Improving Issues Congresswoman Pressley Visits Chelsea To Talk about Transportation Equity

At a packed house in the GreenRoots office Tuesday night, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley said she would use her legislative power to help improve issues of transportation inequity for her constituents.

The Chelsea Transit Equity Roundtable was one of a series of meetings Pressley is holding throughout the 7th Congressional District to gather input about the issues affecting the region, she said.

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley was on hand at GreenRoots Tuesday night to discuss Transit Equity in Chelsea and throughout the district.

While the evening focused on issues surrounding public transportation and pedestrian and bicycling access, the Congresswoman did also touch on her thanks for local support from Chelsea, her first 100 days in office, and her gratitude for the activism of GreenRoots and other local organizations.

“I appreciate that when I come to Chelsea, they always put me to work,” said Pressley. “I think GreenRoots is at the center of community building. GreenRoots is such an inclusive movement.”

Pressley said the idea behind the equity roundtables for transportation and other issues is to create an intimate space to actively listen to residents about their needs and concerns.

“Developing the best and most sustainable legislative solutions is what we are after,” said Pressley. “Inequities and disparity did not just happen, they were made by policy, and that’s why the mitigation has to be through lawmaking.”

Some of the highlights of the roundtable included discussions of transit challenges for the disabled, for cyclists, and for young people.

Disability rights activist Colleen Flanagan pointed out that Boston and the surrounding area have taken steps to make transportation more accessible to disabled people, but that there is still a long way to go. She said price increases and attacks on non-emergency medical transportation are having a negative impact on disabled public transportation users.

“We need to continue to show that access to transportation is a civil right,” said Flanagan.

Pressley also talked about the public transportation issues facing young people, especially low income youth who rely on MBTA buses and the subway.

One youth leader Pressley spoke with said she feels like she is punished because she is a low-income person who has no other options for transportation.

Cycling educator and activist Gamal Smith made his way to the Chelsea roundtable from Chelsea on two wheels.

“It’s faster and more reliable to be on two wheels for almost any distance” in the Boston area, Smith said.

But while cycling can be faster than other modes of transportation, Smith said there are still many challenges for cyclists, including safety, with a multitude of roads that have no safe crossings for cyclists or pedestrians.

Smith said the speed of getting around on two wheels also highlights the at-times substandard service of buses and other public transportation options. He said his son takes the MBTA bus to school, and it can wreak havoc on keeping track of schedules.

“I shouldn’t have to wonder if it’s going to take my kid a half-hour or an hour when he comes home on the bus,” said Smith. Pressley encouraged anyone who wants to continue the discussion on transit equity, or equity on other issues, to use the hashtag #APequityagenda on social media.

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Boulder Rededication Ceremony

Boulder Rededication Ceremony

Vietnam veterans unveiling the boulder and a plaque during the Vietnam Veterans boulder rededication ceremony. The boulder has been moved from Malone Park to a new location between the Williams House and Vinnie’s Place due to construction on the campus. During the ceremony, Vietnam veteran Larry Clarke salutes as the names of those from Chelsea who died in Vietnam were read aloud.

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Night Shift to Add Coffee Roasting to Chelsea Headquarters

Night Shift to Add Coffee Roasting to Chelsea Headquarters

Luke Miller, Rose Woodard and Nicole Calderone at Night Shift’s new coffee bar at their brand new Lovejoy Wharf brewery and scratch kitchen in Boston. The popular beer brewer has expanded into the coffee business and will soon begin roasting their coffee beans in Chelsea.

Night Shift Brewery announced this week that it is venturing beyond beer and into the coffee market – and they plan to roast their coffee in Chelsea.

Co-Founder Michael Oxton said the company will have equipment installed at their Chelsea corporate headquarters to begin roasting coffee beans for the new operation.

The announcement came on the eve of the opening of Night Shift’s new Lovejoy Wharf location in Boston, which serves as the stepping off point for new venture into coffee and coffee roasting.

