The Boston City Council held a hearing on Feb. 14 at Boston City Hall. The following items were discussed.
Maiden Speech by Kim Janey
District 7 Councilor Kim Janey made her debut speech at the Boston City Council hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 14, where she called for a hearing regarding opportunities and challenges facing small businesses in Boston.
The City of Boston is experiencing an unprecedented economic boom, yet too many residents and small businesses are not benefiting from that boom and Janey wants to change that.
“Whether your are African American or Irish Catholic or a recent immigrant who has arrived in Boston, we are all in the pursuit of happiness in the American Dream,” said Janey. “But for too many of us that has slipped away and the income economic gap has grown.”
Janey said there are two ways to build wealth: one is home ownership and the other is entrepreneurship.
“We are in the midst of a major housing crisis and that also means raising commercial rents that are putting great pressure on small businesses throughout the city,” said Janey.
Small businesses are finding it hard to afford to remain in their communities and new businesses can’t open due to the rapidly rising rents.
On top of the rents, small business owners are required to obtain dozens of permits, including for fire safety, health code compliance, food service, occupancy, entertainment, and liquor, which creates an onerous burden.
“We need to remove barriers and create new ones so that established businesses can remain in the city and grow and allow new ones to come,” said Janey. “Commercial gentrification and many permitting processes can be a roadblock including to access to capital. We need to make it easier for women, immigrants, and people of color to be able to live, work, and play in their own neighborhoods.”
“This vision is in our reach and together we can make it a reality.”
Short-term Residential Rentals
Councilor Flaherty reported back on the five-hour hearing on short-term rental platforms such as Airbnb that happened on Tuesday, Feb. 13.
The goal on all sides is to stabilize neighborhoods because unregulated short-term rentals lead to long-term tenants being displaced and for corporations to exploit a loophole to operate de facto hotels in the city’s neighborhoods.
At the hearing no one said that the city should ban Airbnb outright, as many homeowners rely on renting out a spare bedroom or their entire unit when on vacation to help pay the mortgage. However, Councilors argued that they should act quickly to close corporate loopholes.
The matter remains in the Government Operations Committee for further working sessions. Because this is an ordinance from the Mayor, it is a 60-day order that requires Council action in that timeframe (even if the action is to reject without prejudice for a refilling with a new 60 days).
Climate Change Actions
At-Large Councilor Michelle Wu filed a hearing order to discuss flooding in Boston, and the legislative, funding, and governance structures needed for the city and residents to adapt.
Boston is extremely vulnerable to flooding, from sea level rise, from the rivers and brooks swelling in storms, and from increased storm water runoff overwhelming the drainage system.
The impact is not limited to neighborhoods and homes on the waterfront; flooding also exacerbates unhealthy living conditions in older housing stock and homes where residents can’t afford to renovate.
The matter was assigned to the Committee on Planning, Development & Transportation for hearing.
Resiliency Standards for City-owned property was filed by Councilor Matt O’Malley to hold a hearing to discuss standards for energy efficiency and resiliency for development or redevelopment of city-owned buildings or structures on city-owned land.
The City Council is currently exploring ways to incentivize net zero carbon standards for new development across the city through discussions about revising state building codes.
However, the City could set higher standards for energy efficiency, resiliency, and transportation access for publicly-funded projects and for development of City-owned property without waiting for state or federal standards to change.
There was talk of creating passive house standards for new affordable housing that might be coming to the City.
The matter was assigned to the Committee on Planning, Development & Transportation.
MBTA Local Assessment
Councilor Michelle Wu called for a hearing on the City of Boston’s annual assessment to the MBTA, which will be $85.8 million in fiscal year 2018. The revenue from local assessments levied on the 175 cities and towns in the MBTA’s service area make up the third largest source of revenue for the agency, after state sales tax and fares paid by MBTA riders.
Boston’s contribution makes up over half of the local assessment revenue, and it comprises 4 percent of the MBTA’s total operating budget.
Wu argued that this payment represents taxpayer dollars from all of Boston and yet the MBTA’s fare pricing structure does not treat all Boston residents equitably.
Hyde Park, West Roxbury, and Roslindale residents do not have access to subway service and are categorized in commuter rail fare zones where it is more than twice as expensive to travel within the city.
This week, MBTA announced it was considering fare hikes for next fiscal year.
This hearing order is mean to discuss any opportunities to leverage Boston’s investment in the MBTA to create more equitable access for Boston’s residents. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Planning, Development & Transportation for a hearing.
Previously, the Boston City Council held a hearing on Feb. 7 at Boston City Hall.
At-large City Councilor Michelle Wu has called for a hearing to examine and discuss how the City of Boston and its partners can improve and expand vocational educational opportunities in Boston.
Boston currently has just one vocational technical high school, Madison Park High School located in Roxbury. The city is home to a thriving job market with many positions that do no require a post-secondary degree.
Wu said that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is home to several vocational technical high schools that are touted as national models, and that Boston could learn from them in strengthening and expanding vocational technical education in the city.
