^ Christine Poff answers activists’ questions at last night’s Community Preservation forum in East Boston
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Last night a substantial cross-section of East Boston activists attended a forum hosted by the City’s Community Preservation Commission and its chief, Christine Poff. As I understood the conversation, there’s about $ 20 million — funds designated by the Community Preservation Act and its one percent city tax surcharge, as adopted by voters in the 2016 election — available for the purpose. Thus the question is, what does East Boston need, by way of “community preservation,’ that can be enabled by suchy funds as get targeted to this neighborhood ?
I will answer that question below. But first, you should read the language of the Community Preservation Act (“CPA”) that governs this entire discussion. The City’s website offers the following shorthand of it : https://www.boston.gov/community-preservation-act … and this is the entire text of the Act, which you might want to read : http://www.communitypreservation.org/content/text-legislation
The Act is part of MGL c. 44B and is thus a state matter. (Which is a specific reason why I, in my capacity as an outreach co-ordinator for the Governor, attended the meeting. The Act makes clear that “community preservation” is a very sweeping mission. It includes creation of affordable and moderate income housing as well as preservation of landmarks and structures of significant historic value. It calls for a real estate tax surcharge of as much as three (3) percent — an amount significant in high-value redale state communities.
The major limitation on how much sweeping can be done pursuant to the CPA is its funds. According to Poff, Boston’s nCPA has about $ 20 million in hand (in a fund expressly escrowed for the CPA mission). That isn’t much to a city whose annual budget tops $ 3 billion and whose real estate values have risen sky-high these past 40 years. Preservation just happens to be a function of that bull market in real estate. If values remained at 1977 levels, there’d be no new construction — there wans’t any then — and thus no threat to existing structures and land uses. There is, however, a daily impact upon existing communities. East Boston has of late found itself especially under the gun of development that has utterly rewritten the neighborhood’s waterfront, its piers and its vistas, its open spaces and peacefulness. Today the East Boston waterfront has succumbed to crappy, hulking residential fronts and overpriced underwater garages that clearly came to pass unaware of rising seas reality. Preservation has no place in what now stands on the Eastie waterfront.
Can there be any kind at all of meaningful preservation, now that Eastie’s waterfront has been so thoroughly defeated ? Maybe.
Eastie very much ants to remain an affordable neighborhood. It has served working class families since the late 19th century (including my Mother’s parents, who arrived in 1896) when the area’s status as a destination port for major passenger ship lines inundated it with immigrants from Ireland — JFK’s great grandfather Thomas Kennedy included — then Jews from all over, then Italians. It is home to working class families now as well, most of them from Latino countries but also the Maghreb in North Africa, Brazil, and Rumania. Somehow, Eastie’s working class families manage to endure enormously risen rents, prices that bar many young professionals who, too, would like to come to a neighborhood that offers less density (and lower rents) tan are available Downtown. I’m not sure how long they can adapt. The next level of price rise will surely be the curtain call as Eastie becomes entierly a neighborhood of technology workers, doctors, lawyers, finance workers, and top-level bureaucrats earning at least 4 150,000 a year.
Maybe that destiny need not happen. Community preservation certainly hopes so. To the CPA Board, which includes Jeffries Point activist Kannan Thiruvengadam, I offer the following suggestions :
( 1 ) very limited funds limit the Act’s effect to small victories : a pocket sized park — a dog park ? — here and there; maintenance money for the Greenway; tree plantings in the Gove Street neighborhood; funds for renovation of aging row houses, all over Jeffries Point, Eagle Hill, and the Maverick Square area.
( 2 ) a more ambitious step might be the purchase of a dilapidated, vacant building for renovation as workforce housing
( 3 ) a traffic study of the dangerous, over busy intersection of Bennington and Saratoga Streets hard b\y the Orient heights T stop. Recently Chris Marchi and I discussed this in a thread on the East Boston Open Discussion facebook page. Maybe it can happen.
( 4 ) creation of a plan for safeguarding local homes now seriously threatened by high tides upon rising seas. If we do n ot figure this out, and begin working on it damn soon, the entire generation will find many such homes unlivable.
Doubtless you have many other suggestions what the City’s scarce CPA dollars can work on. I welcome them all. The money is t.here — taxpayer money — and the oversight to make decisions is in place.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere