vacancy rate of 3.4% and average asking rents at an all-time high of $2,619), if the cost of developing housing is so high that developers cease to develop the region’s inner core, it would be an unfortunate side effect of the Commonwealth’s booming economy.

4. What can be found in the archives in terms of rent control disappearing from Boston? There’s this letter sent to The New York Times in 2003 —

True, the pace of residential construction in Boston has accelerated since rent control was repealed in 1994. True, too, more neighborhoods that were once considered dangerous or dilapidated are becoming gentrified and more attractive to developers. But equally true is the fact that more working-class families, faced with soaring rents, are moving two or three area codes beyond the 617 exchange, and that homelessness and overcrowding are cresting. So parsing out how rent decontrol has influenced these changes is subject to a good deal of interpretation.

From The Economist in 1998

Cambridge (home of Harvard University), which had roughly 16,000 rental units under the strictest regulations in the state, recently reported that nearly 40% of tenants in regulated flats moved out after rent control ended. From a modest survey of 1,000 households, city officials concluded that decontrolled rents overall jumped by more than 50% between 1994 and 1997 (from an average of $504 a month to $775), outpacing market rates. Over the same period, complaints of eviction also rose by 33% … Similar worries have been voiced in Boston, which had 16,000 strictly regulated units and another 40,000 units under a looser form of rent control known as “vacancy decontrol”. Evictions for non-payment of rent have increased by 20% since rent control was abolished, and more than 7,000 eviction complaints were handled by Boston’s housing court last year, compared to 5,000 in 1993 before rent control ended. With a vacancy rate of less than one percent across the city, moderately-priced housing is getting hard to find.

It begs the question as to whether or not there’s a way to frame a question to ask why a city shouldn’t step up further in producing its own supply of rent-controlled housing in a way that doesn’t leave it susceptible to the litany of things that have plagued public housing over the years (especially if we’re to advance some theory of over all civic balance between livability and growth, especially if we’re to factor in the contemporary experience of cities making their pitch to be the second home for Amazon’s HQ and what that experience means for someone who lives in an Amazon neighborhood.)

If Boston gets Amazon, how do you avoid a problem like this?

5. “We don’t build luxury housing. Private developers do.” (And so: why is taking money ‘from’ luxury housing and ‘funneling it into affordable housing’ — which: ? — more of a viable plan than doing something the other way around? If you’re faced with an article about Boston being expensive, why decide that one way to fix it will be using luxury housing to pay for affordable housing? Why decide that one way to fix it will be to go for Amazon HQ 2? Why go for the Olympics? Why go for an IndyCar race route?)

(Note: I did not expect this point to be made almost exactly 25 minutes into the debate. Now I don’t know how to feel, as there’s a degree to which wandering into a consensus feels a little bit unearned if it’s an obvious consensus. There’s that extra gap you want to earn.)

6. Why does Marty Walsh not think that rent control will work in Boston?

7. What difference would suggesting that an inclusionary housing program in Boston accommodate 5% more residents in terms of affordable housing mean?

8. How could BHA vouchers be financially strengthened? How could we get more people onto them, if we wanted to get more people onto them?

9. Would someone on a BHA voucher be able to have access to housing? When Walsh says that he wants houses that someone can live in forever as opposed to someone living in a temporary space for one year, would he include someone making less than $17,000 per year?

10. “Not affordable for the people who actually need it.”

11. Does 30,000 people moving in in the last 3 years really account for the questions surrounding housing and affordability in Boston? (8:48.)

12. Here’s the incident Jackson is talking about.

13. RFP to do a study on a disparity study is a line that more people should be made to understand what it means. (RFP = request for proposal.)

14. Here’s a fuller explanation of Jackson describing the median difference in wealth between white households and black households.

15. Jim Braude fell exceptionally short in drawing a distinction between structural examples of racism and whether or not someone is personally racist and not engaging with the kind of points illustrated in #14.

16. To watch Walsh back away from a NAACP report on race and then declare that ‘he’s never backed away from the issue of race’ does not produce encouragement in one’s elected officials. To hear him defend his record by talking about diverse hiring in City Hall — especially after Jackson went through an awkwardly-delivered, mostly specific litany of things that are worth fixing — does not produce encouragement.

17. How does saying “the achievement gap is closing” square with a map like this? (12:58 or so.)

18. Sorry, but saying — “Race dialogues: we had the first town hall meeting in the history of Boston where a mayor had a conversation about race in the city of Boston” — after a generation of young African-Americans across the country have seen their political fires lit because of a string of unjust killings is breathtaking. It’s even insulting in the context of the debate itself — the average median income of African-Americans in Boston is $8, but you’re going to pat yourself on the back for showing us all that you have the ability to speak? How is that “the bigger issue” than differences in life expectancy between Roxbury and the Back Bay? Why not lean into the issue and talk about noise pollution, the post-surgical racial mortality gap, biking preferences, stress, the amount of black male doctors, and more — and then tout the fact that you were able to get all that information from your own backyard?

19. Good on the hiring record of teachers being PoC, but what does that change the overall percentage to? (14:17.)

20. Good on Jackson for finally explaining an acronym: MAMLEO. (15:33.)

21. I don’t know whether or not the hair test has an impact on hiring practices itself, but I did find this: “The Court found that the risk of a false positive test was great enough to require additional evidence before terminating an officer.”

22. Good response from Walsh regarding representation in the police department. (17:22.) That being said: it’s also worth noting this.

23. Remarkable how Menino hasn’t come up at all in this debate.

24. Did not know about this. (23:16.)

25. Regarding GE and taxes: the city made money from the deal, apparently, but not before offering more tax breaks than had been previously known. (Hence Jim asking about revealing incentives before they’re offered.)

26. Note that the question is about the Olympics and Amazon, not about the balance between living in Boston and the old Honey Fitz mentality of ‘Why can’t Boston have this, too?’ (29:06.)

27. Good to hear Walsh tout high school graduation rates, but it is discouraging to hear him try and reframe an Olympic bid as a “conversation,” especially when he runs the genuine risk of seeming to seek to articulate — in pursuing these bids, in tackling housing the way he has — a philosophy that floats in the direction of Rahm Emmanuel, schools, and charter schools. (Though Walsh’s approach to education in Boston seems to be vastly different than Emmanuel’s, as evidenced by articles like this and this.)

28. A terrible response from Jackson. (37:44.)

29. To get more sense of what ‘Leveled’ schools mean, you can look at a report here.

30. How would Bill Peduto have responded in this debate? Betsy Hodges? Bill De Blasio?

31. Why cite New York and San Francisco as biking cities when you have Minneapolis, Portland, and Amsterdam? Why not tie this conversation into how many people commute to work every morning in Boston by bike? (Last I checked: 1.1%.) (48:21.)

32. A website regarding the BRT.

33. Don’t know if I’d want to seem someone go ahead and eliminate the idea of 48 hour space savers in the face of a snowstorm.

34. No mention of climate change during the debate.

35. Is it right if the Winthrop Tower deal casts a shadow over Boston Common? Personally speaking, I’d lean towards, ‘No.’ (Also: what does it have to do with the question asked, which was about bathrooms? Why not respond that it would be nice to find something that isn’t just about heading over to the Starbucks at the corner of Charles Street?)

*

Previously: Harvard Square Kiosk Notes /

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