r Letter From Eastie: December 2005
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Collaged view of Boston, from East Boston

Letter From Eastie

News and other items from East Boston, Massachusetts.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Save the Brattle.

The Brattle Theater needs to raise $400,000 by the end of the year to stay open. Please think about making a donation. I know someone out there must be looking for a tax write off at this time of year. There are not enough places like this left that show quality films and it would be such a shame to lose this great istitution. You can find out more about the fundraising campaign and make a donation at: http://www.brattlefilm.org/.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Blah, blah, blah, blah. . .

Sometimes I write these posts and I think I'm being clear about my points, but then I read my comments and think maybe I'm not speaking English too well. Or maybe my posts just become like the teacher in Charlie Brown cartoons: "wa wa wa wa wa. . .wa wa wah." Anyway, I am now forced to respond to another comment by FirstEvil here. Now just to be clear, just because I'm calling you out "First," it's nothing personal. I'm just using your comments as a jumping off point to talk about issues that I'm already thinking about and I will sometimes be addressing issues that go beyond what you or any other commenter/blogger/news reporter has to say.

First of all, I'm not against beautification of East Boston and I'm not sure what, in any of my posts could ever give you that impression. My point in this and my previous post was a) Starbucks does not necessarily = beautification, nor does it or the presence of yuppies equal lack of crime--if anything there could conceivably be an increase in crime since yuppies actually have something good to steal; and b) the goal in beautifying and improving East Boston should not be to make it into the new South End or the new North End or "EaBo." It should be to make it a better East Boston.

Second of all, I think that your implication that I am not being "adult" by renting my apartment rather than buying a home is really just kind of low. You were able to get your home in the $150,000 range, if I understand your comment correctly. If I could still get a home in that range, I would be thrilled to own one right now. Could you have bought your home for $300k or $400k at the time that you paid $150k? Maybe you could have and, if so, good for you. Unfortunately, I don't have the option of paying $150k for a home if I want to live anywhere near the city of Boston. Exactly how adult of a decison would it be to pay $300,000 (or more) for a one bedroom condo--not even house? How much value could I possibly hope to gain on that deal given that current sellers in Massachusetts are already having to chop their prices to get them sold in a slow market? East Boston is one of the few places in Boston that is marginally affordable. Boston is a town in desparate need of affordable housing. When I talk about my rent going up, I'm just personalizing a larger problem. The truth is, being a professional and having a decent job, I can take a bit of a hit on rent. I could always live with roommates, etc if I had to and you are lucky if you can take the hit in property tax, but not everyone is so lucky. If I had a kid to take care of and my rent went up right now, I'd probably end up homeless. Rising rents need to be taken seriously, they are a major social justice issue--especially given the recent budget cuts passed by the federal govenment. The National Low Income Housing coalition recently reported Boston to be the 4th most expensive market in the United States for housing. In their 2005 report "Out of Reach" they reported that in Massachusetts:
. . .the Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,138. In order to afford this level of rent and utilities, without paying more than 30% of income on housing, a household must earn $3,792 monthly or $45,502 annually. Assuming a 40-hour work week, 52 weeks per year, this level of income translates into a Housing Wage of $21.88. In Massachusetts, a minimum wage worker earns an hourly wage of $6.75. In order to afford the FMR for a two-bedroom apartment, a minimum wage earner must work 130 hours per week, 52 weeks per year. Or, a household must include 3.2 minimum wage earner(s) working 40 hours per week year-round in order to make the two bedroom FMR affordable. In Massachusetts, the estimated mean (average) wage for a renter is $15.33 an hour. In order to afford the FMR for a two-bedroom apartment at this wage, a renter must work 57 hours per week, 52 weeks per year. Or, working 40 hours per week year-round, a household must include 1.4 worker(s) earning the mean renter wage in order to make the two-bedroom FMR affordable.

Monthly Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments for an individual are $708 in Massachusetts. If SSI represents an individual's sole source of income, $212 in monthly rent is affordable, while the FMR for a one-bedroom is $953.

In Massachusetts, a worker earning the Minimum Wage ($6.75 per hour) must work N/A hours per week in order to afford a two-bedroom unit at the area's Fair Market rent. The Housing Wage in Massachusetts is $21.88. This is the amount a full time (40 hours per week) worker must earn per hour in order to afford a two-bedroom unit at the area's Fair Market rent.

A unit is considered affordable if it costs no more than 30% of the renter's income.
And this isn't just a problem for the poor, minimum wage earner. A whole lot of the the "middle class" are being priced out of the markets all over the country.

Third of all, my point about the crime statistics was to point out that although East Boston has a reputation for being a gang, infested war zone, it is really no worse (if not better) than other more "upscale" Boston neighborhoods. If you took a minute to think about it, you would realize that making this kind of comparison may actually attract the urban, professional types you claim to want to bring to East Boston. Do you think pointing out to them that they are paying $600,000 to live in a "slum," as you call it, is the way to attract the element you desire? By the way, anyone who thinks that East Boston is a slum, clearly has never seen an actual slum.

Monday, December 19, 2005

In which I discuss Yuppies and Starbucks yet again.

