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Gateways

Gateways Podcast

20 episodes

Nov 19, 2020

Episode 71: How MBTA cuts would cripple communities like Chelsea 

11/19/20-- This month, the MBTA proposed cuts to transit service in an attempt to close its budget gap induced by COVID-19. Transit advocates and community organizations have been vocal in their objections to the cuts, which would disproportionately impact minority, lower-income, and Gateway City communities. Roseann Bongiovanni is the executive director of GreenRoots Chelsea, a community-based organization with a primary focus on environmental justice. Her organization joined the Transit Is Essential coalition that is urging the MBTA to make no permanent or long-term decisions regarding service, and instead advance affordability for all transit riders. Roseann has witnessed firsthand just how insufficient transit options are already for Chelsea residents, who desperately depend on them. “They're often waiting up to 45 minutes to get on the bus to get into and out of the city. We've heard dozens and dozens and dozens of stories of folks in Chelsea who have been stranded on the 111 or who have been delayed and missed picking up their children. Daycares are calling them, threatening to report them,” she says. Cutting services even further would exacerbate the already dire needs of a community that’s been one of the most hard hit in Massachusetts by the pandemic. Roseann says the pandemic has made life in Chelsea “incredibly difficult.” Data show 80 percent of all workers in Chelsea are in essential positions. Roseann describes the effect of potential transit service cuts as “devastating.” “This is our lifeline to work,” she says, as the luxury of being able to work from home is rarely an option for Chelsea workers. The reduced transit options would be yet another strain placed on the many residents in Chelsea and other Gateway Cities who owe back rent from losing jobs and wages, and face eviction and homelessness. Roseann desperately wants for state and federal leaders to acknowledge the outsized burden cities like Chelsea are shouldering, thank them, and start investing in assistance ranging from food to health to housing and beyond. “You know,” she says, “we can't take on all of the burdens. We can't continue to sacrifice our lives every single day.”

Nov 5, 2020

Episode 70: Banding together to prevent a housing crisis in Lawrence 

11/5/20-- With the statewide eviction moratorium no longer in place, Gateway City residents face a new threat from the pandemic. In Lawrence, leaders are working together to mount an effective response. Jess Andors and Juan Bonilla from the local CDC, Lawrence Community Works (LCW), take a break from the all-consuming effort to share first-hand perspective. Jess, LCW’s executive director, explains that to understand the gravity of the situation, you have to appreciate how skyrocketing rents in Lawrence led to severe overcrowding before COVID-19 pandemic hit. “Lawrence has a growing population; it’s a magnet for new immigrants. Many Lawrence residents work low-wage jobs and aren’t able to afford the rising rents on their own,” Andors says, and so families begin “doubling and tripling up” with others in apartments. Overcrowding has obvious implications for public health with a disease that spreads quickly in cramped quarters, but it can also make it harder to resolve issues when families get behind on rent. Many vulnerable residents don’t have a direct relationship with their landlord. They aren’t on a lease. Juan, LCW’s deputy director, says the $171 million Governor Baker recently made available to help people remain in their homes is a great resource, but getting the money to the people who need it is challenging. “My concern is the timing of all this,” he tells us. “We are coming on to winter months, we’re in the midst of the school year, and COVID trends are already on the way up. People are going to fall through the cracks,” noting that some residents won’t be able to qualify for rental assistance. And some will move out because “they feel like they have to.” As temperatures drop, this is not the time to kick people on to the street. “We’re creating chaos here,” Juan warns. Fortunately, Lawrence is home to a constellation of nonprofits, businesses, and public officials that know how to join forces and help residents overcome adversity. “I never thought the Columbia Gas disaster would be good for anything,” Jess says, “But it created a community-wide response.”

