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Legislators meet with Mattapan council

Anu Sawhney

Members of the Mattapan community convened Monday at the Mildred Avenue Community Center for a Greater Mattapan Neighborhood Council monthly meeting in which residents and council board members engaged with state legislators on the issues of economic and education inequity, affordable housing and environmental justice.

Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz, one of the presenters at the meeting, championed the issue of equitable economic development and discussed several ways that she has tried to make this a priority through legislation that she hopes to see included in fiscal year 2020 budget.

Chang-Diaz explained that she is hopeful about the funding for the Small Business Technical Assistance program, and for affordable housing funding through avenues such as the Community Preservation Act that was approved by voters in 2016.

“The [Small Business Technical Assistance] is a program that is administered by a lot of the CDCs around, that help small businesses who are just starting up or exist and are hitting some bumps in the road,” she said. “They help them find access to loans, access to capital, some technical coaching, how to write a business plan, and they have had tremendous results over the last several years at getting new locally owned businesses started up, preserved and expanded in our neighborhoods.”

Chang-Díaz emphasized that the community needs transparent legislation for equitable economic development and growth.

“We’re getting really excellent results compared to some of these corporate tax breaks that we’re doing that we categorize as economic development,” Chang-Díaz said.

Sen. Nick Collins, representing the 4th Suffolk District, voiced concerns about housing costs and explained some possible legislation for affordable housing.

“We are a city right now that’s unaffordable for the people who live here. I think the conversation around rent control is an important one … I think it could work in Boston.”

In addition, Collins said, “One of the things that they can do is provide relief on neighborhoods like Mattapan by building denser housing, particularly downtown.”

In the meeting, when asked by residents whether the state legislature was discussing rent control, Collins explained that while it is a topic of ongoing discussion, it is still controversial.

“Even the fact that we’re having the discussion on rent control is shaking some of these developers like a leaf, which I think is really important,” he said.

As developers build in areas along the Fairmount MBTA line that runs through Mattapan, existing residents are being displaced, or are unable to return to live in the neighborhood they grew up in, explained Marvin Martin, executive director for Action for Equity. He would like to see some anti-displacement measures.

“Anti-displacement preference basically means that folks who live in a community need to have the first right to come back into their community,” Martin said.

Environment and education

Another important issue that came up was environmental justice, as developers close in on the wetlands in Greater Mattapan. Both Collins and Chang-Díaz co-sponsored a bill to further transit equity and environmental justice.

“Clean, rapid transit is not only a question of economic opportunity and transit equity, it is also about clean air,” Collins said, while explaining the provision in the Senate budget pushing for the electrification of the Fairmount Line. “We can improve public health outcomes while providing better access to transportation and economic mobility.”

Chang Díaz also underscored the importance of a well-funded public education system.

“Our public education system is ground zero for equity in economic development,” she said. “The Promise Act is a bill I’ve been fighting for the past several years to make good on the recommendations of a bipartisan commission. We have been underfunding our public education system north of a billion dollars a year for the last quarter century, and it is high time we fixed it.”

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