I think I should get a commission from Starbucks, because I surely mention their name as often as any advertising campaign. FirstEvil left the following comment in response to my previous post here:
Eastie is NOT hip. There is NO scene. What there is is a proliferation of gang violence and graffiti, like what happened to some buildings in my area over last weekend. MS-13 gangs are running rampant and Eastie needs to clean up it's act! The police have to take notice and start doing something. If developers want to come in and sterilize the place then I'm all for it! Send the bad element away. I've had it with the gangs and the trash and the illegal businesses sprouting up! (oh yes, it happens) Eastie is a slum and that does not translate to hip or cool. It just means SLUM. I can't wait for the yuppies and Starbucks. I wish they got here yesterday!
I basically have one question for FirstEvil and others like him/her. If this is what you really feel about East Boston, then why the hell do you live here? Maybe you don't have any other options at this time and I'm truly sorry about that, but some of the people I hear whining about the lack of "scene" in Eastie have only recently purchased property here. Come on people. Did you really shell out $300,000 plus for a piece of property and do absolutely no research about the place where you were buying this property. I have never said that East Boston is perfect. It has issues. I also have no problem with yuppies and/or Starbuck per se, except for that fact that their arrival may mean an imminent increase in my rent. Where my beef begins, is with people who come into this place from outside and have no inclination or desire to learn anything about the community that already exists here except to try and push it out. The people who live here now are real people. They go to work every day, they own property, they own business, they have kids in school that they worry about. Who are you to wish these people priced out of the neighborhood that they helped to improve? I've said this before on this blog, but I was in East Boston in the late 80s and early 90s. If you think Eastie is a dump now, you should have been here when all the shops were boarded up and the business that were left here were going bankrupt. Three family houses were selling for $175, 000 and nobody wanted to live here. If you find a 3-decker for less than $400,000 now, let me know because I may want to buy it. Have you been up on Eagle Hill lately? There are parts of it that look like San Francisco, with the old Victorian houses painted up in bright colors. Retail space, if I have to guess, is probably at about 98% occupancy. When I was growing up the school yards and the parks in East Boston were a sea of broken glass and useless playground equipment (if there even was any playground equipment). East Boston now actually has parks that you might let your children play in, not to mention a brand new YMCA.

We all want the bad things like the gangs and the drugs and the crime to go away, but if you can find one area of Boston that has absolutely no gang, drug, or crime activity, I would be glad to know where it is. The bottom line is that there are things about this community that I don't want changed. I love that I can actually afford to live here for one thing. I love that people still sit on their front stoops and talk to their neighbors here. They may not necessarily be speaking in English, but that doesn't make for any less of a community. I love that I can get a meal here in a restaurant for $3.50 (2 cheese pupusas) that doesn't have golden arches. I like that on a Saturday you can see people out and about doing their shopping right here in the community, rather than driving out to the mall.

As to the East Boston Police, I think that they are extremely aware of the problem of gangs that exists in East Boston an are doing their best to solve the problem. I find that the officers from Station 7 always respond to problems unbelievably quickly when they are called. I'm not exactly an expert on crime statistics by any stretch of the imagination, but the City of Boston does post those statistics on their web site. Check out the most recent report from July 2005. (You'll need Adobe Acrobat to do it.) Please correct me if I'm reading this wrong, but you'll notice that year to date reported crimes for East Boston is roughly equivalent to Jamaica Plain (JP's is actually greater) and I don't think that you would find anyone who would describe JP as a hotbed of crime. Also notice that the year to date change for East Boston is -2% and -9% overall for the city of Boston. I'm not sure why Eastie has such a reputation for crime. I guess it's all about perception.

At this point, development and the gentrification that goes along with it is a reality. All I'm saying is that people need to consider what gentrification means for the people who already have a life here in East Boston. The South End has become what it is now, for better or worse, because of it's unique history. East Boston will also, hopefully, become something unique and wonderful, because of it's own history and not a carbon copy of any other neighborhood.

Friday, December 09, 2005


From the Washington Post:

Spanish at School Translates to Suspention


I'm promoting this from the comments. Jack concurs with my assessment of the principal in this case. She has expressed her outrage far more eloquently than I, however. Here is her comment. Please check out her blog on this subject:
That's funny - I wrote about this in my blog today, and used that exact word (pendeja) for this principal. I went to technorati to see if it had updated and searched for "pendeja" to find my entry and found yours instead.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Attention condo buyers! Eastie is not the South End.

I keep reading comments on other blogs and news articles about East Boston, which keep harping on this idea of East Boston becoming the next South End or North End. Listen people, East Boston is nothing like the South End and frankly, I don't think it ever will be, despite the real estate hype. Personally, I think that is a good thing. I like my neighborhood neighborly. I like living with other real people and not having tourists trapsing all over my town, but what do I know. The bottom line is that from the day the East Boston Company layed out the plots that would become East Boston way back in 1833, there have been visions of Eastie becoming the playground of the rich. A place where the well to-do would build their summer homes. And right from the beginning, the working class moved in instead. My question is, why on earth does anyone want Eastie to be the South End, or the North End, or Somerville for that matter? Why does everything have to be the cookie-cutter image of everything else. The truth is that the "dive bars" and "ghetto stores," and taco places that line the streets of Eastie make up a scene. It just doesn't happen to be your scene. Instead of trying to force that scene out to create some bourgeois, idea of hip, why not come to Eastie with the idea of creating something new. Why can't Eastie be a place where you can get a latte and a pupusa?
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