Oct 22, 2020

Episode 69: How Lynn is revamping its housing strategy 

10/22/20-- With the statewide eviction and foreclosure moratorium meeting its expiration date this week, policymakers and activists alike will spend much of the coming weeks thinking about how to keep housing secure for Massachusetts residents facing financial burdens from the pandemic. While the goal at hand is making sure dwellers can stay in their homes during these rocky times, in some Gateway Cities, there weren't nearly enough low- and moderate-income accessible housing options before the pandemic. This is especially true in Lynn, where a 2016 study commissioned by the city showed just one subsidized unit for every 4.4 low and moderate income households. Jeff Weeden, manager of Lynn Housing and Neighborhood Development (LHAND) told Tracy that the reason behind the imbalance of market-rate and affordable housing began in the early 2000s when there was a push for market-rate development in Gateway City business districts that continued up until the 2008 recession. The economic downturn, Weeden recalled, "showed a problem that affordable housing needed to keep up with that market-rate housing push as well." Even as recently as the last year, however, many Lynn residents and community organizers have found the city's development strategy to be seriously flawed. Isaac Hodes is the director of the volunteer community organization Lynn United For Change. He sees too much emphasis being put on developing luxury buildings that don't cater to the residents currently living in Lynn and instead are built to attract a whiter, wealthier demographic. Hodes mentioned one project in particular, a 10-story tower in the middle of downtown. "There's a lot of fear that beyond the immediate impacts, the indirect impact of that project is going to boost rents in the area and dramatically displace people who already live there.” For decades, planning for the city of Lynn was handled by a patchwork of community organizations, which made it difficult for the city to work toward a cohesive vision. A city of Lynn's size normally employs an official planner. Just this March, the city hired a Principal Planner in Aaron Clausen, who aims to not only increase housing supply in a balanced manner, but open up a dialogue between public agencies and the community. "There’s a deep need to ratchet up the amount of transparency in policy development, public engagement,” Clausen said. The city, in partnership with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), is currently moving forward with a cohesive Housing Production Plan that will, according to its outline, establish strategies to expand and diversify Lynn's housing stock so that it meets current and future needs of Lynners.

Oct 8, 2020

Episode 68: Building Generational Wealth in Gateway Cities 

10/8/20-- New research from MassINC shows Black and Latinx residents increasingly purchasing homes in unstable Gateway City neighborhoods. After the Great Recession, Massachusetts saw the rate of Black and Latino homebuying in Boston fall drastically, while the rate in which Black and Latino residents bought in Gateway Cities increased proportionally. Ben explains in a conversation with Tracy, “Largely the folks left Boston as renters were priced out, and they took advantage of the opportunity to buy when they moved to Gateway Cities.” While increased homebuying is a good thing, “there are concerns about the stability of our Gateway City neighborhoods because many of them never fully recovered from the foreclosures that burned through during the last economic crisis,” Ben says. The recession brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic could put pressure on real estate prices, making it difficult for Gateway City homeowners who are disproportionately Black and Latinx to build wealth that can be passed on to future generations. “If we’re really concerned about structural racism and addressing past inequities, neighborhood stabilization investments are something that we’ve got to be very thoughtful about.” Home ownership is one of the two main paths toward building wealth— the other is business ownership. It’s crucial that Gateway City residents have access to opportunities to own homes and become entrepreneurs if they choose. In Worcester, a couple is brand-new to the experience of business ownership, and are making use of community connections and developing their own creative approaches to running a business during the pandemic. Jason and Hannah Vuong opened up a branch of the Gong Cha boba tea store this September. They are now navigating how best to serve their customers in a traditionally community-based atmosphere. The husband-and-wife team first decided to open up a shop after many drives to Boston to get their favorite brand, Gong Cha, which wasn’t available in their hometown of Worcester. “Worcester technically has been up and coming for the last 10 years, but in the last two years it’s shown the biggest strides in development,” Jason said. They decided to take advantage of the emerging market and bring their favorite bubble tea to their city. “We know so many people like us who do the same thing, who just keep going to Boston every weekend to buy this bubble tea.” Since opening in early September, it’s been “trying” to run the shop in the midst of a pandemic. To ensure safety, Jason and Hannah are enforcing guidelines that prohibit indoor seating. “When we don’t have any customers [inside], it’s a little strange having the café vibe we originally intended,” Jason says. But, Hannah says the general public has been very understanding of their decisions made in the name of safety, and customers are incentivized to patronize the shop with promotional programs. Anh Sawyer, the executive director of the Southeast Asian Coalition of Massachusetts (SEACMA), connected Jason and Hannah to resources to help them open up their store. Every day, Anh works with immigrants and refugees from all over the world living in Central Massachusetts. “A lot of them are low-income, and I think the silver lining of being refugees and immigrants is that, in spite of the sufferings, we spring into action promptly to respond to any sudden crisis.” When the pandemic hit, SEACMA shut their doors and went virtual on March 16. That very day, Anh says, they developed a program creating and administering face masks, a food delivery program, and a communications program. In a week, they produced almost 1,000 cloth masks for nursing homes and health care workers who, at the time, were in desperate need for them. “SEACMA was considered the one who did the heavy lifting for the greater community during the pandemic,” Anh says. “And because of that, I have to marvel at the entrepreneurial spirit of Southeast Asians.”

