Zakim Joins Fenway Seniors for Pizza and Conversation

City Councilor Josh Zakim was at the Peterborough Senior Center in Fenway on May 1 to discuss the issues he’s been working on, as well as address questions from the seniors in attendance.

Everyone munched on pizza donated from Domino’s while Zakim talked about what’s going on at City Hall. Mayor Walsh recently released his proposed budget for fiscal year 2020, which is now going through the process of City Council hearings before it is voted on.

Other things Zakim has been focused on include affordable housing, specifically working to make it harder for people to get evicted from their homes. “The biggest issue is people not knowing their rights,” he said, adding that it’s “all about trying to provide more resources” to people in the community. He said there is not enough housing being built for lower income people, as most of the affordable housing is being built for middle income people. He said that Boston is building more affordable housing percentage-wise in comparison to cities of a similar size, “but it’s still not enough. I think the [Community Preservation Act] money will make a big difference,” Zakim said.

Zakim said that transportation continues to come up as an issue, calling it one of the “timeless issues” in the city. “It’s a growing city,” he said. “People want to be here.” He said that the City Council is working to make sure that people who have been here are able to stay here, with improvements in housing, schools, and transportation.

“We don’t have control of the T because it’s a state agency,” Zakim said, but the City Council is trying to work with the agency. Zakim said he believes that public transportation “is never going to be able to pay for itself,” but it needs to be cheap, safe, and reliable in order to work. “I think it’s something that the state needs to invest in,” he said. Dedicated bus lanes are among the latest infrastructure improvements that the city is working on with the MBTA. Zakim suggested that people keep calling Governor Baker to speak out against T fare hikes.

A question was raised about the Long Island shelter situation, to which Zakim replied that the City Council has appropriated around $100 million to rebuild the neglected bridge to Long Island, where homeless and recovery services were located. The City of Quincy, where the bridge starts, has been fighting the rebuilding of the bridge, despite the fact that the services on Long Island helped many Quincy residents, Zakim said. “I think they’re being very mean-spirited and short-sighted about it,” he said, though he added that he’s “heard rumblings” that Quincy is changing its mind. “The money is ready to go,” he said. “It’s a priority for the mayor.”

Elizabeth Bertolozzi, President of the Fenway Garden Society, mentioned an issue that had been at the forefront of the organization for a number of years—the phragmites that grow along the back part of the gardens. The reeds posed a significant safety and security concern, Bertolozzi said, but the issue received a lot of support from elected officials and advocacy groups in the city, especially Senator Will Brownsberger. They were able to bring a pilot program for mowing and reseeding of the area. Bertolozzi said she saw bobcats and teams over in the area this week. “Our expectation is that it will be a much more secure area,” she said. She added that she has “noticed a lot more tourists” along the service road in the back, signifying that people are feeling safer.

Someone else asked Zakim what he thinks of the proposed privately owned dormitory on Boylston St. He said that he’s “not a fan” of the proposal, as it’s against the zoning for the area. He said he believes the developer “needs to reassess” what the neighborhood is and how it operates. He said he also has a lot of concerns about the use in that area.

“The biggest concern is the zoning issue,” Bertolozzi said. “There have been other projects that have come to the neighborhood and followed the rules, so it is possible.”

Lastly, the residents wanted to know about the Boston Arts Academy (BAA) construction status, as well as Zakim’s thoughts about community involvement with the proposed Fenway Theater. He said that the new Boston Arts Academy building is “moving forward well; they’re on schedule. It’s a huge investment into the neighborhood.” He said that the students will “finally” get the rehearsal and classroom space that they need and deserve.

He said that he doesn’t think partnerships and working with he community when it comes to the Fenway Theater project “is going to be a big challenge” with the BAA across the street, as that’s an opportunity to get those students involved with things like lighting and sound design at the theater to give them real world experience.

Lastly, Zakim reminded everyone that he will not be seeking another term, but “as I enter my final year as your City Councilor, it’s really been a privilege to represent you all,” he said. “And I certainly look forward to continuing this work through the end of the term.”

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