Prior to COVID-19, many residents of the Worcester Square area were upbeat about last summer’s rollout of the City’s Mass/Cass 2.0 plan to address homelessness, drug addiction and quality of life on the corridor, but now neighbors are calling the program a complete failure.
In the wake of several unmet deadlines for the promised six-month report on 2.0, a public dashboard that would give detailed metrics of the plan, and the recent new homeless shelter added at the Roundhouse Hotel without anyone’s knowledge, members of the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA) on Tuesday summed up the once-hopeful plan as having taken a nosedive into the crowded sidewalk.
“There’s no progress being made between meetings of the Task Force,” said Mike Nelson, a WSANA resident and member of the City’s 2.0 Task Force. “The current situation is not progress, not even some, but it represents failure in every sense. We might be working as hard as we can, but it isn’t working. Go to the intersection of Mass and Cass and that’s what failure looks like…I speak for residents of WSANA. This intersection is a major gateway to the City for people coming from the south and this is what greets them. It doesn’t look like a world-class city.”
Nelson was joined in unison by many in the online meeting saying the plan isn’t working, and though COVID-19 has taken the attention and resources that were devoted to the 2.0 plan, most said it was time to move forward and focus back on Mass/Cass. The pinch point for WSANA was the recent one-year lease by Pine Street Inn of the Roundhouse Hotel for a 180-person homeless shelter. No one was notified in WSANA, nor was anyone on the Task Force, and it came only a few weeks after Pine Street had appeared to talk about their work at the June WSANA meeting. Nothing about the lease was mentioned at that meeting.
Fernando Requena said it’s time for WSANA to fight back or lose the gains they’ve made.
“This whole Pine Street Inn situation is disgraceful in my opinion,” he said. “We have been talking about decentralization of services here for years…It always ends up the South End is a dumping ground. If we don’t fight, we’ll lose all the progress we’ve made to make the South End a livable place.”
Bob Minnocci of WSANA echoed those sentiments.
“We have to stay on these (City) people 24/7,” said Minnocci. “Otherwise they slip into lethargy and jobs that aren’t accountable. The fact that 2.0 is where it is today is a disgrace and Pine Street Inn pulled a fast one on us, the mayor and everyone is a disgrace. How do you stop them? They’re in their legal right to do it.”
That harkened to greater issues with the 2.0 plan, the Task Force and all of the stakeholders that were supposed to be on the same page. Nelson said Pine Street Inn is a member of the Task Force, and it was clear at the last meeting that no one on the Task Force, at City Hall – including Mayor Martin Walsh – was told of this major deviation from the 2.0 plan.
“Pine Street is focused on their mission,” said Nelson. “They’re not focused on our position or our problems…(How to stop them) is the question at hand. It has highlighted we’re not all rowing in the same direction.”
Other leaders in WSANA and attendees of the meeting also voiced frustration with the overall 2.0 plan, including the fact that it hasn’t produced valuable information promised long ago.
Nelson responded by saying that is another reason he counts the plan as a failure at the moment. The six-month report is four months overdue, and the dashboard of metrics and public information doesn’t exist yet after one year.
“The six-month report is going to be a 10-month report,” he said. “It was due in March and it’s July…They say it’s being reviewed and they don’t want to present anything that’s unrealistic because of COVID-19.”
The dashboard was perhaps the most anticipated feature of the plan for residents, as it was to be a vacuum for information on the corridor, such as how many people had been referred to treatment on a daily basis, how many 9-1-1 calls had been made for issues in the area, and how many needles had been picked up by City services on a weekly basis. So far, Nelson said, there are no plans to release it any time soon.
Another major piece – perhaps the most important piece – was the decentralization of services from the South End to other parts of the City and state. Most in WSANA believed the Roundhouse represented a backslide on that, and rather than progress, they said that point has gotten worse since 2.0.
Pine Street told the Sun their goal is to be a good neighbor, and they will do everything they can to fulfill that obligation and get those in the temporary shelter into permanent housing as quickly as possible.
“Our goal is to be a good neighbor and work cooperatively with residents and businesses in the area,” read a statement. “Pine Street Inn has been doing this work for over 50 years, and we will do everything we can to make this go well, and to place each of these individuals into permanent housing as quickly as possible.
“While we are aware that this is not an ideal situation, what has gotten lost in this is that we could not bring this group of medically vulnerable, at-risk individuals back to our main shelter, where they would be unable to social distance,” they continued. “Our COVID test numbers went from a positive rate of 36% early on to under 2% currently, with the social distancing and other protocols we have been able to put in place.”
•Concert in August or Sept.
Craig Hughes typically puts together fantastic concerts on Worcester Square every summer, but COVID-19 has made that challenging. On Tuesday, he took the temperature of WSANA to figure out if maybe the neighborhood would want to do a socially distant concert later in the summer. The consensus was ‘yes.’
For those living in the Square, they could simply open their windows or sit on the stoop. The band would be in the park, but no one would be allowed inside the fence. Traffic would be closed off on the street, and that would allow people to listen and be socially distant from everyone else. Stay tuned for more details.
•34 East Springfield
Matt Zahler of MPZ Development was on hand again to announce he is putting together his capitalization team now to begin the long process of getting funding to restore and bring to market five affordable housing units at 34 E. Springfield St. The property is owned by the Boston Housing Authority, but is derelict and has been vacant 11 years. They are now looking at possibilities with their architects and came to ask for a letter of support to add a fifth unit to the building – which only has four now.
The one-bedroom units would be affordable up to 80 percent of the median income, which works out to $63,500 for one person and $72,550 for two people. The average rent at that level would be around $1,517 per month, with market-rate one-bedrooms going for more than $2,000 a month in the South End.
Vice President Desi Murphy asked the BHA to make some upgrades to the property and clean it up while the neighborhood waits for Zahler to take possession of the property. BHA said they would have their maintenance crews focus on the property throughout the next several months.