Sep 23, 2020

Episode 67: Adam Gomez on his historic victory in Springfield 

9/23/20-- The 2020 Massachusetts primary election was unlike any we’d ever seen. Months before, legislators and the Secretary of the Commonwealth scrambled to provide a vote-by-mail system. A pre-election survey conducted by The MassINC Polling Group found that 4 in 10 voters planned to vote via mail. When all was said and done, in many cities and towns, the proportion of mail-in voters was far higher. But, according to MassINC Polling Group research director Rich Parr, utilization of mail-in voting and early voting varied wildly town by town. “If you look at the eleven original Gateway Cities, 52% of [votes] were coming in early, compared to 66% of the other cities and towns. So there’s a pretty big gap there.” This is important because low-income and minority communities tend to have lower turnout, especially in primaries. “People had hoped that by allowing people to vote early or mail in their ballots, you reduce the many barriers that low-income people may disproportionately face," said host Ben Forman. Early voting and vote-by-mail opportunities don’t appear to have changed that. Parr said Springfield, Lawrence, Brockton, New Bedford, Holyoke, and Chicopee were all on the very low end in terms of early voting. The socioeconomic divide persists. “The towns that had a higher percentage of voters that had a Bachelor’s degree or higher, that was the thing that most lined up with how much they were voting early.” -- Turnout imbalances that skew the electorate is just one of the many reasons our state legislature doesn't reflect the diversity of Massachusetts residents. Springfield City Councilor Adam Gomez spoke with Ben about how he was able to overcome this challenge to defeat an incumbent state senator in the democratic primary. Gomez said his constituents wanted to see more of their state Senator, and they wanted issues addressed like health disparities and housing. “On housing and health -- the pandemic happened and showed how economically challenged this district was.” Police accountability and the Black Lives Matter movement was also top-of-mind for many voters, Gomez said. And his focus on those issues may have played a part in his victory against incumbent James Welch. “For a very long time I’ve been a part of the BLM movement, and also police accountability. That also played a factor, knowing that [Welch] voted down the qualified immunity amendment.” The Springfield City Council in June filed a resolution in support of the Senate version of the police bill that included an amendment to limit the qualified immunity that protects police officers from civil lawsuits. Gomez shares his story about being arrested at a young age and his plans to champion criminal justice reform alongside health, housing, and police accountability when he joins the state senate next year.

Sep 9, 2020

Episode 66: Gateways Live! 3 Gateway City Mayors on Coronavirus Crisis Response 

9/9/20--Six months have passed since Governor Baker declared a state of emergency due to the danger of the novel coronavirus. In that time, local leaders have had to react to a number of unprecedented crises—not just in public health, but in unemployment, housing and food insecurity, education, and racial inequality. Data show unequivocally that people of color and Gateway City residents have been hardest hit by the virus and its subsequent burdens on health, housing, education, and overall quality of life. Mayors of these regional cities are on the frontlines, responding to the needs of individuals and navigating a path to economic and social recovery. This week on Gateways, three Gateway City mayors— Mayor Kim Driscoll of Salem, Mayor Dan Rivera of Lawrence, and Mayor Jon Mitchell of New Bedford-- join hosts Ben Forman and Dr. Tracy Corley to share their responses and plans for the future. Mayor Rivera recalls when the magnitude of the coronavirus became clear to him. “Right off the bat, we said, ‘Oh, no. Not something else.’” Crisis response is not entirely new to Rivera and his administration in Lawrence. This week marks the two-year anniversary of the devastating Columbia Gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley. Mayor Driscoll says the first step for her administration was to get a better understanding with what exactly they were dealing with. “We learned a lot, we communicated a lot, we spent a lot of time as colleagues getting expert information that we could then convert into actions at the local level.” Mayor Mitchell says the city of New Bedford had to take the lead dealing with complex issues, such as how you keep a large industrial workforce safe in fish processing facilities. “The state did not have a plan for Southeastern Massachusetts,” he said. “We did it on our own.” Listen as the mayors weigh in on the fallout of the virus on finances, housing, transportation, education, and racial inequity in their cities, and map out their strategies for the future, both near- and long-term.