“We added coffee now and will be roasting our own beans very soon in Chelsea with our own roasting equipment,” he said. “We’re trying to get it up and running and we expect that very soon. Right now we are contract roasting it with a company in Rhode Island, but we’ll be doing it ourselves very soon.”

Like having a discriminating palate for beers, Oxton said he and his colleagues at Night Shift also have a taste for good coffee. They had always wanted to try making their own, and with the new venture, they thought now would be the time.

He said it’s something they will grow slowly, introducing it in Boston and seeing how the public perceives it.

However, the plans are to eventually introduce it at the original Everett taproom as well.

“We’ll be starting it off at Lovejoy, but we’ll be looking to add a coffee bar in Everett too,” he said. “That’s the goal.”

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Boston to Install Dedicated Bus Lane on North Washington Street, Helps 111 Riders

Boston to Install Dedicated Bus Lane on North Washington Street, Helps 111 Riders

In a move that could dramatically reduce the commute times for Chelsea 111 bus riders, the City of Boston announced they are planning on installing a dedicated bus lane on North Washington Street from Causeway to Haymarket – a key clogging point for riders heading into Haymarket from Chelsea.

It would be a move that would accommodate the 111 bus routes and two Charlestown bus routes, and Boston officials said the new lane could reduce travel times by as much as 25 percent.

“We are planning on building an exclusive bus lane on North Washington Street from the intersection at Causeway Street after the bridge to Haymarket,” said Vineet Gupta, director of planning at the Boston Transportation Department (BTD). “It would be a dedicated bus lane 24/7 on the inbound side. Right now, we’re working with the MBTA to install that bus lane.”

BTD Director Gina Fiandaca said they have been working closely with Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and the MBTA on the North Washington Street bus lane, and hope that they can get it done as early in 2019 as possible. She said that stretch of the bus route is often the most congested, and riders often find themselves waiting longer on the bus for the last leg than it would take them to walk.

“This inbound bus lane will have the opportunity to move along at a quicker pace than the rest of the traffic,” she said. “Another good part of this is in the future when the North Washington Street Bridge is completed, it will have a bus lane as well. That will provide a connection with this new lane to have one unbroken exclusive bus lane from Charlestown when the Bridge is done.”

In order to accomplish the new lane, the City will have to remove some metered parking spaces and a commercial parking space, but a large chunk of the stretch is a large bus stop and ‘no parking’ zones.

Gupta said they have no clear data yet on the time it could save commuters going inbound – though they will begin keeping that data very soon. However, in Roslindale where they installed a bus lane last year, commutes were shortened by 25 percent. The same data also presented itself in Everett two years ago when they put a dedicated bus lane on Broadway Everett.

The announcement was one of several made by Boston Mayor Walsh at the Greater Boston Municipal Research Bureau meeting on March 7. The North Washington Street bus lane would be the first one in effect 24 hours a day in Boston.

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Chelsea’s Real Estate Resurgence Continues Bowen, Castillo Set to Unveil Parker Place Condos

Chelsea’s Real Estate  Resurgence Continues Bowen, Castillo Set to Unveil Parker Place Condos

Chelsea real estate agent Jeffrey Bowen said all the hard work by city officials over the past 20 years is paying off.

“Chelsea is booming,” says Bowen. “City Managers Jay Ash and Tom Ambroino, the city councilors, and the community have brought it back to where we are now. Chelsea is the No. 1 gateway city in America with the lowest price-per-foot next to a major metropolitan city (Boston).”

Bowen knows much the city’s resurgence and the booming real estate scene. He is currently marketing his third major project, Parker Place, 12 new luxury condominiums at the corner of Parker Street and Spencer Avenue. The developer for the three projects has been Jason Roback of Roback Real Estate.

“Jason prides himself in bringing value and quality to the future residents of Chelsea,” credited Bowen.

Bowen and his partner, Sandra Castillo, of ERA Russell Realty Group, will host an open house each Saturday and Sunday (12-2 p.m.) at Parker Place, which is already drawing significant interest among prospective buyers.

