UNDER-PERFORMANCE AND BOSTON’s PUBLIC SCHOOLS

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^ Mayor Marty Walsh; new Boston Teachers Union President Jessica Tang; School Committee Chairman Mike O’Neill; Superintendent Tommy Chang : the challenge is on them

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As reported in Monday’s Boston Globe, Boston Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang’s study of his district;’s performance disclosed much failure. This is hardly a new story. Boston’s Public Schools do not uniformly perform well. Much of the system’s shortfall is found in schools serving primarily a minority population or students whose first language is not English. These are precisely the students to whom the Schools system should dedicate extra effort and its most capable pedagogues.

Why does the so-called “achievement gap” persist ? Despite decades of bewailing its persistence, its stubborn inability to betterment ? I have no simple answers, and the usual suggestions strike me mistaken. Yet answers there must be. No child, of whatever skin color or national origin, possesses any less learning capability than any other. (I put aside from this generality special needs students, whose abilities are impeded by one or another physical or mental factors.) As all children come to the learning years with roughly the same capabilities, achievement gaps between them must be the system’s doing.

Political conditions do not help. Before I list what I see as Boston’s schools’ learning issues, let’s take a look at the politics of a $ 1.061 BILLION school budget, about one-third of the City’s entire annual expenditure.

You would think that $ 1.061 billion would suffice to educate 54,000 students amazingly well. Evidently it is not enough. Some parents claim the schools budget falls about $ 50 million short of basic needs. Many cite lack of classroom equipment, of text books, of laptops; others point out the sorry condition (as reported in some media) of the school system’s meals program. There is scant time, in the Boston system’s six hour day for arts courses. Even those schools that have adopted a six hour and forty minute day fall short of the state’s eight hour school day standard.

As I see it, Boston’s school politics difficulties do not stop there. The budget includes about $ 16 million, paid to teachers who have no assignment because, given previous poor job evaluations, no principal will have them. Why must city taxpayers accept $ 16 million to no result at all ? In addition, why does the City maintain school buildings constructed for 91,000 students when only 54,000 attend ? Consolidating the present 126 under4-utilized school buildings down to about 70 would save at least $ 50 million in maintenance and utility costs.

So much for the budget, which is scheduled to increase again, in fiscal year 2019, by at least two percent, all of it slated to salary hikes negotiated in the new Teachers Union contract. A propos : in this year’s budget, 84 percent of the $ 1.061 billion ($ 835 million) goes to staff salaries. Another 17 percent ( $ 178 million) pays for “contractual services” — including the  transport of students to schools all over the city, pursuant to a Federal Judge’s desegregation order put in place 42 years ago ! Only $ 17.6 million — less than two percent of the budget —  is left for classroom, equipment, meals, and curriculum development.

Let that sink in.

All the more reason why the $ 66 million spent upon structural over capacity and unemployed teachers needs be re-purposed. Yet even this is not the whole answer. Just this week, metal detectors were installed at East Boston High School. What kind of message does that send to current students and their parents ? Or to parents of children not yet of school age and trying to decide whether to trust the Boston school system ? Maybe metal detectors are needed. If so, that’s a serious indictment of a school system that cannot be in the security business as well as accomplishing curricula.

Now back to the achievement gap and Superintendent Chang’s report of “under-performance.” Can it be believed, at least ? One wonders. parents of children attending the Mendell School on School Street in Jamaica Plain assert that its under-perform rating must be wrong, that many innovative practices and achievements are going on in a school whose work they praise highly. Maybe so. Nonetheless, I think the following reforms would help enormously to c lose the “achievement gap”:

( 1 ) institute a teacher home visit program, such as John Connolly’s pioneering 1647.com efforts, by which parents and students become fully engaged. All studies indicate that parent engagement is crucial to children’s school success.

( 2 ) shorten the travel distances for students to their assigned school, so that parent-teacher organizations (PTAs) can be revived. They worked well when they ruled school co-operation.

( 3 ) authorize every school principal to hire and fire every pedagogic person on his or her staff. Ensure that the Principal oversee all teacher performance evaluations.

( 4 ) allow principals to develop their own school’s curriculum, adapted to his or her actual student body and its needs.

