^ an Air BnB hotel room : NOT to be coming to your NEIGHBORHOOD if we can help it

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People in Boston have talked for at least a year about the impact of Air BnB on our City’s housing crunch. It’s not a new matter at all. The question has been, what to do about this loss of housing to the short term rental; market ? We’re not concerned about residents who decide to rent out a room to BnB guests — that’s their fright — but about whole buildings of apartments being bought up by investors — or speculators — solely to rent out for very short terms. THAT is the issue that has activists up in arms.

The Air BnB people want you to think that opposition to this new, short-term rental industry is an attack on the rights of homeowners. This, dear reader, is horse effluent.

The company has thrown this bit of garbage at City Councillor Michelle Wu, who has advocated restrictions on short term renting. It’s all over twitter. This too, is horse effluent.

Air BnB’s push-back has garnered significant support, most of it derived from the misrepresentation of Wu’s position. What Air BnB has claimed against Wu is untrue.

End of story.

Perhaps now we can proceed, as the City is trying to do, to propose regulations that will preserve homeowners’ rights while regulating what amounts to illegal hotels and rooming houses.

The City already has a hotel code and a rooming house code. They’re part of the City Ordinances, available online: you can read them, and you should. Thus my proposal is a simple one:

( 1 ) every owner or purchaser of a real property that contains more than four residential units must secure a permit from the City allowing him or her to rent a residential unit for a term less than month to month. An owner who fails to obtain such permit but rents anyway for shorter terms, is in violation of the zoning code provision that prohibits same and is subject to the filing of a housing-criminal complaint, just as would be the case for an owner who violates the state sanitary code.

( 2 ) every property containing more than six residential units shall be deemed a hotel or rooming house, as the case may be, for the purposes of regulating short-term rentals therein, and said property shall be subject to the City Ordinances regulating such properties.

Bed-and-breakfast apartment buildings exist, and are advertised on travel websites, in almost every big city. They provide a much cheaper alternative to traditional hotels: no room service, no housekeeping, just rental of a space. Perhaps these buildings work in other cities. In Boston, however, where housing for actual residents is scarce and ever more costly — as I write, rents approximate about 40 percent of median family income, and home prices equal about 12 times annual income — we simply cannot allow existing housing to be bought up for hotel-like purposes. If such units are to be available, they should be built as such, and in currently less utilized sections of the City — not at all in areas already experiencing rent price surges. Residents may have to compete with each other for housing, but there is no public policy reason whatsoever why residents must have to compete with hotels.

—– Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ Boston Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang : has a budget memorandum for you. Read it and judge the situation accordingly

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Before I delve into the details of the Mayor’s proposed — now final — $ 1.109 billion dollar schools budget for the coming year, it might be helpful to read Superintendent Chang’s memorandum of justification:


The budget itself merits serious study, as always; but there is enough information in Superintendent Chang’s memorandum to conclude much about Boston’s schools (“BPS”) agenda. Let’s itemize and briefly question some of its assertions:

( 1 ) the increased funding, $ 48 million, represents the smallest percentage increase, by far, of any year’s budget since Mayor Walsh became Mayor. The usual increase has amounted to almost double that. Last year, with a smaller budget, the increase was $ 50 million.

( 2 ) Superintendent Chang’s memo chides the Governor for a state budget providing less state aid, pursuant to MGL c,. 70, than in the prior year. But why, I might ask, should the State increase its aid to Boston given the enormous rise in real estate tax assessments occasioned by skyrocketing real estate values in most of the City ? Indeed : given what is happening in Boston, I am puzzled why the Mayor did not allocate an increase much larger than last year’s $ 50 mil;lion, rather than less.

( 3 ) The Superintendent goes out of his way to applaud that BPS teachers are among the highest-salaried in the state and nation. Doubtless he says this in order to head off teacher salary demands at the next Teachers’ Union contract negotiation: yet hasn’t it been a long-standing sore point that almost 86 percent of the Boston schools budget goes to staff salaries, leaving everything else, from classroom supplies to utilities to transportation and travel or research, to fight over a mere 14 percent ?

( 4 ) The Superintendent also praises BPS for its high level of school success, noting how many schools in the District now perform at Levels One and Two, per State Board of Education standards. I cannot tell if he has it right, but assuming that he does have it right, why is more State aid needed, given the Equal Protection limitations placed on c. 70 compensatory funding ?

( 5 ) Mr. Chang’s memorandum also notes “under-utilized schools” as a recipient of state funds. The under-utilization of some school buildings is nothing new. It’s been a discussion point for at least all of Mayor Walsh’s years in office. Why hasn’t the District consolidated the many under-utilized school buildings, closing some entirely and thus saving about $ 50 million in maintenance costs and utilities expenditure ?

( 6 ) The memorandum also notes that 57 BPS schools now practice an extra 40 minute school day and that the extra time costs the District some $ 17 million. Why hasn’t the Superintendent expanded the 40 extra minute reform to every school in the District while utilizing the cost savings from consolidation to pay for it ? Indeed, why is Boston’s school day still one of the shortest in the state ? Most school Districts use a school day more than an hour longer than Boston’s 57 extended day schools.

I have no doubt that all of the above questions will continue to be fruitlessly asked, and that the City’s future budget allocations will continue to lag well behind the increases in tax assessments, and that very little will be done. BPS will continue to fund anomalies and live with them because the will to reform them isn’t there, nor the political alignment. That said, to the extent that Boston schools achieve Level One or Level two performance, I applaud the teachers who under Union President Jessica Tang’s leadership, understand what is expected of them, and I congratulate the students for working so diligently that kudos given them are well founded.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ lonely ? watching your laptop screen ? No need to be, the ‘net offers you a big, connected world whenever you want it

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David Brooks, writing in today’s New York Times, bewails the impact that use of the internet has had on community connectedness. He may well be right; but there is an opposite side to the story, one that he never mentions : social media has enabled all kinds of connectedness that never existed before or which imposed membership gateways.

