“We have added housing to the market over the past few years, but we haven’t made significant gains against the underlying occupancy rate.”
Stephen McBride is a former HubSpot manager who was, at the time of this interview, the only candidate running against incumbent Frank Baker for Boston’s District 3 City Council seat. (Ed note: In the time since Chris and Stephen spoke, another candidate, Romilda Pereira, also announced a run against Baker. We have already reached out to Pereira for an interview.)
McBride is a millennial progressive going up against Baker, a Dorchester native and moderate Democrat. I interviewed McBride about the opioid epidemic, reopening Long Island, a Green New Deal, and more.
Why did you decide to run for City Council?
It has been something of a steady march towards realizing that it was something I should or even could do. The past four years have shown us a new side of politics. It has been divisive and toxic, and I don’t think that blame should be shared equally. But it has shown us the power of strong progressive voices at all levels of government.
We can assure that no matter what happens at a federal or state level, Boston can and should be a beacon of progressive values. On top of that, I love this community. I love Dorchester, I love District 3, and I want to be a new voice for it on the city council. Thirty-nine percent of Boston is between the ages of 18 and 34. In Dorchester, over half of the residents are under the 34-year-old mark. But only two other councilors on the current council fall under that threshold. So, I want to be more representative of the community and be that voice for the community.
On a personal note, as someone who is out and proud, I can’t overstate how much it would have meant for me growing up to see myself represented in government and let me know that being gay and part of the LGBTQ community is not something that has to keep you from achieving great things.
What do you think is most important for Boston in recovering from the COVID pandemic?
We have to understand that once we are all vaccinated, which thankfully is coming faster and faster, things aren’t just going to go back to being better. Many people across the city have gone for over a year without their normal wages. Businesses that relied on bringing people together, concert venues, theaters, restaurants, have been forced to close, some temporarily, some permanently. The state’s unemployment rate as of January is still holding above the national average; it is right around 8%, it was only 2.7% last March. There are still a lot of people that are actively being affected by this pandemic.
I think we are on the right track, but getting everybody safely back to work will not erase the hardship that this pandemic has wrought. We are also in the middle of a housing crisis and we need to make sure that we don’t allow it to become exacerbated when the federal eviction moratorium ends and people’s bills start to come due.
We also have to keep the conversation going on how we close the racial wealth gap. We need to keep a spotlight on investing in businesses owned by women and by people of color and do a better job at ensuring equal access, equal opportunity—especially to contracts the city is giving out.
How do you plan on bringing more affordable housing initiatives to District 3?
One thing we really need is a new citywide master plan, to make sure we have a true, cohesive citywide strategy for what we want Boston to look like for the next 50 years. I think we need to push for higher thresholds for affordable units in new developments. Across the river in Cambridge and Somerville, they have thresholds that are higher than Boston. We should look to raise ours and make sure that we are committing to building more affordable units as we build across the city.
We also have to protect our renters. Over half of Boston renters are paying more than 30% of their monthly income towards rent, which by federal standards is considered rent burdened. In addition to that, we have added housing to the market over the past few years, but we haven’t made significant gains against the underlying occupancy rate, which means that demand continues to be extremely high. And the problem that I see there is that it puts tenants in a tough spot. Some people won’t qualify for housing because landlords can be more selective. Those in affordable housing are put in a position to potentially accept rent hikes or unhealthy conditions because they might not be able to afford or find anywhere else to live.
What is your stance on the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA)? Specifically in how it impacts District 3?
The BPDA imposes a series of unique challenges for Boston and specifically for District 3. If you look at other large cities across the country, we are really the only one that has an agency with the scope and unchecked powers that the BPDA currently has. For District 3 specifically, there are a lot of big projects on the horizon that are going to involve the agency—projects like DOT Block, Dorchester Bay City, and Newmarket. We need to be sure that residents across the district are informed of what is being proposed and that they have a voice in that vision.
More importantly, that they can easily understand what concessions the city may be giving or what developers are promising in exchange and be able to ensure those promises are adequate and kept. These landlord projects will have big implications for Dorchester, for District 3, for the city. From affordable housing, to public space, to what we build, to transit and tax implications. Across the district, the people that will be most affected by these changes need to be able to clearly understand what is happening and have their voices be meaningfully heard.