( 5 ) encourage and even require parents to read to their pre-0school children and motivate such kids to read on their own, as early in life as feasible. Reading early assures mastery of basic comprehension skills.

( 6 ) require total immersion in English for students whose first language is not English. Conversely, require English language kids to study a foreign language. The comparison of two or more language thought systems enlightens the understanding mind to other ways of thinking about things.

( 7 ) establish a school breakfast program as well as a lunch, at no cost to the kids, consisting of healthy foods but also entertainingly tasty. Food should never be bland, or dusty, or stale, and never should depend on a student’s bank account. Many students come to school hungry; eat well, and they learn better !

( 8 ) for schools serving primarily a minority student body, encourage innovation and challenge. Never ask less of students of color or foreign origin. Ask more of t.hem, and give them teachers and a curriculum that require that “more.” Students will feel as proud to be treated like an elite body of troops, just as they would feel disrespected to be addressed as softer or denser than others.

Politicians like to say “every school in Boston must be a level one school.” Of course they should. But almost no politicians that I hear speak about it ever say why our schools fail or how they can be made better. This too must change. Platitude speeches gain us nothing but an excess of boredom.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

THIS IS A GOLDEN AGE FOR EAST BOSTON

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^ East Boston today : watching fireworks on Boston harbor from the park on Brigham Street

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If you live in East Boston today, you may perhaps realize how lucky you are to be a part of my favorite Boston neighborhood.

Is this Eastie’s Golden Age ? I think it is. But let me reminisce a bit for those who think Eastie’s Golden Age lies in the past : when my Aunt Elizabeth came back to East Boston, for my Mother’s funeral, after living in Cleveland for 50 years, she and I drove around Eagle Hill, where the Mugglebee family had lived since moving up from Porter Street after the Tunnel construction took their cold water flat. Elizabeth recognized every street, every house, even every business — the Brooks Street drug store was still there ! That was hardly the whole story. Back then — the 1970s — Pat Moscaritolo’s Dad still had his liquor store on Bennington, Tony the Baker was still cutting customers’ ties at his spaghetti-and-meat balls eatery on Sumner Street; Mangini’s was THE restaurant in Orient Heights — Bill Bagley’s drug store the hot spot near Dom Savio — and Gus Serra had recently been elected a State Representative in one of the most intense campaigns I have ever been part of.

East Boston then was seen as an Italian city; but it was also Irish, French Canadian, even Scottish, German, and Jewish as well. It was a family place. People didn’t just vote, their entire families voted — five, six, seven, ten, even twelve as a bloc. There was division aplenty in that Serra campaign, yet soon after, there was amazing unity (on Eagle Hill, anyway) as Irish kid Dennis Kearney, running for a State Representative seat newly created, defeated all of Charlestown with a solid vote from just 20 percent of the entire district.

Today, hardly any of that East Boston remains. School Committeewoman Elvira “Pixie” Palladino, Anna DeFronzo, Louis Buttiglieri, Frank Ciampa, Filippa Pizzi, Tony Marmo, Mario Umana, Mike LoPresti Junior have all left the premises; and today the names one meets on the streets of Eastie are just as likely to be Hispanic, Arabic, Brazilian, or newcomer-young people as not.

Yet long-term East Boston activists remain, and they — we — are a major and respected part of a community that engages more languages and cultures, cuisines and work schedules than  I witness in any other part of the City. We are a City all by ourselves. We see innovation, noise, dog parks, the Greenway, sailing at Piers Park (!), a brewery (!!), modernist condominiums, ancient three-deckers, suburban ranch homes, hills as steep as those of Positano, and the awesome views from the dead end of Gladstone Street; the beautiful brick homes on Orient Avenue so high above the airport one actually looks down on planes landing there.(Up top of Orient Heights you’ll also find much of Eastie’s established leadership : John Nucci, Carlo Basile, Salvatore Lamattina, Paul Travaglini, Tom DePaulo, Nick Lanzilli, and Dom Amara (my friend of almost 50 years).

The East Boston that my Aunt returned to had hardly changed in those 50 years. No one cared to build in it, except for suburban-style homes in parts of Orient Heights, because no one was moving into Boston, they were moving out, away from a center city that had no vision of what a center city should or could be. There are many who like things that way : no change, only stability. But life is change, and change means noise and flux and new things replacing old things, the unfamiliar overtaking the familiar.