Bowen’s previous successes span the city, notably the Beacon Condominiums (81 Broadway) and the Thomas Martin Lofts (204 Spencer Ave.)

Parker Place, located at 87 Parker St, is a seven-story building featuring 12 units: 11 two-bed, two-bath, one two-bed, one-bath. Five of the units have garage parking, seven have outdoor spots. Out of the 11 two-bed, two-bath units, one is an affordable unit for medium-income residents (price to be determined by the City of Chelsea).

According to Bowen and Castillo, the prices at Parker Place range from $449,000 to $539,000.

“Each condo has air-conditioning, maple hardwood flooring, custom kitchens, and stainless-steel appliances,” said Bowen. “This in an elevator building. Four of the units have roof decks. Eight of the units have balconies.”

Bowen said the area has become one of the hottest in the greater Boston real estate market.

“You have the DaVinci Lofts (960 Broadway), the Industrie Lofts (950 Broadway), the Spencer Lofts (60 Dudley St.), the Keen Lofts (220 Spencer Ave.), and the Thomas Martin Lofts (204 Spencer Ave.),’ said Bowen.

And the boon is continuing, with the Chelsea Zoning Board’s approval Tuesday night of the Forbes Development that will consist of 590 units.

A good time to buy

There is no time like the present to invest in Chelsea, according to Bowen.

“Condominium prices are 25-50 percent higher a mile or two away in East Boston and Charlestown,” said Bowen. “Downtown Boston and the Seaport District (South Boston) is double and triple. Chelsea is still very affordable. It’s a good time to buy. You get more bang for your buck. There is room to grow here.”

Other advantages for buyers are access to Route 1, the Silver Line, five bus routes, and a commuter rail. Five new hotels in Chelsea also underline the fact that the city is flourishing. The new Encore Casino opens in Everett in June.

Bowen takes personal pride in Chelsea’s resurgence. A resident of the city, he was featured in a recent segment on Channel 5’s “Chronicle,” showcasing all the good things that are happening here.

“Sandra and I are our team and we work well together helping people find the residence of their dreams,” said Bowen, who has been No. 1 in the luxury condominium segment of real estate in Chelsea. “I have a relationship with a lender that has a program with rates as low as 3.69 percent on a 30-year fixed mortgage that also includes $7,000-lender-paid closing costs (for qualified buyers).”

Said Castillo, “Whenever we go in to a building, we actually get the highest price for the seller. We also get calls from previous buyers and we’ve been able to double their investment. Our condos don’t last very long on the market because they are such a great value and they have everything people are looking for.”

(For more information about Parker Place Condominums, please email info@chelsearealestate.com).

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CAPIC’s Fuel Assistance Program Provides a Vital Service to Residents

CAPIC’s Fuel Assistance Program  Provides a Vital Service to Residents

Under the leadership of Executive Director Robert Reppucci, Community Action Programs Inter City (CAPIC) has been a national model in addressing the needs of low-income families in Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop.

CAPIC’s fuel assistance program has been one of its most utilized services, aiding more than 2,700 residents in the three communities.

Since his appointment last July as energy director, Giancarlo DeSario has overseen the program that is in its sixth decade of existence. The recent addition of well-known Chelsea community leader Henry Wilson as an outreach coordinator has also helped expande the program and bring recognition to the valuable services CAPIC provides in many areas.

DeSario explained the process by which residents can apply for fuel assistance.

“If someone finds themselves in need – whether they’re a tenant, homeowner, family or single person – they should call the CAPIC fuel assistance line to set up an appointment,” said DeSario. “We would conduct an interview with the individual and review all their paperwork. We’ll let them know if we need additional information and then we’ll process their application in about 30-45 days.”

Candidates for fuel assistance must meet some income guidelines.

“In order to qualify for fuel assistance, you need to be at 60 per cent of the state median income, which for a single person would be $35,510; for a family of four people, it would be $68,280,” said DeSario.

