Councilors take on housing, election recounts, city contracting
Councilor Liz Breadon addressed the City Council for the very first time to emphasize one of Boston’s fastest growing problems: lack of affordable family housing. The District 9 councilor said that the city is witnessing the displacement of working families that have lived in the city for generations.
“It seems like we’re in the golden age of opportunity,” she said. “Our skyline is transformed by unprecedented new construction, business is booming. But this is not a tide that lifts all boats. Especially boats with families in them.”
Breadon said that she ran to represent Allston-Brighton because she shares the vision for an “inclusive, resilient, culturally and economically diverse community that works together for the common good.” She said that affordable housing was a citywide issue.
“Our city is a work in progress and there’s much to do,” she said.
Her community’s been impacted by “unbridled development” and “untethered” investment, she said. Thousands of new units continue to be built in Allston-Brighton, she said, but most are inappropriate for families. Breadon said that her diverse, 70,000-person community makes up about 16% of Boston’s population. But that population may soon shrink as families are forced to look elsewhere for affordable housing.
“Of the 2,100 recently completed or improved units, 62% were studio and one-bedrooms, 31% were two-bedrooms, but only 7% were three-bedroom units,” she said. “And sorry, but you can’t raise a family in studio apartments. The displacement of families from our communities breaks my heart.”
Many factors contribute to the housing crisis for families. Breadon noted that Boston has 140,000 college students, and around 25,000 live off campus in Boston neighborhoods. Allston-Brighton, she said, bears the brunt of this demographic.
Breadon asked her fellow council members to address the issue with a hearing dedicated to the availability and affordability of family housing. She asked her colleagues, “What do we want our city to look like in the future?”
Former City Councilor Tito Jackson said that 50% of people in Boston make $35,000 or less. He also noted that many spend over 60% of their income on housing, even though federal guidelines state that spending over 30% of income on housing classifies an individual as rent burdened.
“I think Councilor Breadon leading on housing for families is a critical component,” he told the Banner. “We need to be specific in our policy aspirations. And when we look at the city of Boston, we are essentially building a city that is not consistent with the workforce and the jobs that are needed here.”
Election recount process
In other issues, Councilor Ed Flynn suggested a discussion to improve Boston’s election recount process. The current recount process in Boston requires that candidates requesting a recount get 50 signatures in each ward they want a recount of. After that, signatures must be certified and filed within 10 days of the petition. Flynn said that this process was cumbersome.
“Voting is a fundamental part of democracy,” he said. “Every vote is important in competitive races. The margin of victory can be small. We saw that recently in the city council at-large election last year, a real example of how every single vote counts.”
Flynn also suggested an automatic recount if the margin is below a certain threshold.
Equity in city procurement
Councilor Michelle Wu and Council President Kim Janey offered an order for a hearing regarding equity in procurement and purchasing. Janey noted the sheer disparities in contracts awarded to minorities, women and local businesses. In 2018, less than 1% of the $664 million dollars in city contracts went to local Boston-based businesses owned by people of color, or businesses owned by women.
“If, as a city, we care about equity, then we must prioritize how we do business as a city,” Janey told the Banner. She asked, “How do we expect people to be able to afford to live in an increasingly expensive city if we are not supporting our businesses that are here?”
Janey called the disproportionate contracting an economic justice issue.
“It’s difficult to ask those in the private sector to do better around diversity and inclusion if we’re not doing it as a city … We have to take the lead and model the behavior that will truly get us toward an inclusive economy where all of us can live and thrive in our great city,” she told the Banner.
In December of 2018, the Council passed an ordinance on equity in city contracts that mandated quarterly reports. According to the ordinance, the reports are to be published on the city website, submitted to the mayor and submitted to the Council.
“The Council, in my knowledge, has only received two reports, I think, in the last eight quarters since this ordinance was passed,” said Janey. She later told the Banner, “The ordinance … is supposed to improve transparency. So it is very important that the quarterly reports that are supposed to happen actually happen.”
Wu noted the inaccessibility and difficulties of the contracting process. She said that the process needs to be simplified much more.
“There are businesses today who have the capacity to be investing in local workers, to be putting money out, back into neighborhoods, that we are missing out on supporting because of processes not clear, not accessible, and certainly there’s no focus on equity in it right now,” she said.
Wu emphasized the importance of the “MassPort model,” which is a self-proclaimed blueprint for integrating diversity and inclusion into public-private partnerships. The model is based on the 2018 construction of a hotel in Boston’s Seaport District. Massachusetts Port Authority executives ensured that the construction process prioritized equity over other evaluation criteria such as physical design.
“Because we’re a city with accelerating income inequality [and] a massive racial wealth divide, we have to be specific about investing our dollars, taxpayer dollars, into businesses and contracts that are going to help close these gaps,” Wu told the Banner.
Janey hopes that through the hearing, she will be able to engage nonprofit partners and the administration around strategies that will increase participation of locally-based businesses owned by women and people of color.
“We have to do better, and we must do better,” Janey said.