THE “RESIDENCY RULE” FOR CITY EMPLOYEES IS BAD POLICY

Mayor walsh 1

^ Mayor Walsh : has sought to ease the City employee Residency Reuiremet

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As Boston prepares to elect a new City Council, we see that aall five at Large candidates support requiring all City employees to reside in Boston, union protections and longevity notwithstanding. This is the wrong choice.

It should definitely be a goal of City policy to make Boston life attractive enough that City workers will want to live in the City they serve. But that is the workers’ choice to make. An employee gives her employer her work; she does not give it her personal and family life.

City officials will respond, “but we can make it a requirement if we like.” To which I say, “yes, that you can do. but should you ?” No, you should not.

The “residency requirement” was first established about 30 years ago at a time when Boston was in many ways a quite unattractive place to live, with underperforming schools, blight in all sorts of neighborhoods, and a rush to the suburbs to avoid city-wide busing of students all over the place. It sent a very negative message to Boston residents to see our City employees leaving for points elsewhere.

At the time, I said, in many public meetings, that the answer was not to impose a kind of serfdom on City employees — Medieval serfs were contractually bound to live on the manor whose fields they worked — but to make the City appealing enough that workers would want to live here. I was ignored, when I wasn’t brusquely dismissed.

A woman whose name you would know was appointed as the Boston Serfdom Enforcer. She of course was quite happy, eventually, to be hired by the City of Salem, which does not have such a requirement, while continuing to live in Boston.

They’ll do it every time, won’t they ?

Today we not only retain the serfdom approach, we are toughening it. (Even though Mayor Walsh — correctly — has wanted to ease the rule for some.) This at a time when Boston has become the living destination of choice for all who can afford it. I call that stupid.

And what of those who cannot afford it ? Rents in Boston aren’t easy. a typical two-bedroom apartemnt in most neighborhoods runs $ 2,000 to $ 2,400; in some neighborhoods higher and much higher. Buying a condo, even, big enough for a family, will cost you $ 200,000 at least — more likely $ 300,000 and up. How many entry level or low-line City employees can afford either ? Auto insurance is higher in the City. School assignments may still send your kids far from the street you choose to move to, and perhaps they’ll have to take the T. Meanwhile, housing on the South Shore costs much less — rents run $ 1,400 to $ 1,700; buying a condo cost maybe $ 175,.000 — and your kids go to a neighborhood school.

You’ll even, on the South Shore, be able to park your car at night without getting into parking space rage with your neighbor.

There are today many attractions to living in the City. Boston social connections have burgeoned. People gather instead of separate. Restaurants, bistros, parks, community meetings, sports and education connections all make Boston today a beehive of people to people prosperity. Still : it’s one’s own choice whether to join the discussion.

The cry of “City jobs for City residents” is a demagogic one, a cry of fear that the powers that be don’t care about us, that they are, perhaps, happy to be rid of us. Some City politicians exploit this fear; all seem afraid of it. Still, public policy should never arise from fear but from confidence. No Boston public policy I know of contains less of confidence than the residency requirement.

It should go.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

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