r Letter From Eastie: Swanky!
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Collaged view of Boston, from East Boston

Letter From Eastie

News and other items from East Boston, Massachusetts.

Friday, May 13, 2005


East Boston has made it into a major national journal and it doesn't even involve gangs or the security (lack thereof) at Logan. The New Republic recently used the new public housing projects in Eastie as an example of the type of program the Bush administration is trying to cut.
Today, bulldozers are turning Maverick Gardens [Housing Project] into mounds of brick, rubble, and shredded ironwork. Most of the residents have moved across the street to the new Maverick Landing, which offers apartments in a colorful townhouse-style building, individual backyards, plus some spectacular views of the downtown skyline that lies across the harbor. While Maverick Gardens was limited to the poor, Maverick Landing is a mixedincome development, with 20 percent of the units set aside for renters who will pay market rates to the private developer that built the project. The Boston Housing Authority remains nominally in charge, but it leaves day-to-day management to a partnership between the developer and a tenants' association. In 15 years, the association will have the right to buy the buildings from the developer; in the meantime, residents can apply for federal subsidies that would allow them to buy their individual units.

If this sounds like a conservative's idea of what public housing should look like, that's because it is. New Maverick is a product of the Hope VI federal housing program, an initiative whose intellectual lineage traces back, in part, to Jack Kemp, the former Republican vice presidential candidate who was secretary of housing and urban development under President George H.W. Bush. Kemp believed the way to save public housing was to make residents more responsible for their own communities by giving them incentives to take control and offering them a financial stake in the projects' success. And that's exactly what Hope VI does: Rather than having government do the heavy lifting of razing old projects and building new ones, Washington merely puts up seed money. It's up to the tenants of the old projects, working with local housing authorities, to apply for that money. They can't get it until they've lined up a private developer and put together a convincing plan for managing resident services like security or after-school activities. Hope VI flourished under the Clinton administration--which, despite its liberal reputation, was no fan of old-style public housing. And today, its most ardent defenders include Republicans like Senator Kit Bond, who believes the program has done wonders in his home state of Missouri.

But guess which very important Republican doesn't like the program? Bush. His proposed budgets have tried to eliminate the program for two years running. Although Congress hasn't let him do that yet, he has already pushed down funding to a mere quarter of what it was at the height of the Clinton administration's investment.

I'm not sure how many people from Maverick Gardens have moved into the new development, but I wonder if his statement that "most of the residents have moved across the street to the new Maverick Landing" may perhaps be an overstatement. The building of this project has been over several years so lots of people have had to move out of sections of Maverick Gardens long before the new buildings were ever built. Former residents of Maverick Gardens have first priority for housing at Maverick Landings, but I wonder how many of the original MG tenants have returned. I know one thing. I can't afford the market rate units.

Related story: Maverick Gardens


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