CAPIC’s program covers heating expenses between the months of November and April.

According to DeSario, the fuel assistance program is funded through federal and state grants. CAPIC is currently waiting for a supplemental budget to be approved by the state.

“What we’re looking for is $30 million extra dollars in funding to help out with this heating season, but we’re looking closer to receiving $11 million,” said DeSario. He indicated that CAPIC has been working with Chelsea’s state legislators to secure additional funding.

DeSario has made a point during his tenure to “get out in the field” and meet individual clients. He has earned praise for his accessibility.

“I’m always available – I hand out my direct extension to clients all the time,” said DeSario. “I find it’s really important that if you’re going to serve clients correctly, you have to be in touch with them and understand their needs.”

DeSario has local roots

Giancarlo DeSario grew up in Maine, but he has always had local connections. “I’ve been coming to East Boston since I was a child. My mother (Yolanda DeSario) moved here from Italy when she was 10 years old. And my grandmother (Maria Caserta) has been living in East Boston for 50 years.”

DeSario attended high school in Maine and graduated from Roger Williams University where he studied Business and Legal Studies.

He began his career in woodworking and was promoted to the position of project manager, working with clients in Manhattan and Long Island, New York.

From there, DeSario entered the solar industry as a district site surveyor and rose through the company to become operations manager, overseeing several projects throughout the New England region.

DeSario came to CAPIC last July. “I saw a position was open and I applied for it. I was ready to go back to my old job when I got a call from Executive Director Robert Repucci, requesting that I come in for an interview.”

Like the entire staff at CAPIC and residents throughout the area, DeSario has come to appreciate Repucci’s exceptional leadership of the agency. Repucci arrived at CAPIC in 1972 and has been of Chelsea’s most influential and revered leaders.

“Mr. Repucci is an outstanding leader of CAPIC and in the community as a whole,” said DeSario. “He really pushes you to be a better person. He’s inspiring. He wants you to put people ahead of yourself, and you can tell, because he does that. He leads by example and I respect that about him.”

DeSario has also been impressed by the dedicated and knowledgeable staff at CAPIC.

“I was fortunate to come in to an agency where we have some really key players who know the programs in and out,” said DeSario. “The transition in to this industry was tough, because you don’t know it – but I was lucky to have a very good support group here to help out. They really care about the programs succeeding.”

DeSario said he finds his job rewarding and he appreciates the kind words from clients.

“There is nothing better than when we get a letter (of gratitude) or a phone call from a client who had no heat and we were able to restore a heating system that went out overnight, replace a heating system with a new one, or weatherize someone’s home,” said DeSario.

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Chelsea Collaborative Creating Pathways to Rewarding Encore Boston Harbor Careers

Chelsea Collaborative Creating Pathways  to Rewarding Encore Boston Harbor Careers

Chelsea Collaborative staff members are busy helping residents prepare for rewarding career opportunities at Encore Boston Harbor, slated to open in Everett this June. Encore Boston Harbor, the first five-star urban gaming resort in the U.S, plans to hire over 5,000 workers for a range of rewarding hospitality careers. For more information, visit encorebostonjobs.com.

More than 175 career-seekers participated in workshops in recent weeks alone on resume writing and how to create a Skillsmart profile. Skillsmart is a portal that helps match peoples’ interests with positions at Encore Boston Harbor. “We are proud to create pathways to better paying positions, so our residents can achieve better economic mobility, and don’t have to work two jobs just to make ends meet for them and their families,” said Sylvia Ramirez, Workforce Development Manager at Chelsea Collaborative.

Chelsea Collaborative is part of Encore Boston Harbor’s community action network. Encore Boston Harbor is committing $10 million over the next four years to support a wide range of social programs and civic institutions that will help those in need and improve the lives of residents in local communities.