I see it every hour that I peruse my facebook page — facebook especially. In Boston alone there’s more community facebook pages and discussion groups than I can count. I belong to at least thirty, and thereby I have connected to hundreds of people I could not otherwise have talked with, from every corner of Boston.

Said facebook groups don’t exist only only online. They meet, often regularly. I can attend, and often I do. In my own Boston neighborhood, East Boston, facebook interaction enables me to reach over 10,000 people. Probably other neighborhoods of Boston approximate a similar number.

On these pages one learns of all kinds of public meetings : campaign forums, City of Boston BPDA hearings, Mayor’s Coffee Hours; neighborhood association meetings; outings and days of action; rallies for this cause and that; dinners and breakfasts in the community. There is absolutely no reason why surfing the internet should bolster loneliness. Join facebook, reach out. It’s all there.

In social media you can also connect to people you knew but have lost touch with. I’ve reconnected with college friends, prep school classmates, kids I hung out with in the summers by the ocean, grammar school friends. Until social media came to be, there was hardly any way of finding them. Thanks to social media, I found my entire family of first cousins, most of them living in California or Europe — people that close to me who without facebook and google I could never have found without hiring  private investigator.

Churches and bowling leagues, scouting and Kiwanis, Rotary and the Elks connected people 30, 40, 50 years ago, yes; but the connections achieve via the internet and social media.

Kids who spend all day looking at their laptop screens may well be lonely; but if so, it’s by their choice, in one way or another. The connected world of social media is available to them whenever they decide to want it — just as it is available to you, and you, and you, and me.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Baker signs

Yesterday, at 3 pm, Governor Baker signed the big Criminal Justice Reform bills that the legislature has been working on for a year. It was a big win, and a big win for him, too — people I spoke to in my own neighborhood, East Boston, were well pleased by his signing it. Despite which, Baker said that he had some criticisms of them that he hoped to correct. My own view : “it’s a win for the state, and it’s a win for us too,” (I am working on the Governor’s re-election campaign, unpaid, by the way) “so let’s enjoy the win !”

Let us enjoy the win, indeed. The bill H. 4012 won approval by the House, 154 to 5, and S. 2371 by the Senate, 37 to 0. It was not a close call, or controversial.

There has been criticism of the bill, from some Sheriffs and prosecutors. A week ago, when State Representative Sheila Harrington (who was on the committee shepherding the final, amended House bill to the House floor) posted on facebook celebrating the House’s vote, I shared her post; and Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson soon came onto my post — yes, mine; why mine ? — commenting several times upon the bill in dire terms and at length.

What might any objections be, to bills enacted almost unanimously by our legislature ? Of sufficient seriousness that Governor Baker feels the need to say “yes, but” even to bills whose signing ceremony was well attended and which he and others posted, on social media,. in quite celebratory words ?

As is my usual practice, let’s, before we discuss further, read the actual language of the acts, S. 2371 and H. 4012 :

S. 2371 here : https://malegislature.gov/Bills/190/S2371

H. 4012 here : file:///C:/Users/nick%20shaheen/Downloads/H4012.pdf

The Senate bill, which is definitely a long read, includes, inter alia, a great deal of administrative procedure applied to sex crime data acquisition and evaluation; much detail about assessment of the gender and mental needs of youthful offenders; explicit directions to police departments barring any sort of identity profiling and requiring de-escalation tactics when responding to 911 calls.

The House bill details, and extensively re-writes, the State’s incarceration, parole, probation, and good-time credits systems. One can understand the annoyance that some sheriffs may feel about this comprehensive re-write of supervisory rules that they and the their staffs must now master. I fail, however, to understand objections based upon a theory of laxity. The detailed rules set forth in the act are onerous for any prisoner eligible for them (and some prisoners are not eligible at all) to adjust to, much less succeed at.

That said, the bills do change the overall theory of Massachusetts criminal procedure from one of imprisonment to one of treatment. I quote from MassLive’s coverage of the legislation :

Among the many provisions: The new law eliminates a handful of mandatory minimum sentences for drug dealing. It creates a process for records to be expunged for juveniles and young adults and for convictions for offenses that are no longer crimes, like marijuana possession.

The bill raises the minimum age of criminal responsibility from seven to 12 years old and decriminalizes some minor offenses for juveniles. It changes the way bail and fines and fees are levied to take into account someone’s ability to pay. It raises the threshold at which theft is considered a felony. It requires more humane conditions for inmates in solitary confinement.

Baker also signed a separate bill, which was the result of a year-long task force examining recidivism in Massachusetts. That bill enhances the programming available in prison and jails, enhances community supervision and expands behavioral health resources.

Thus the general direction of the legislation is to burden treatment and hospitals while de-emphasizing the corrections system itself. There will now be fewer people incarcerated, and for shorter periods of time. I can understand that some sheriffs find this prospect unhappy. The same can be said for corrections officers, always a politically powerful interest. There may well be layoffs. There definitely WILL be greater restraint on what corrections officers can do to prisoners, and their conduct will be closely monitored. Corrections officers may well object : but the level of control they exercise over imprisoned people is hardly limited by words of laws: the phrase “terrible things happen in prison” didn’t comer about by accident. If even one prisoner is saved from being raped or beaten because of the new laws, that is, in my mind, a positive thing.

Clearly, Baker has heard the complaints made by some sheriffs and some prosecutors and doesn’t want to be seen as dismissive of them. That’s OK. The larger fact is that he signed the bills, and did so in a big ceremony.

As he said at the signing, “The very positive elements of the bill far outweigh some of the concerns we have.”

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere