Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Boston City Council Looks At Affordable Housing, Reprecincting, Sex Offenders & More

City Council President Michelle Wu publishes notes from Boston City Council meetings. The Boston City Council considered the following items during their Feb 15, 2017 meeting:

Reprecincting: Councilor Linehan & I filed a home rule petition to add additional polling locations in the six largest precincts in Boston. The recommendations came out of a public hearing with the Elections Department and community members, pointing out that these largest precincts create significant voter access challenges. In the decades since Boston last made major adjustments to equalize precinct sizes, the city's population has shifted such that today our biggest precinct (Ward 3, Precinct 8 in Chinatown) has over 6,000 registered voters, while the smallest (Ward 8, Precinct 6 near South Bay) has just under 500 voters. That means very long lines at certain polling locations and difficulty with voter access. View my detailed summary of the reprecincting hearing, This home rule petition would allow the City to subdivide these largest precincts in time for the upcoming municipal elections, without changing political district lines or ward lines. We are proposing to subdivide the 6 largest precincts—which are much larger than the rest—to reduce voter wait times and increase access to polling locations:
  • Ward 3, Precinct 6: Downtown
  • Ward 3, Precinct 7: South End
  • Ward 3, Precinct 8: Chinatown
  • Ward 5, Precinct 1: Bay Village, Chinatown
  • Ward 6, Precinct 1: Seaport, Fort Point, South Boston
  • Ward 9, Precinct 3: South End/Lower Roxbury
The changes would need to be approved by the City Council and state legislature by June at the latest to implement in time for the September 2017 Preliminary election. If passed, the home rule petition would allow for voter registration locations to be changed in the statewide system. The matter was sent to the Government Operations Committee for a hearing.

Sex Offender Registration: Councilor Flaherty filed a hearing order to discuss policies and procedures for the registration and tracking of sex offenders in Boston. Currently, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts operates the Sex Offender Registry Board (“SORB”) to protect residents and prevent further victimization. Offenders who have a residential address must register every year with their local police department, and homeless offenders are required to register every 30 days. According to recent statistics, at least 200 sex offenders with a last known address in Boston are in violation of not updating their registration with the Boston Police Department. Additionally, a total of at least 150 offenders have listed shelters or public spaces as their last known address, raising public safety concerns. Councilor Flaherty noted two loopholes in the current system: 1) sex offenders who are homeless may be registering without a verifiable address (South Station, Franklin Park, etc.) and 2) offenders who do not want to reveal their own address may be listing a neighbor’s address or another community member’s address. The matter was sent to the Public Safety & Criminal Justice Committee for a hearing.  

Affordable Housing: Councilor Essaibi-George filed a hearing order to determine strategies for streamlining the process to apply for affordable housing. According to the Boston 2030 Housing Plan 3rd Quarter Report of 2016, there are currently 18,786 affordable housing units permitted or completed and 21,270 units of affordable housing in the City’s development pipeline. Additionally, the City is at 108% of the Boston 2030 target pace needed to create 1,500 new units for extremely low income households. Councilor Essaibi-George applauded this rapid increase in affordable housing units, but emphasized the need to ensure the affordable housing application process is easy for all residents to access and navigate. Councilors Jackson and Campbell spoke about the importance of adjusting the current application process so that it also becomes less daunting for small developers to provide affordable housing units. The matter was sent to the Housing & Community Development Committee for a hearing.

Investing in Mental Health Supports: Councilors Pressley & Essaibi-George reported back on yesterday’s hearing to explore additional investments in mental health resources for city departments. Councilor Essaibi-George highlighted the need for additional clinicians and social workers to accompany Boston Police in ridealongs, ensuring mental health patients receive proper support during encounters with police. Currently, there are two clinicians funded by Boston Medical Center’s BEST program to accompany police officers, and there are eight social workers (five at district stations and one each assigned to the school police, gang unit and domestic violence unit). The matter remains in the Homelessness, Mental Health & Recovery Committee.

Audit Committee Reporting: The Council received a filing from Chairman DiCara of the Audit Committee with an annual report of their meetings held with the City’s independent auditor, KPMG LLP, and the City Auditor. In 2016, four meetings were held to discuss various aspects of the City’s audit. You can read more in the report.

*Please note that next Wednesday February 22nd, there is no Council meeting due to the Presidents Day holiday. The following week’s meeting on Wednesday March 1st has been rescheduled from the regular 12:00PM start time to a 2:00PM start time in order to accommodate the Boston Municipal Research luncheon featuring Mayor Walsh’s major policy speech, an event that the entire City Council traditionally attends.

Upcoming Hearings/Working Sessions (Watch at
  • Thursday, 2/16 at 10:00AM, Surcharge to Finance the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (Government Operations)
  • Thursday, 2/16 at 11:00AM, Affordable Housing in East Boston/South End (Government Operations)
  • Thursday, 2/16 at 12:00PM, Composition of the Boston Arts Commission (Government Operations)
  • Monday, 2/27 at 10:00AM, Barr Foundation Grant (Environment & Sustainability)
  • Monday, 2/27 at 1:00PM, Boston Garden Economic Development (Planning & Development)
  • Monday, 2/27 at 6:00PM, Policy Briefing: Childcare for Homeless Families (Healthy Women, Families & Communities) [Offsite at Horizons for Homeless Children]
Suggestions for Civic Engagement: In response to many, many recent questions on how to get involved and make a difference in policy-making and community engagement, I'm working on putting together a guide with suggestions and concrete steps that people could take to have an impact. Please send along any groups, programs, or ideas that I could include and highlight! / 617.652.0136 / 

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