Images by Chris Faraone
Many Bostonians dream of making a six-figure salary and of having a safe, maybe even comfortable place to call home. Unfortunately, not everyone in the Hub can win election to the City Council, which earlier this month voted to boost its own annual take to $107,500 starting in 2016, a move the Boston Globe today reported will yield increases to some of their pensions worth more than many low-income families bank in an entire year.
So perhaps not surprisingly, the courageous public servants who led the fight for a pay raise – Council President Bill Linehan of South Boston and At-Large Councilor Steve Murphy of Hyde Park – neglected to show up for a hearing yesterday on affordable housing. Same goes for Councilor Sal LaMattina of East Boston and Allston-Brighton Councilor Mark Ciommo, both of whom attended the salary vote, but skipped yesterday’s testimonies on gentrification.
You know, because why would any delegate from those neighborhoods care about tenant neglect?
They missed quite a show. As did the Globe, which failed to mention the jam-packed Iannella Chamber in today’s page one analysis of councilor pensions. Roxbury Councilor Tito Jackson may have pulled for the raise with Linehan and company, but in sponsoring the hearing to “discuss displacement, community stability, and neighborhood prevention,” he and Dorchester Councilor Frank Baker, who also backed the pay charade, at least showed they plan on protecting residents who aren’t lucky enough to decide their own salaries.
Jackson made it clear from the beginning his would not be a forum for “the voices of the million-dollar condos being built downtown.” The councilor has himself run into trouble with the mortgage on his family home, and has for years shown up at affordable housing rallies and advocacy pickets. But what happened yesterday was somewhat new for Jackson, beloved around town for his smile and approachable demeanor. The son of Roxbury channeled all the aggravation building up around these issues – his own and that of more than 100 onlookers – and let the bastards have it.
“Gentrification is destabilizing our communities,” Jackson said in one of many flaming missives. Listening to the stories of those being displaced, he added, “My heart went out. I knew we had to step forward … We are not going to allow poor folks to get displaced in this city!”
There were plenty of residents on hand with their own harrowing stories. A woman with a four-year-old son testified about a rent increase of $500 in one year, her voice cracking as she recalled the horror of that weight over her head. A small business owner from Roxbury shared his personal nightmare, while a full panel of those testifying addressed unspeakable intrusions of privacy on the part of landlords and property management companies.
This all happening amidst a string of horrific news about living conditions around Boston and the recent release of Mayor Marty Walsh’s housing master plan, the officials who participated took the chance to pounce. As important, they listened to the wrenching tribulations of Bostonians aligned with advocacy groups like Right to the City, the Chinese Progressive Association, and City Life / Vida Urbana (the latter of which I have consulted in the past).
“We are in a crisis,” blasted At-Large Councilor Ayanna Pressley, who said housing is the issue her constituents most frequently complain about. On the topic of City Realty, a particularly horrendous enterprise whose antics were on trial yesterday, Pressley argued, “This is really all about greed,” but welcomed all conversation around company practices. “You can’t cut a cancer out if you don’t know where it is,” she said.
Mattapan Councilor Charles Yancey and At-Large Councilor Michelle Wu joined the chorus, as did Downtown Councilor Josh Zakim, who plugged a measure he has pending to protect renters in buildings that get flipped. Proving he is far less detestable than other legacy placeholders like Linehan and Murphy, At-Large Councilor Michael Flaherty finally arrived half way through, bringing news that friends he grew up playing hockey with are being pushed out of the city. Flaherty should send them to the next foreclosure eviction blockade; City Life can always use a couple of defenders on the front lines.
Given the opportunity to publicly address the grievances leveled against him, City Realty Co-Owner Steve Whalen stood at the microphone, pulled his pants down, and covered the entire chamber in a diarrhea tsunami: he’s listening and hopes to “be responsive,” his company is fortunate to be part of this “thriving city,” their “priority is to make homes safe,” the works. As a follow-up, Whalen’s attorney then slithered out of a heating vent, bit into the pulsating heart of an infant like a Red Delicious apple, and heaved two more fistfuls of shit at the councilors that splattered up into the rafters.
Grilling Whalen, Jackson unloaded: “You should be ashamed of yourself … You’re not building the kind of Roxbury I want to see.” In his turn, Councilor Matt O’Malley seemingly revealed how little interest City Realty has in soliciting community input for projects in his district or anyplace else. It must have felt good to vent, as the councilor has been exposed to Whalen’s antics first-hand in attempts to broker peace between the landlord and disgruntled tenants in Jamaica Plain.
Dirty details are dirty details, and anyone from Boston to wherever can get easy access to a score of information about despicable Hub landlords. The local media has been particularly harsh over the past year. But what happened inside City Hall this week is far less common. Even regular crusaders like Pressley, though always passionate, don’t just walk around calling community leeches “smug and duplicitous,” like she did in front of everyone and on the record yesterday. It’s about time, too. Who knows; if they keep making noise, the rest of their fellow councilors might even join the fun.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.