At-large City Councilor Ayanna Pressley said that Madison Park used to be the premiere funding school of many of the major industries in Boston and noted, “It should be again.”
City Councilor Matt O’Malley filed for a hearing order to discuss considering the benefits of developing a net-zero-carbon requirements and incentives for future construction in the City of Boston.
Boston has entered into a robust construction boom to accommodate the demand for new housing, and will need to continue to build residential and commercial buildings.
O’Malley noted that the City of Boston has committed to making its buildings carbon neutral by 2050, and that buildings contribute to over half of the city’s greenhouse gas emission.
“We are in the midst of a building boom,” said O’Malley. “We need to make sure that in the future more environmentally sustainable buildings are being built if we are going to make our carbon neutral goals.”
The Mayor filed an order to accept the right to enforce a use restriction to ensure that the Huntington Theatre continues to be used as a theatre or similar cultural use.
The developer, QMG Huntington, will impose a use restriction on the building, requiring the owner of the property and any successor, to use it as a theatre and performance center for theatrical, cultural, live performance, educational and ancillary activities.
QMG Huntington will give the Huntington Theatre Company a 100-year lease to use the new lobby and will also gift the Huntington Theatre to the Huntington Theatre Company, a nonprofit theatre company that has occupied the theatre since 1982.
The matter was assigned to the Committee on Arts, Culture & Special Events for a hearing.
Previously, the Boston City Council met for their second hearing of the year on Wednesday, Jan. 31 at Boston City Hall.
Curbside Composting Program
Councilors Matt O’Malley and Ayanna Pressley re-filed a hearing order on the feasibility of implementing a curbside composting program in Boston.
“This is the next logical step, which many other cities have done to great success, is to have curbside composting in the City of Boston,” said O’Malley. “We are re-introducing this hearing order and this is their fourth or fifth time doing it. I am optimist that the fourth or fifth time will be the charm.”
Both councilors spoke on how such a program would save the City money by reducing waste sent to landfills, while also producing finished compost that could be used for landscaping in Boston’s parks and gardens or could be sold.
O’Malley pointed to Jamaica Plain as one neighborhood who could potentially run a pilot program this year.
“If we want to get to zero waste we have to embrace composting, and we have to begin it soon,” said O’Malley.
The matter was assigned to the Committee on Environment, Sustainability & Parks for a hearing.
Annual Homeless Census
Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George called for a hearing on this year’s homeless census, the point of time count that occurs each year surveying individuals and families experiencing homelessness in Boston shelters and on the streets.
This data is used to identify policy priorities and measures to end homelessness. Having a hearing would give the Council an opportunity as in previous years to focus on how homelessness impacts individuals, children, young adults and families, as well as resources currently in place to support them.
“I believe we can end homelessness in City of Boston,” said Essaibi-George. “We have made great strides in chronic and veteran homeless but we can’t do this alone. We need to continue to increase upstream prevention and economic opportunity and pave way towards affordable housing. What we collect through the census to help us to do better.”
This matter was assigned to the Committee on Homelessness, Mental Health & Recovery.
Voting Rights for Immigrants with Legal Status
Council President Andrea Campbell called for a hearing to explore the possibility of allowing Legal Permanent Residents, visa holders, Temporary Protected Status recipients, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients to vote in municipal elections and to examine other inclusive practices.
“Immigrants who come to the City of Boston and who have come in the last few decades and are newcomers face many of the challenges as the Irish, Italians and Jews who came before them,” said Campbell. “But they also face additional barriers. Additional barriers when it comes to immigration and pathways to citizenship.”
“These pathways are harsher and they’re racists. These residents want to become citizens and are going through the process to become citizens, but the pathways that exist decades ago do not currently exist or are no longer an option. So we are currently at a crossroads.”
Campbell noted that the policy coming out of Washington D.C. is uprooting thousands of families and abruptly ending their long-standing immigration polices. She asked what are we going to do at the local level?
“I recognize, it is crystal clear to me that we are not the federal government and that we do not have the authority to determine whether or not these communities get to stay here legally or grant a pathway to citizenship,” said Campbell. “But I do think we have a responsibility as municipal leaders of this city to explore concrete ways we can include and support these residents in the city they call home.”
Currently, non-U.S. citizens are prohibited from voting by state law and thus limited in playing an active role in civic life.
Several Councilors supported the need for the Council to have the discussion, given that federal laws and politics are preventing many of these people from becoming American citizens.
“I think it is very important to encourage all opportunities to encourage participates in a civic process, especially folks who are living here and are long-term residents – who in many cases have children in our Boston Public School (BPS) school system and who I can’t think have a more vested interest in voting in local elections and participating in our civic life,” said Councilor Josh Zakim.
Others, such as Councilor Tim McCarthy, expressed that voting should remain a right for United States citizens only; stating voting is a U.S. citizen privilege.
“If we say we are a city and nation made of immigrants, then let’s find a way to recognize and amplify their value and contributions to our community,” said Campbell. “And let’s at least at a minimum have a conversation – this isn’t an ordinance – this is a hearing order to have that – a conversation.”
The matter was assigned to the Government Operations Committee for a hearing.