Mayoral Candidates Tackle Fenway Issues at Forum

A mayoral forum focused on Fenway-specific issues was held virtually on June 17, hosted by the Fenway Community Center and the Fenway Quality of Life Alliance. Five of the six mayoral candidates participated in the forum, but Acting Mayor Kim Janey was not in attendance. John Barros left early to participate in a roundtable with Black men to “talk about the future of our city…”

Candidates were asked questions on Fenway-specific topics ranging from housing to development to quality of life issues in the neighborhood, as well as more general questions relating to things like policing and planning and development.

Candidates were also asked some “speed round” questions where a yes or no answer was provided, with some opportunity to provide a short explanation on topics relating to things like public education and higher education.

The first question was related to housing, and the candidates were asked how they would incorporate equity for both renters and homeowners in the Fenway.

Andrea Campbell said that she takes pride in the Community Preservation Act, which she said was one of her first pieces of legislation during her time as a city councilor. She said “there continues to be more resources from those dollars for affordable housing.” She also began the Vacant Lot Initiative, and she believes in helping people out of public housing and into homes they own, as well as “push for [Area Median Income] to be reduced.” She said her “detailed housing plan” can be found on her campaign website.

Annissa Essaibi George said that “too many residents are experiencing chronic homelessness,” and the pandemic has made it worse. She, too, talked about making “better paths to home ownership,” as well as building more “truly affordable” housing. “Right now, Boston’s housing stock is lacking,” she said, adding that she is also an advocate for building more workforce and senior housing.

Jon Santiago said that this issue has come up often when he speaks to Fenway residents, and he talked about leaning on the city’s AAA bond rating to create more affordable housing. He said that Boston tends to “rely too much on the rental market,” and as mayor, he would “increase investment in home ownership opportunities.”

Michelle Wu also said she had a housing plan on her website that provides specific details.. She said she wanted to emphasize that “city government has the power to do more,” and “can use the facilities we already have,” such as community centers, libraries, and parking lots to create more affordable housing opportunities. Wu also said she is :committed to using $200 million of federal funds” to create affordable housing in Boston. “Fundamentally, we need to change the rules of our growth,” she said, adding that she would push for “structural changes to the [Boston Planning and Development Agency.]”

John Barros said that if elected, he would ensure that evictions would be prevented and affordability be at the forefront. He said that he would “work with the neighborhood on the neighborhood plan, and then implement that plan for affordable housing.” Additionally, he said that “residents want to see home ownership,” and also talked about the use of land trusts when it comes to affordable housing.

Candidates were also asked about quality of life issues in the Fenway as it relates to noise, congestion, and public safety at Fenway Park.

An example of a neighborhood agreement between the Chicago Cubs and the residents who live near Wrigley Field has been mentioned at several community meetings and was brought up again at this forum. Candidates were asked if they believe a similar agreement would work in Boston, and if they would commit to one between the Red Sox and the neighborhood.

Michelle Wu said that she would support such an agreement, saying that “I know having represented the neighborhood for eight years now, we often end up engaging with our major institutions…at the point where there is conflict.” She said that there “needs to be a proactive, long-term, day-by-day conversation so we’re not just waiting until it’s at a head.”

She added that balancing tourism with the needs of Fenway’s residents is important, and there needs to be “partnership between our largest institutions and our cities as well.”

Andrea Campbell said that she has seen vast changes in the neighborhood from when she was young, and she does believe a community agreement is something she would support as mayor.

“I do think, for me though, it’s also expanding the conversation,” Campbell said, about institutions like hospitals, museums and other cultural institutions, and colleges and universities and “the role that they play.”

She said that while she recognizes the quality of life issues that abutters face, she believes the institutions should have a bigger role in creating more equity in all parts of the city.

Annissa Essaibi-George said that “it’s so important that we are addressing, very specifically, quality of life issues.” She said that there is “more than just baseball there,” referring to Fenway Park, and said that “working towards agreements” is something she would do as mayor.

Jon Santiago said that  “yes, I am all for looking for better ways to facilitate, create dialogue, create partnerships.”

He, like Campbell, said that “Fenway has changed demonstrably” over the years, and recognizes that residents have expressed issues with things like ambulances and parking, as well as “loud students at night.” He also mentioned the noise complaints that can lead to health issues, as a community meeting revealed. He said that the “Fenway group is acting in good faith for a while,” and they”show up to community meetings,” but he said more work needs to be done.

Candidates were also asked about their goals for transportation planning, as many Fenway residents rely on the MBTA to get around, and traffic issues are a concern for many Fenway residents.

Campbell said she is “very proud” of her transportation plan and her plan to invest money in the MBTA as well as to make bus access free for all. She said she believes this is something that is “absolutely doable” in the City of Boston, and would :incentivize people to take the bus. She also called for more dedicated bus and bike lanes as well as “making greater investments in multi-modal transportation.”

Essaibi George said that “as mayor, I will implement changes that will help Bostonians get around.” She said that the MBTA is “underfunded and under maintained,” particularly when it comes to accessibility. Her transportation plan calls for more bus lanes and creating programs for reduced fares.

Santiago said that “public transportation is a public good,” and that he relies on the MBTA or a bike to get to the State House. He also called for dedicated bus and bike lanes, and said that the city “need[s] to provide convenient, affordable, and reliable access” to public transportation.

Wu said that “we can do a lot more when city government says ‘we’re going to take an active role in transportation.” In her policy plan, Wu has called for a completely free public transit system in Boston, as well as multi-modal forms of transportation to reduce air quality and traffic congestion issues and creating safe ways for cyclists and pedestrians to get around the city.

Candidates also tackled questions on equity for business owners, community safety, and accessibility.

The full video with all questions, including long-form, speed round, and short answer questions, can be found on the Fenway Community Center’s YouTube channel.

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