Chelsea Collaborative is leading the Chelsea 500 coalition, which mission is to engage the City, businesses, and local non-profits to create a workforce pipeline so that 500+ residents can gain the skills and support necessary to apply for positions at Encore Boston Harbor. While Chelsea 500 capitalizes on the casino opening, its longer- term ambition is to build local workforce development capacity to improve Chelsea residents’ odds of securing employment in the near term, and to work with industry leaders to help diversify the employment options. Members of the coalition include City of Chelsea, Chelsea Collaborative, TND/Connect, Chelsea Housing Authority, Chelsea Recreation and Cultural Affairs Division, Bunker Hill Community College, Casino Action Network.

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Proposed ‘T’ Hikes Meet with Outcry from Commuters, Elected Officials

Proposed ‘T’ Hikes Meet with Outcry from Commuters, Elected Officials

A roomful of commuters and elected officials roundly rejected proposed MBTA fare hikes during a public meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 27, at the State Transportation Building in Boston.

Steve Poftak, general manager of the MBTA, outlined the increases, which would go into effect July 1 and raise fares an average of 6.3 percent system-wide.

Under the proposal, the cost of a local bus Charlie Card would increase to $1.80 from $1.70 while a subway Charlie Card would rise to $2.40 from the current $2.25. The monthly LinkPass, which provides unlimited bus and subway travel for one customer, would jump to $90 from $84.50, and a seven-day LinkPass would rise to $22.50 from $21.25.

The proposed fare increase would bring in $32 million in additional revenue to help recoup losses against the budget shortfall of $111 million projected for the next fiscal year.

The last hike came in July of 2016, which raised fares an average of 9.3 percent across the system, but since that time, the Legislature has passed a law limiting fare hikes to a maximum of 7 percent every two years.

After Poftak’s opening remarks, City Councilor Michelle Wu presented T officials with a petition she circulated calling for unlimited year-round passes for seniors and children, as well as a lower fare for the city’s poorest residents, which had already garnered 2,700 signatures by the time the meeting commenced.

“This moment in history demands aggressive action against the threats of income inequality and climate change,” Wu said. “Sustainable, affordable, reliable public transit is fundamental to providing Boston residents with the greatest access to jobs, schools, and opportunities beyond their home neighborhoods.”

State Rep. Adrian Madaro, who represents East Boston, read from a letter on behalf of the Boston Legislative Delegation urging the MBTA board of directors to hold off on fare hikes at this time.

“Public transportation is a vital resource for residents of Boston, and especially for low-income individuals, seniors and students who rely on MBTA service as their primary means of transportation,” the letter read in part. “We realize fares bring needed revenue to the operations of our public transportation system, but understanding how higher fares affect these vulnerable populations is essential to striking the right balance between funding and public accessibility to transportation services. We believe that there needs to be a more in-depth discussion with the MBTA about the background and reasoning for this proposal prior to the imposition of any fare increase.”

James White, chairman of MBTA Accessibility Advisory Committee for the past 18 years, advised against raising fare until after planned improvements are made to the Red and Orange lines, including the replacement of both fleets by 2023.

In response to the MBTA’s own projection that a fare hike would amount to a 1.3-percent loss in ridership, State Rep. Andy Vargas, who represents Haverhill, said, “At a time when we have increased ridership on the T, we should be doing everything we can to encourage that.”

State Rep. Tommy Vitolo, who represents Brookline, took to the podium with a can of Arizona Iced Tea in hand.

“It costs 99 cents, says it right on the can,” he said. “It has cost 99 cents for 18 years. What the good people of Arizona Iced Tea figured out is if you don’t improve the quality of the tea, you don’t raise the prices,” Vitolo said before drinking from the can as the audience applauded him.

The fare increase would put an even bigger burden on commuters living outside the city as illustrated by statements from Egan Millard, a 27-year-old Weymouth resident who works in Cambridge and currently pays $217.75 for his monthly commuter rail and subway pass.