Aug 26, 2020

Episode 65: Regional ballot initiatives and the promise of local autonomy 

8/26/20-- Currently, a major transportation bond bill sits before a conference committee in the Massachusetts legislature, and in it are provisions for regional ballot initiatives. If passed, RBIs would give voters across the state the ability to raise funds for transportation investments that improve their communities and develop their regional economies. Our two guests today represent the “before” and “after” of RBIs. Mary Waldron is the executive director of the Old Colony Planning Council in Brockton. Waldron would like for regions like southeastern Massachusetts to be able to take advantage of the autonomy RBIs afford to improve their transportation systems. “Particularly in this pandemic, where resources are no longer available… we really have got to be able to do something local that we’re able to control.” The power of RBIs are playing out all over the country, as evidenced in a conversation Dr. Tracy Corley had back in February. Denny Zane, executive director of Move LA, a transportation advocacy organization, saw the potential of RBIs come to life back in 2008 with the passing of Measure R that created a long-term revenue stream for major transportation projects and improvements in Los Angeles County. He tells Tracy, “the logic of a county-based sales tax measure made a lot of sense” to the people living in the county and experiencing the gridlock. “Everybody saw the problem. Everybody knew the problem,” he explains.

Aug 12, 2020

Episode 64: Gateway City parents are building homeschool pods too 

8/12/20-- This week on Gateways, Ben checks in with state Rep. Andy Vargas on the unorthodox end of the legislative session. With the deadline for major policymaking extended from July 31 through the end of the year, Rep. Vargas provides a look back on the session thus far and what’s on the horizon. A police reform bill has not yet been passed, but with the elements currently in conference committees, Vargas is optimistic that it will be resolved soon and is pleased with how it came together. “There’s a commitment from both chambers and the governor to get something done,” he says. Vargas would also like to see an amendment expanding expungement opportunities in the final version of the bill. “If not, we’ll certainly be fighting next session.” One opportunity that Vargas urges school districts not to miss is a federal school nutrition program. The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) provides universal free breakfast and lunch to every student in school districts in low-income areas. Vargas says it’s been a “huge success” in the city of Haverhill where it was implemented. As Ben points out, 97% of Gateway City students attend schools where over 40% of the students are economically disadvantaged. “So basically, every Gateway City student could benefit from this,” Ben says. The deadline to apply for CEP is August 31. --- As school districts across the commonwealth develop and announce reopening plans, parents are grappling with a whole host of anxieties. Some of these stem from what’s been described as a lack of sufficient communication. Two leaders at Massachusetts Parents United, Keri Rodrigues and Natasha Megie-Maddrey, join us to talk about this. Rodrigues, the founder of Massachusetts Parents United and the president of National Parents Union, says that while school districts have held virtual meetings between faculty and parents, “Whether or not they’ve been listening is a horse of a different color.” Some school districts have announced an all-remote start to the school year, which requires a lot of effort on the part of parents, who are turning to fellow community members to form their own systems or “microschools,” wherein families come together, coordinate their schedules, and pool their resources. This form of schooling is getting broader attention now, but “microschools” and “homeschool pods” are nothing new, Rodrigues says. “I know that that’s the fancy way that rich white folks are now calling these things, but this has been what poor Black and brown folks have done forever.” Massachusetts Parents United is encouraging these co-ops by providing $200,000 worth of direct grants to parents and families. In building these community homeschool pods, families are taking the opportunity to customize their childrens’ learning. Grant applications have expressed a desire to adhere to the district’s curriculum but also provide a supplemental Afro-centric curriculum, Latino cultural lessons, Spanish lessons, or music lessons. Others have asked for money to pay for desks or sensory toys, or to hire a special education paraprofessional. The deadline for applications is August 15.