The trick is to like the unfamiliar, the noisy, the restless, and, in East Boston’s case, the many varieties of it all. This we now have.

We live with harbor fog, three yacht clubs, jet engine screams, criss-crossing traffic in Maverick Square, bumpy road surfaces, a speedway on upper Bennington Street, the Bremen Street dog park, Excel Academy; the impossibility of driving through Saratoga Street as it crosses Chelsea Street; banquets at Spinelli’s, block parties (Montmorenci Avenue, Zumix End of Summer !), festivals of all kinds; art exhibits at the Artists’ Collective on Border Street; events and meetings at Maverick Landing, many of them sponsored by the activists of NOAH (Neighborhood of Affordable Housing); and even some after-life : respects to the dead at Joe Ruggiero’s Funeral Home.

We also live with under-performing schools, neighborhood associations that face all sorts of development proposals, parking squeezes, and sometimes violent crime. I have a dear friend who was almost killed a few years ago by a mugger whose family I also know. Most of us have a crime story to tell, though few, I hope, have experienced the sort of shock I just told you of.

But every City neighborhood has its grave difficulties. For the most part, today’s East Boston is a story of dynamism and community. And great food.

What other Boston neighborhood has a Rino’s Place ? A restaurant so crowded, with foodies from all over, that I almost always have to settle for take out. Awesome food, authentic country Italian cooking, in huge huge portions, priced reasonably, in a smallish room on the first floor of a three decker (!) sited right in the middle of an entirely residential area ! (If one is really lucky, one can dine at Rino’s with house-music DJ Chris Puopolo, who owns a two-fam almost around the corner.)

Hispanic restaurants, you say ? Eastie has more than one can count. I’ve eaten at El Pinol, Angela’s Cafe, El Paisa, Bohemio’s, and Punto Rojo, and there’s at least five or six others that I intend to get to. Plus the Brazilian Olivieros steak houses (two locations). (We do lack a good seafood joint. D’Amelio’s Off the Boat, now moved to Revere Street in Revere, is much missed.) There’s also Hispanic cultural blow-outs at Veronica Robles’s digs at 175 McLellan Highway — everybody participates, even State Veterans Affairs Commissioner Francisco Urena, who, yes, lives among us.

What can I praise about Jeffries Point that you don’t already know ? Former City Councillor Diane Modica still lives on a narrow street in the ‘hood. Do does the legendary MaryEllen Welch. There’s three, maybe four, must-visit eateries (Cunard, Reel House at The Eddy, Marketplace Cafe, TacoMex); water-frontage if you live on the Marginal Street side of Webster Street; cute two-level row houses on Everett Street; Zumix and its musical magic; Senior events at the DeFronzo Center hosted by Pat D’Amore, Frances Piantedosi, Lulu Montanino, and Jean Rutledge; outdoor movies in Brophy Park, courtesy of Mary Cole; condos and more condos, some of them brokered by Ryan Persac or Andrew Pike; Chiarra’s auto repair shop on Maverick; friendship and food at the Italian Express on Sumner Street; several European-quality food and drink markets (have you visited the one on Everett at the Corner of Cottage ?); Renee Scalfani and her posse hanging out on middle Sumner Street; tiny row-house cul de sacs like Cheever Court and Webster Avenue; and the many delights that await you in Piers Park. (If you like sailing, Jeffries resident Alex DeFronzo is there to get you started, boat and all.)  And what about watching Boston Harbor Fireworks from the park next to Brigham Street ? Plus a yacht club with a playground right next door.

I say that these are great years for Eastie, and they are; savor them, because things are changing enormously. The Hispanic families that live six and seven to an apartment, whose adults work crazy hours, are in many cases saving money so they can buy a home elsewhere, away from MS 13 and its dangers and from poorly performing public schools. The Boston building boom inundates Eastie with young, well paid professionals who will surely continue to buy up homes that come onto the Eagle Hill market (even more thoroughly than in Jeffries Point). The old Italian, Irish, and French Canadian-name families get older and older. In much of Eastie’s central part one finds them — children long since moved away — on the voter lists, age 75, 80, 85, 90, even 95 and 100. Soon they will not be with us.

