Healey talks business in tour of Nubian Sq. area
Business owners struggle with rising rents, disruptions
Stopping in at Frugal Bookstore on Warren Street last Thursday, Attorney General Maura Healey and state Rep. Chynah Tyler asked owners Clarrissa Cropper and Leonard Egerton what type of assistance businesses in the Nubian Square area need.
“We need everything,” Egerton said without hesitation.
The loss of foot traffic during the pandemic, rising rents and an influx to the area of people struggling with addiction and homelessness have pushed many businesses to the breaking point over the last two years.
With help from the local community, Frugal Bookstore survived the pandemic and a fire earlier this year that damaged its children’s section.
“We’ve had a lot of support,” Cropper told Healey.
Healey, who is running for governor, came to the square — Roxbury’s largest commercial center and transportation hub — without the slate of announced policy positions many have come to expect of candidates for office. Her campaign has so largely shied away from specifics. In contrast, her Democratic rival for the party nomination, 2nd Suffolk District Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, has listed a raft of policy prescriptions on her campaign website.
Instead, Healey listened intently as Tyler and business owners talked about the challenges facing the district. Roxbury Main Streets Director Robert George was also present. He spoke about how the district is responding to the challenge posed by the homeless population, including hiring a 24-hour security service and pressing the city for more street workers and increased police presence.
Key to the effort, though, is outreach, George said.
“We’re finding solutions for people who are hooked on drugs,” he said. “We’ve had some success.”
The nuisance factor in the area ratcheted down after police cracked down on people selling loose cigarettes to passing motorists and shoppers.
Still, the area suffers from higher-than-usual retail vacancies.
“This used to be the downtown of Roxbury,” Tyler said. “It still is.”
“We need to bring it back,” Healey said, without elaborating on the role state government could play in business district revitalization.
Healey spoke in similarly general terms about Boston’s housing crisis.
“We need to help with rents and stabilization,” she said when asked what she’d do to alleviate the region’s housing shortage. “But more than that, we need help with putting people on a path to homeownership. You think about the disparities between white households in Greater Boston with $250,000, versus African American families with $8. Part of that is the inability to create wealth and access capital. It’s something that is really important to me as governor: increasing housing stock and putting people on a path to homeownership.”
Asked whether she would support a rent control bill if the Legislature passed such a measure, Healey would not give a yes-or-no answer.
“I’ve been a long proponent for efforts at helping people with their rent,” she said. “As attorney general, I fought hard for RAFT (Residential Assistance for Families in Transition) and to protect people against unlawful evictions.”
But would she support rent control?
“Obviously, I need to look at any bill that’s out there,” she said. “But for me, it’s about how do you assist with rent.”
Walking through the Nubian Square bus terminal — the busiest bus transit hub in the system — Healey greeted commuters, running into a woman she had met when she brought her niece to the emergency room at Children’s Hospital recently.
Healey’s niece had broken fingers from a field hockey mishap. The other woman, Viergelyn Chery-Reed, had brought her daughter in for an earache.
“Such a small world,” Healey marveled at the second chance encounter with Chery-Reed, a trauma psychologist.
“I remember you told me you were going to run,” Chery-Reed said.
After a brief exchange, Healey bristled at standard health care procedures that forced Chery-Reed to visit an emergency room in the middle of the night.
“She should be able to call someone and get a prescription filled,” Healey said.
The exchange showed one of Healey’s political strengths: the ability to connect with voters one-on-one, the kind of common touch that makes candidates more relatable to those they seek to represent.
That common touch was on display when she walked through the bus berths in the station, stopping to chat with, shake hands with and occasionally embrace the social drinkers who commonly spend a portion of the afternoon on the concrete benches serving the less-traveled bus routes.
As for the issues, there are still four months for Healey to spell out her positions before the September primary.