“I, and I’m sure most T riders, already feel we’re paying too much for such abysmal service,” Millard said “Commuter rail service is so infrequent I have to plan my entire day and sometimes week around it. I have lost, at this point, days of my life on the T that I can’t get back.”

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Student Exodus – Young People, Families Leaving for the North Shore Due to Higher Rent

Student Exodus – Young People, Families Leaving for  the North Shore Due to Higher Rent

Supt. Mary Bourque said that for the first time in decades, more students are leaving the Chelsea Public Schools (CPS) than are coming in – an exodus of students that seems to be heading mostly to Lynn.

“We’ve always had more students coming in from certain communities than students leaving Chelsea for those communities,” said Bourque this week. “Since July, we’re seeing the inverse. We have more going out to the four communities of Lynn, Revere, Everett and Boston…A few years ago, we were seeing an influx of students from outside of the country. We’re seeing the reverse. We’re not seeing that influx from out of the country, and we’re actually seeing the exodus of our families more to the North Shore communities. The movement is more to the North Shore. I think it’s linked to housing and affordability.”

According to CPS data, from July 1, 2019 through February 14 – 257 Chelsea students left for other communities in Massachusetts. Of the 257, the largest pattern saw 29 going to Boston; 35 going to Everett; 44 going to Lynn; and 34 going to Revere. Those are places that, historically, Bourque said usually leak more students to Chelsea than Chelsea loses to them. That trend has changed now.

The root cause could come for multiple reasons, but Bourque said she firmly believes it all comes down to the drastic rise in rents and housing costs in Chelsea.

“I do believe it’s the rising rental properties around the community,” she said. “Right now, Chelsea is experiencing it just like, if not more so, than other communities. We’re losing many, many families. I’m seeing documents of many, many families going to Lynn in particular. Lynn seems to be the most popular destination for families being able to find rental properties. Secondarily, they are going to Revere, Everett and Boston.”

Bourque, who has studied student mobility in depth during her career, said many studies have indicated over the years that student population is a bellwether for the changes that are coming to a community.

In Chelsea, she said she believes this latest trend in student population could be sounding an alarm for the community to try to take action.

“This is definitely something we have to pay attention to,” she said. “The demographics in our schools are telling of what is coming to the community at-large. We’re the canary in the coal mine for community shift. I see it as a positive though because we can look at it and get out in front so we can be prepared to meet the needs of that shift.

A consequence of that loss is that the CPS budget is likely going to shrink due to the smaller enrollments.

“We already have an issue with the Foundation Budget at the state level being broken, and it still needs to be fixed,” she said. “We still need to advocate for that. At the same time, we have a confounding situation where we’re losing student enrollment that results in a natural decrease in staffing and resources due to that lower student enrollment. The challenge will be keeping those two budgetary issues separate and not allowing them to blend together. They are two different issues.”

Bourque said the situation reminds her of what Somerville Public Schools went through some years ago as it gentrified on the back of Cambridge’s successes. At one point, she said she recalled they had somewhere around 6,000 students enrolled in the public schools, but as that City changed, the numbers dwindled down to around 4,000. She said Chelsea should fight to keep that from happening here.

Looking for a wave from Venezuela, Brazil

Chelsea has always had a reputation and a practice of having open arms to refugees and new immigrant populations.

Now, as new immigrant families seem to be migrating a bit towards the North Shore, Supt. Mary Bourque said they are keeping an eye on Brazil and Venezuela as potential sources of incoming students.

Bourque said immigrant groups from crisis areas of the world typically begin showing up in Chelsea schools about 10 to 15 months after the crisis in their countries.

With the recent political upheaval in Venezuela with its leadership, she said the federal government is considering giving Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Venezuelans. That, she said, could result in more students arriving from that country soon.

“It will be interesting to wait and see if we get an influx from Venezuela,” she said. “It usually happens 15 to 18 months after a crisis. We’ll watch to see if this summer enrollments begin to come in from that country.”

In Brazil, she said a down economy has already brought a trickling of new Brazilian students to the district.

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