There are plenty of younger people from similar families still living in East Boston, but for those not lucky enough to have inherited home ownership of a single on middle Bennington or on Monmouth, a two on Moore or Homer Street, or a three on Lexington or Princeton Streets, skyrocketing rents have pressured them to the uttermost. How long can families earning the Boston median income — $ 58,000 — continue to support rents upward of $ 2,000 per apartment ?

No one knows the future; yet the East Boston that I see in year 2037 will surely feature more five-story, poorly built tenement-like “units” than formerly, less parking than needed, almost no new single family homes with a driveway. Can the current bustle and jumble of Maverick Square, including a bar like Eddie C’s, survive the tech world’s love of spread sheet order ? I wonder.

Will the young, single people of Jeffries Point stay in Boston as they marry and have children ? Past trends say “no.” About the only feature of 2037 East Boston that I will faithfully replay our neighborhood’s tradition is our immigrant presence. East Boston long ago became the City’s major port of entry for immigrants, and it still is that. Newcomers from the Middle East, Central America, Albania, Romania, and Brazil make their presence known. Where will 2037’s immigrants come from ? Probably from everywhere, as usual and as it should be in a neighborhood — and a nation — made by immigrants, of immigrants, and for immigrants.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

ZONING PARADOXES

San Gimigiano

^ where there are cities, there are likely to be towers, the higher the better. Thus San Gimignano and thus today;’s Boston

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Twice in the last 125 years of Massachusetts building issues the legislature has enacted laws to govern the consequences of urban dwelling density.

First, in 1898, we adopted the Torrens system of registration of land titles, administered by the Land Court, by which titles to land are surveyed to the fractions of an inch and, thus surveyed guaranteed by the state. This was done because in the North End, buildings were built smack up against one another and behind as well, making accurate delineation of title a nightmare. Almost every title in the North End is now registered.

Second, in 1954, we adopted the current zoning law, as you can read here : http://www.mass.gov/hed/docs/dhcd/cd/zoning/zoningact.pdf

The impetus for establishing zoning regulations was clearest in our old-settled cities, where uses of all kinds existed side by side, and where dwellings and garages, for example, were often built behind one another and on small plots of land. City managements in the 1950s had had enough of this anarchy of structures and wanted to assure residents, especially, that they would be living and sleeping in neighborhoods dedicated to residence only.

In both cases, law resulted from over-crowding aggravated by an individualism that city dwellers found intolerable. The same situation now portends today, despite all. In Boston, residential and mixed-use proposals arise cheek by jowl and in a few cases, almost overlapping. The set-back rules and square foot lot requirements of the city’s zoning ordinance give way to “variances” approved by the Zoning Board of Appeal, which has the power under City ordinance and MGL c. 40A and 40B, to allow these in the case of “hardship.”  Of course “hardship” is what the Zoning Board of Appeals says it is.

Such variances — exceptions to zoning requirements — are commonplace now, as Boston works overtime to meet Mayor Walsh’s goal of constructing 53,000 units of residential space by year 2030. The result is neighborhoods ever more dense with structures — if not as sardined as in the North End, or as back door built-up as Charlestown, then much, much more dense than any suburb; and denser every year.

None of this is new. Old cities in Europe endure, even enjoy, a residential density at least as squeezed as the North End , along streets hardly wider than two bicycles, and the people who live therein seem happy to have neighbors living almost on top of them — and legions of tourists who pay big bucks to tour said ancient cities, hill towns, and seaside agglomerations of homes and restaurants. Nor are the towers that currently loom over downtown Boston anything news. The cities of 13th Century Italy bristles with towers, the taller the better and more prestigious. Sound familiar ?

Thus we come to the Millenium Tower proposal for the lot now occupied by the old Winthrop Square garage. Its height actually violates yet another building law, that which restricts the length and timing of shadows cast by a tall building upon its shorter neighbors. The “shadow issue” first arose last year, when an opponent of the Tower cited it; today that shadow issue has also aroused opposition in East Boston, not because of the shadow itself of course but because the Millenium proposal’s height impacts the flight path of planes taking off from Logan Airport.