Jul 29, 2020

Episode 63: Urban farms bring fresh, local foods to Gateway Cities 

7/28/20-- Access to fresh, healthy, culturally appropriate foods is not a given for all communities across the Commonwealth. And recently, the COVID-19 crisis has spiked rates of hunger in the state and country. Leaders in urban agriculture are working toward ensuring fresh food is within easy reach for Massachusetts residents, no matter where they live in the state. Rose Arruda runs the Urban Agriculture Program at the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture. Since 2014, the program has provided funding for urban agriculture endeavors that increase access to fresh and affordable foods for urban residents. The program began in 2014 after farming within city limits was made legal but constituents told the state they needed support in getting their growing projects up and running. The massive demand for urban farming became clear when the $200,000 the program offered was met by $2 million worth of requests. Arruda says the demand came largely from Gateway City residents. Lydia Sisson is the co-founder of a Gateway City urban agriculture program in Lowell called Mill City Grows. Sisson has since left the program but remembers arriving in Lowell, wanting a place to grow food, and finding no community garden. Several of her neighbors who were also looking for an option banded together, and in 2012 Mill City Grows was born. The organization creates community gardens, urban farms, educates farmers, and runs a mobile market. Now, Sisson provides food systems consulting for organizations across the state. Liz O’Gilvie is the director of the Springfield Food Policy Council. She works to address the food access inequities that are present between income and race groups in the Pioneer Valley, and says that the food system is what “started” racism in this country. “It wasn’t a geography question around why we don’t have grocery stores or why we don’t have farmer’s markets. The whole construct is rooted in enslavement of Black people and the removal of indigenous people from land, and in some parts of our country, that was prime agricultural land. The conversations O’Gilvie has at the Springfield Food Policy Council revolve around, “growing enough food to supply the stores so that everybody who’s not growing can still buy what they want, when they want it and when it’s in season,” she says. “And we can grow crops that are culturally relevant to all the people who live here. We don’t all want kale.”

Jul 16, 2020

Episode 62: Moving Forward with Mobility: What will the post-COVID future of transportation hold? 

7/14/20--The end of the legislative is near, and this week on Gateways, Tracy and Ben chat about what they would like to see get done. Ben has his eye on the economic development bill that, if passed, would open up opportunities for more affordable housing as well as neighborhood stabilization. Tracy runs through the highlights of the Senate transportation bond bill that will be voted on this week. The bill authorizes significant funding to transform Commuter Rail into a regional rail system through electrification, modernization, and more frequent and reliable service with additional stops and options for Gateway Cities. Two guests stop by to continue the transportation conversation— Jarred Johnson, director of TransitMatters and Brenna Robeson, lead coordinator at Zero Fare WRTA Coalition. Jarred is eager to see the electrification spelled out in the transportation bond bill take place because, as he describes, the communities hardest hit by COVID-19 are those near train lines and highways. He also sees Regional Rail as a boon for economic development in Gateway Cities, with the potential to cement them as go-to places to live and work. Both Brenna and Jarred are advocates for eliminating transit fares. Brenna provides insights on how the Zero Fare WRTA Coalition in Worcester seeks to eliminate fares as a means of boosting ridership, and therefore increasing the city’s livability. The MBTA in response to the pandemic allows for back-door boarding on buses, making rides effectively free. But, Jarred explains about the plan to start charging fares again in late July, “we think that’s entirely the wrong idea. We think that they should be moving towards all-door boarding.” This move, he says, could offer operational savings, reduce crowding, increase frequency and improve safety. Jarred says the $35 million needed to supplement bus fares is, in the grand scheme of things, even considering the pandemic, “not that much,” and describes making local buses free, “a very, very doable endeavor.”

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