What climate-related issues does District 3 have to contend with and what proposals will you put forward to address these issues?
When you think about climate-related issues that are facing Boston, any one you mention probably has a disproportionate effect on District 3. It has the harbor islands, it is lined by the harbor, by the Neponset river. As sea levels continue to rise, a large portion of the district is immediately put at risk. We have Morrissey Boulevard, whose nemesis is a high tide on a rainy day. There is Moakley Park, which the city is looking to redevelop to combat coastal flooding. I think there is a lot of opportunity, but there is also a lot of risk involved. I think the city has done a great job. They have outlined a climate ready Boston plan. It has a component for Dorchester, for Moakley park, for all of South Boston.
As councilor, I would look to take these key areas that the city has already identified and work with people throughout the district to craft proposals that layer on aspects of a Green New Deal. In addition to pushing to reduce Boston’s carbon footprint, which will definitely help our efforts to stop rising temperatures and rising sea levels, we should also focus on sustainable development. Pushing our pace to get to carbon neutral, constructing efficient buildings that contribute to less energy waste and utilizing things like the PACE program, which is a state offered program that helps to offset the upfront cost of renewable developments in exchange for an assessment over time to pay those costs back.
Tell us about your climate plan for the city.
I think a Green New Deal for Boston is necessary to ensure that Boston will be a city that is around for future generations. I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say that if we don’t step up our efforts to combat climate change, Boston as we know it is really at risk.
I much prefer the 2021 map of Boston to the 1640 map, which if oceans continue to rise, we run the risk of getting back to. We’re making great strides. We have the community electric program that rolled out this year. It allows the city to more competitively purchase energy from renewable sources. It does have the options for residents to opt in to higher levels of renewable sources. Things like that program, pushing ourselves to be carbon neutral by 2040 should be considered table-stakes for everything the city does.
I think it is important to call out that a Green New Deal isn’t just energy efficiency. It is building a workforce that has well-paying jobs that help support those renewable sources and that are accessible to all walks of life. That includes training both for adults and for youth. It is changing how we view housing. Pushing for things like cooperatively-owned housing that allow groups of people to purchase homes together to make it more affordable and standing up for renter’s rights and allowing renters the right to counsel. It is promoting public transit as a public good and putting it in a category that is similar to that of schools or parks. Pushing for sustainable construction, helping divert stormwater runoff, keeping our roads from flooding, our rivers and our harbor clean and make our buildings operate more efficiently, and making sure that is still reducing our carbon footprint.
We also need to make sure we have a more robust tree canopy. Trees reduce pollutants from the air, they make the air we breathe healthier, and they also reduce heat islands across the city and make warmer areas that otherwise the blacktop would get cooked in the sun, make them a little bit cooler. I would love to see Olmstead’s vision finished and run from Franklin Park to Moakley Park down Columbia Road. It was supposed to be a necklace and it doesn’t finish right now. It would be amazing to see that investment in green space through Roxbury and Dorchester. Dorchester is an environmental justice community and I think focusing on improving the health and wellbeing of our residents by focusing on the environment needs to be a priority.
Can you talk about wanting to reopen all of the services on Long Island and also your plans regarding the Mass-Cass area of Boston?
When Long Island closed back in 2014, we have seen since then a couple of things occur. We lost a pretty large rehabilitation facility, but we have also seen the opioid epidemic continue to get worse. These two things have created the area that most people now know as Mass-Cass.
I think pushing to get Long Island open is important for a couple of reasons. One, it gives us more space to help people who are afflicted with addiction. It will help provide the space for them to get better.
One of the issues with Mass-Cass is that the place where people are going to get services from the city is also where many of them are at. There are problems associated with walking through an open-air drug market when you are on your way to get treatment. I think pulling the services that the city provides away from Mass-Cass allows us to start to separate the problems and deal with the opioid crisis and help provide people with the resources they need to get better. I think once we provide people with access to rehabilitation, we also need to recognize that it is not just an opioid epidemic, it is also a homelessness crisis.
So, we need to focus on finding avenues for stable housing for those folks that are the most vulnerable in our society and make sure that we are not solving one problem or the other. We have to solve both the opioid crisis and address the homelessness crisis.
Chris Hues is a journalist and artist based out of Boston, Ma and Associate Editor of Bostonhassle.com