Ancient European cities didn’t have to contend with airplanes. Our 1954 zoning law didn’t think of it either. Yet Boston has to think of it, because our airport sits almost in the middle of downtown. Thus the present accumulation of structural density involves the sky as well as the land. I’m not sure of any simple answer to our three-dimensional density challenge. It is easy, I suppose, to say “no” to the Millenium proposal’s planned height; but how do we build those 53,000 units of housing, and all the amenity buildings 53,000 new families will want, without bumping up against the sky’s rights to accommodate aircraft ?

We can, of course, build inward rather than up, and create a city as densely bricked and windowed as Barcelona’s Ciutat Vella or Italy’s San Gimignano and Amalfi, or as any number of German, French, and Austrian hill towns. Those places were built dense as dense could be in order to maximize defense against predators. Today, we face no predators. Will we settle for living inside a fortress ? Probably not. Yet dense our future City will be– and ever more expensive —  as long as its economic boom proceeds to draw ambitious thousands of people into its beehive.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

3RD CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT : MEEHAN OUT, RICK GREEN IN

Donoghue

^ 3rd District leading contender right now : State Senator Eileen Donoghue

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The announcement by Ellen Murphy Meehan that she will not be a candidate for Congress has blown the entire race into small bits. Meehan was, by my reckoning, clearly the consensus favorite : former wife (and still good friend) of former Congressman Marty Meehan, with a base in Lowell, the city upon which the 3rd District centers, plenty of money to do the campaign the right way : she had it all.

State Senator Eileen Donoghue, who represents Lowell and towns west, now becomes the clear favorite. She was a Lowell City Councillor and then its Mayor before winning the city’s State Senate seat. Probably not even Meehan can match Donoghue’s reach at street level in Lowell. The only issue she faces personally is that at age 63 she comes late to a Congress seat in a state that usually elects Congress people for life.

Yet Lowell is not promised to Donoghue. It appears that a Meehan connected Lowell area candidate, Chelmsford resident Kathleen Trahan, will also enter the lists. Meanwhile Lawrence’s State Senator, Barbara L’Italien — who at age 56 isn’t exactly young politically — currently has that city, almost as large a vote as Lowell to herself. There has been talk of another Lawrence candidate getting into the contest, one with significant appeal in and around the city; but that candidacy has yet to materialize, leaving L’Italien to command the District’s second largest block of votes.

I am inclined to restrict the “top tier” to these two, Donoghue and L’Italien. Daniel Artrigg Koh, whom I know personally from his Boston work as Mayor Walsh’s chief of staff, has yet to demonstrate to me how he, rather than the two State Senators, can marshal many votes. Mayor Walsh has endorsed Koh, of course; but Boston is 25 miles from the District’s edge and 60 miles from its western communities. Koh is going to need local support, but whose ? He lives in Andover, a large town: but Andover is also part of Barbara L’Italien’s Senate District.

Then there’s Steve Kerrigan, who impressed many as Martha Coakley’s Lieutenant Governor campaign in 2014. I was hardly the only observer who thought that he, not Coakley, should have been the Democratic Party’s Governor candidate. (Note : I say that even though I am fully a member of Governor Baker’s team.) Kerrigan has the connections and probably the money to mount a big campaign, and he likely has an attractive message as a moderate progressive. Yet he lives in Lancaster, a small town near the western edge of the District, and in Massachusetts — where our 351 towns and cities retain a strong local impact that hasn’t changed much since the 1787 Constitution Ratification convention — a race like this one tends to be first of all a matter of where you are from. Kerrigan rises above his Lancaster location only if some issue that he can credibly speak for overrides locational considerations. I have no idea right now what such issue could be. Perhaps I have overlooked stuff, but as of today I cannot see much issues disagreement between the major candidates.

Thus right now I count Eileen Donoghue and Barbara L’Italien first and second — each with about 22,000 votes in hand — and Steve Kerrigan third at 15,000; Kathleen Trahan, if she gets into the race, at 14,000, and Daniel, Koh at 9,000. That’s 82,000 votes, which leaves maybe 40,000 votes unaccounted for (a primary turnout of 122,000 seems a good bet). Who will they go for ? Possibly other candidates — a State Representative or two, maybe. Will Methuen’s Dian DiZoglio run ? Might Rady Mom from Lowell ? We might also see former legislators enter the race: there are two prior Lowell state Senators in the stands and one from the Lawrence area, as well as former Mayors.

So far I have said nothing about Republicans. There is now a credible Republican, auto parts executive Rick Green of Pepperrell. Green chaired John Kasich’s campaign here in Massachusetts, and there is hardly a single Presidential connection more admirable right now than John Kasich. If Green campaigns on a Kasich platform — full bipartisanship in Congress, unwavering support for DACA kids, reform (but not repeal) of Obamacare — he can appeal to a clear majority of voters in our State’s most Republican-inclined Congressional District. He also has the money to make his voice heard District-wide and in depth. He is part of the Baker majority of the local GOP and has the support of its major fund-raisers and activists.

If the Democratic primary becomes nasty, even slightly, or if it veers too far to the basal left, Green can win. You might not think that any Republican has a chance to win a “blue” seat in the age of President Trump, but (1) Trump’s go-it-alone ways have made the Republican party look good in comparison, and (2) Green, as a Kasich guy, epitomizes the GOP’s good look.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

A COMPLICATED ROAD FOR DACA KIDS

DACA

The President’s forthcoming decision, which appears to end the “DACA” program in six  months, forces an issue that shouldn’t be an issue at all but is one because Congress failed to enact legislation when it had the chance seven years ago. So what does our nation do now ?

Hopefully, Congress enacts the provisions of President Obama’s Executive Order, or a close approximation, into law.

Thus the first question : what Is “DACA” ? I reprint this from the University of California’s website :

“Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a kind of administrative relief from deportation. The purpose of DACA is to protect eligible immigrant youth who came to the United States when they were children from deportation. DACA gives young undocumented immigrants: 1) protection from deportation, and 2) a work permit. The program expires after two years, subject to renewal.”

It is said that the “DACA” rule affects 800,000 kids, but the actual number may be

much larger, as many eligibles probably decided not to “come out of the shadows.” The

President’s likely decision affects them, too.

The six month window presents Congress with time to do what it so far has failed to do :

enact the rule into law. It was one thing for Congress to defer when the Rule was fully in

place; nothing would go wrong meanwhile. Not so now. Plenty will go wrong if Congress

cannot act.

Why are we at this juncture ? Here’s my take :

The President is right that the DACA Rule should not rely on executive order, because

such purely administrative act and can be changed, or abandoned, depending on the

whim of whoever occupies the office of President. “DACA” kids deserve greater security

than that.  Worse, the State of Texas contests the rule’s legality, and as it appears to make

law, which by Article 2 of the Constitution, the President cannot do, it is likely to be

overturned by Federal Courts.

We’re also here because the issue divides President Trump’s base. No politician wants

that, not even a miserable one like Mr. Trump. . Whereas his nativist/nationalist

supporters want all immigrants gone, his Evangelical supporters have never seen

immigration as a negative; indeed, as manyimmigrants from the south of us are

evangelicals themselves, many Evangelicalcongregations support their being in America.

In my opinion, it’s this factor that haspressured Mr. Trump to avoid saying Yes or No and

to give the issue to Congress.

Meanwhile, as many have pointed out, all “DACA” kids who entered the program freely

gave the Federal government all of their relevant personal information, assured by its

Rule that these could never be used against them. Very likely the Fifth Amendment to the

Constitution supports this outcome, but why should 800,000 “DACA” kids have to take

that chance ?

Lastly, the “DACA” kids enjoy overwhelming support from the voters, including a strong

majority of Republicans. Why shouldn’t they ? “DACA” kids were brought here as very

young children, not by their own decision. Why should they now have to suffer for

moves made for them by others ? Especially when their record as residents is exemplary,

even heroic.

“DACA” kids should have their residency in America legalized as fully as Congress can

agree to. The bare minimum would  seem to be this : a path to citizenship within at

most ten additional years, and, in the menatime, continuation of their current status as

legal applicants for deferred deportation action on a two year basis.

Let’s do this. We must do it. We CAN do it. A nationwide, full-tilt lobbying effort, by

business above all, may be needed, and probably is needed, to overcome the objections

of anti-immigrant factions in Congress; and of course business would rather not have to

undertake such an extended pensive lobbying effort when it has so many other priorities

on offer, including tax reform. But I don’t think business has a choice. It successfully

deflected “bathroom bills” and all sorts of other discriminations against LGBT people. It

can and should do the same for “DACA” kids. Like the LGBT people who business

supports, “DACA” kids too are customers, employees, and more.

 

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

THE “AFFORDABLE HOUSING” PARADOX

^ ugly and hasty and nowhere near enough : new housing construction in Boston

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Every politician in Boston today wants the City to enable “affordable housing.” Wouldn’t we all ? Nobody I know wants to pay 50 percent of her income for rent. We’d all want to find an apartment with a rent of, say, $ 1,200 a month. Why not $ 800 ? After all, an apartment isn’t a golden Cadillac, it’s just space into which we can snuggle and relax. No big deal. Why not then ?

Let us take a look at “affordable” and its curiosity :

Boston would be very “affordable” if we could cancel the building boom, evict all the businesses that have located here, and go back to the 1970s, in which the downtown, and the close-in neighborhoods of our City attracted nobody and nothing. Those who lived in South Boston, Charlestown, East Boston and even the North End, 45 years ago, paid very little rent, or paid very small amounts to purchase. Incomes were much smaller then, to be sure, but rents and sale prices were many times smaller. Paying 12 percent of one’s income was standard for rents, and homes cost less than one year’s income. Houses cost so little — and hardly ever came onto the market — because almost everyone wanted to move to the suburbs, and almost no one wanted to move into the city. Why so ? Crime mobs controlled many neighborhoods, jobs were for life — which meant that newcomers could not break in — and those who owned houses rarely renovated them because they couldn’t recoup the cost of doing so. No wonder that by the late 1980s vacant lots abounded; that many decayed dwellings had been condemned and eventually demolished.

The laws of economics cannot be evaded. If people want something — want more of it than exists — the price of it goes up. Boston in the 1970s tried to dent the first blip of rising house prices by installing rent control. All that did was to displace value, not abate it. Landlords stopped repairing apartments whose rents could only be raised a little at a time — and that only with the City’s permission — and more than one rent control tenant rented out a room or two for more money than she was paying in rent. Eventually the City had no choice but no end rent control, and the legislature made it illegal statewide.

That was the beginning of economic acceptance, and of the City’s attraction as a place to move into.

So much for the curious facts of property economics. We are NOT going back to funky, dilapidated Boston into which no one wanted to move. Rents are not going to backslide any time soon, and house prices aren’t headed for the dustbin either. $ 600,000 to $ 800,000 is now the standard for purchasing a home in the close neighborhoods to downtown, and few condominium units can be bought for less $ 400,000. You’ll pay $ 2,100 to $ 3,000 a month to rent a two-bedroom apartment, and in some cases, more. I doubt these prices will rise much higher — they’ve already priced more than two thirds of families out; our medium, family income is about $ 44,700, and to afford a $ 2,500 a month rent you ought to be earning about $ 90,000 — but they aren’t headed downward much either. Meanwhile, Mayor Walsh wants the City to have 53,000 units of new housing by the year 2030, and his Planning and Development authority, which oversees all new construction, is approving almost every proposal submitted to it.

Into most residential proposals is built the City’s “affordability covenant,” by which ordinance a development of more than a few units must set aside a particular percentage of those units at a price determined to be “affordable” the other units can be offered at “market rate”). (You can read the City’s Affordablity Rules and income restriction guidelines here : http://www.bostonplans.org/getattachment/91c30f77-6836-43f9-85b9-f0ad73df9f7c )

It’s a useful policy, but the need for housing that costs twenty to forty percent less than market — as indicated by the median income figures that I identified earlier in this article — is far more widespread than the affordability number required by the City of its 53,000 unit plan. So what can we do ?

Actually, there are four means that might help:

First : why not adopt the $ 15.00 an hour minimum wage that some progressives have proposed ? Minimum wage workers perforce require affordable housing. Increasing their paychecks by 30 percent would enable them to pay the current rents in most Boston neighborhoods without having to live five to seven adults to an apartment, as is common in many bull market-impacted pars of the city.

Second : build more so-called “micro” units : very small apartments, good for single people — of which there are a great many, come into Boston to work in our booming technology industry — and rentable at $ 1,200.00 or some such.

Third, require universities based in Boston to build dormitories, thereby removing from the ordinary rental market many thousands of students who now compete with regular residents for scarce Boston living space.

Fourth, apply City occupancy and zoning ;laws to prevent the purchase by investors of residential buildings for air bnb rentals and such like.

Every one of these suggestions generates its own difficulties. Still, these can be met, and it is not acceptable to do nothing because actions to mitigate the high costs of housing have consequences. Activists and policy makers are already working the last three of my four suggestions. Why not also the minimum income rise ? Yes, it may generate difficulties for marginal businesses, and the other three moves may create logjams at college budgets, zoning and occupancy administrators, and construction projects. Yet I think our City has the authority and our people have the ingenuity to find ways around the obstacles posed by too high housing costs. There might even be ways other than those I have listed, and these might surpass the effectiveness of my list. Why not propose some ?

We want the current economic boom to continue. People want to live here, work here, shop here and socialize here, innovate here and produce here. These are good things. They’re why cities exist at all. Yet no one can sit on the laurels of a vibrant city. Always the city pushes us to keep moving, and moving faster than the difficulties which, if we do not move fast, can set us back to the dark ages of funk, dilapidation, and silence.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

 

CIVIL RIGHTS FOR ALL

Texas

^ defending the Constitution’s guarantee of civil rights for everyone : Texas small business significantly helped to defeat a proposed transgender discrimination bill

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What is so controversial about saying the words of today’s headline ? “Civil rights for all” seems to me the most basic social commitment that our nation has made, the bedrock of our Constitution. We fought a civil war, in which some 600,000 of our forbears died, to ensure that civil rights for all would never be questioned :

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

So speaks Section 1 of the great 14th Amendment, in which we the people committed every state in the Union to abide by the commitments made in the 1790s by the Federal government.

Therefrom derives all the sweeping enactments that protect all manner of voting rights, forbid discrimination by any entity that does business with the public, ensure public respect for all people.

That should be an end to the matter. To question the principle is to question the Constitution itself, to disapprove of the nation that it has created. Those who do not accept that all should have civil rights should admit that they do not support the Comnstitution, do not accept the social compact that we are all charged with accepting.

There are many countries where those who do not approve of our Constitution can practice their exclusions; .the United Stares is not one of them. As for those who take the oath of office, their non-acceptance of the pact that they swear to uphold and defend betray their sacred word. They are free to enjoy the favoritisms adduced by nations that do not accept the equality of all, but they should never be allowed to continue in an office whose oath they lie to.

So much for them. I wish now to speak of the matter at hand : civil rights for all. There can be no grounds whatsoever for abating a person’s basic civil rights other than conviction of a crime the penalty for which is imprisonment. In Massachusetts, by our state Constitution, all residents and all visitors are guaranteed basic civil rights: please note that immigrants without papers are not excluded. I fail to see how our Commonwealth’s daily life has suffered in the slightest thereby. If anything, our sweeping guarantee promotes the economic life of Massachusetts.

This is the surprising message, i think, in “civil rights for all.” It’s good for business. have no doubt at all, that “business progressivism” is the bedrock of social justice and government reform. We’ve seen “business progressivism” at work in Indiana in 2015 and recently in North Carolina and Texas, where legislators attempted to restrict the civil rights of LGBT people on the basis of ‘sincerely held religious belief.” Certainly many many activists other than those in business helped turn back these attempts, but business was prominent in the lead . After all, business means the economy, and the economy means all of us. Whoever we may be.

N o business wants to operate in a jurisdiction where its employees do not feel safe or respected, and where its customer base can be restricted. Large businesses care about their nationwide reputation, and if they accept the discriminations of one jurisdiction, they send an immoral message to potential customers in other jurisdictions. No business wants to do that.

I rest my case.

Every immigrant who is deported by the administration in Washington is one less customer for our businesses, and in many cases, one less entrepreneur. The persecution of paperless immigrants is bad for business.

Business progressivism funds and promotes the cause of civil rights for all, wherever that cause needs promotion. Our Constitution was created by a merchant class, and it has always expanded its commitments when business insists upon it. Businesses owe the society at large a large moral duty — and business as we know it was first enabled by religiously motivated urban enterprisers as focused on morals as on profit. The two go together, and our Constitution remains the finest achievement of economic moralists.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere