June 25, 2020: The Budget and The Work Ahead

Dear Friends,

Yesterday the City Council voted to pass the City’s revised FY21 budget. As you know, I’m serving as the Council’s Ways & Means Chair; I wanted to write about that decision and what comes next. 

This year’s budget process has come in the cauldron of COVID-19, collective fury about police brutality, and the obvious role of systemic racism in every aspect of our collective life. Over the past weeks, the City Council has heard many calls to reduce and reallocate the City’s police budget in order to create alternative institutions of community care and invest more in communities of color. In mid-June, the Mayor reallocated $12M from police overtime to other purposes, but advocates have called for $40M, and a real participatory leadership role in building the alternatives. 

The difficult question that came before the Council yesterday was whether to accept the Mayor’s revised budget, or to go into a 1/12th budget, where this year’s departmental allocations extend into the new fiscal year. Because both personnel contracts and other costs are scheduled to go up on July 1, under a 1/12th budget many departments would begin the process of laying off some staff or cutting services in order to close their budget gap. We also would not lock in any of the new allocations in this year’s budget, including the $12M reallocated away from police.

To me, risking the loss of those new allocations was unacceptable. This year’s operating budget has by far the highest allocations ever for affordable housing and public health. It includes new money for food access, immigrant advancement, and language access that will help the City build programs that are actually adequate to our huge needs on those fronts. We are also finally getting funding for an urban forestry plan, which will allow accelerated tree planting in areas of the city with greatest need.

The affordable housing funds in particular are personal for me. Since 2015, I have been fighting – first as an activist myself with GBIO and MAHA – for the One Plus Boston mortgage program, to help first-time homebuyers get a foothold in Boston, especially homebuyers of color. I was there when that program started as a glimmer in our eyes in church basements; it becomes millions of dollars for the first time in this budget. Then in my years at the Boston Housing Authority, I pushed hard on the idea that the City should help financially support the renovation of public housing, and the construction of new deeply-affordable housing. I got money in the budget for the first time for those purposes last year, and this year’s budget contains more. I have also been an outspoken proponent of the Acquisition Opportunity Program (AOP), through which the city can enable affordable operators or even tenant cooperatives to buy whole apartment buildings at risk of being sold – a program which expands in this budget. And I’m excited about how a major initiative of my predecessor Josh Zakim, a city-level housing voucher program that becomes real for the first time in this budget, can best help families left behind by the state and federal voucher programs. 

Some of my Council colleagues felt that we could temporarily shift to a 1/12th budget in order to pressure the Mayor, reach a budget with even more money for these priorities in a couple of weeks, and contain the fallout for key city departments. As I talked with colleagues, I did not find that we had a collective counterproposal or feasible timeline to make that plausible. My analysis was that if we went to a 1/12th budget we were instead very likely to end up there permanently for the year. I am expecting the State to lower the amount of money it sends to us. As soon as it does that officially, we would have to decrease our budget forecasts. If that happens after we pass a budget with new community-focused investments, we can make collective decisions about which departments to trim or when to pull money out of reserves to cover the gaps. If it happens beforehand, we don’t have those options; we just have to reduce. I am not willing to end up with a budget that is lower on every front I have been pushing to expand and higher on policing. I am also not willing to precipitously lay off city workers in the middle of a pandemic when it can be avoided.

One further factor complicates the picture: police budget cuts can by law be overridden by the Administration in the interest of public safety. So without a structural change to the police contract, deeper cuts to that department are likely to be illusory. If we make them in theory but not in practice, we will take them out of reserves, which will further reduce funds for everything else we’re trying to pay for. That would be a false victory, which isn’t something I’d accept.

For that reason, I laid out a plan for how I’m going to use the Ways & Means Committee to drive a real 10% reduction in the police budget over the next year. This will start with a hearing on how the $12M cut in police overtime will actually be achieved, to be followed by quarterly hearings to closely track it all year. Since we seem to have overspent our overtime budget by about $8M this past year, we’re really probably trying to achieve $20M in savings on that front.

But the real cost drivers of overtime and the police budget overall are locked up in the police contract, which is up for renegotiation this year. The bargaining has to happen between the Administration and the unions, but the public policy conditions and expectations for what will be acceptable can be set by the Council, which has to approve any final agreement. We will hold a Ways & Means hearing on that contract as a policy document in the coming weeks, and follow it up with further work to set those expectations.

We will then also hold a hearing on alternative visions for reallocating police funding, and another on how we can build more real participatory budgeting into our process. I heard from advocates a deep frustration with the limitations on public testimony at the end of a hearing as a method for public engagement, and I’d like to assess what mechanisms would be more meaningful—even within the limiting constraints of our current City Charter. 

I am outlining this path because I intend for us to achieve a reduction in the police budget in a way that is structural and permanent. Over my time in office, I also intend for us to shift the whole city budget towards more funding for affordable housing and public health. Voting to pass yesterday’s new high-water marks for those areas was part of achieving that shift. 

I know that some of you will disagree, and I look forward to talking further. As a new City Councilor, I am deeply conscious of my obligation to weigh all aspects of hard decisions like this one about the budget, to use my best judgment, and then to give my constituents as thorough an explanation as can. Most of all, I’m cognizant of all the work that lies ahead.

Sincerely,

Kenzie

See my full remarks from yesterday here.

[Alt text] 

Title: Boston City Council – Committee on Ways and Means: Planned Hearings for July, August, & September 2020 

#1 Police overtime (quarterly hearing in FY21) – How do we reduce it and keep it down?

#2 Police contracts as policy documents – Strategies for accountability and transparency 

#3 Alternative budgets for community care – Reallocating police funds

#4 Participatory budgeting for Boston – Going beyond testimony

Footer: Councilor Kenzie Bok – District 8  

Councilor Bok’s District 8 Newsletter: June 8, 2020

A Note from Kenzie

Dear friends, 

Firstly, thank you for your continued civic and community engagement. I’m grateful, as always, for our community in District 8 and beyond. A longer newsletter update will be sent out next week, but here are some timely and important items:

  • On Friday, we announced an additional meeting of the Ways and Means Committee which will take place tomorrow, June 9 starting at 10AM. You can watch here. For more information on where we are in the FY21 Boston City Council budget process and how to get involved, please see below. 
  • We will be distributing boxes of food to Mission Main residents on Thursday, June 11th, from 12:30 to 2:30pm. Masks and gloves will be provided for all volunteers. Please sign up here if you are interested in volunteering. The deadline to sign-up is Wednesday, June 10th at 1:00pm.  
  • Community PSA: We’re asking everyone to spread the word and ask friends and neighbors to refrain from setting off fireworks. The noise is traumatic and disruptive for residents, and has been a significant issue across the city over the past few weeks. 

With thanks,
Kenzie

Boston City Council’s FY21 Budget Process

Some info for folks on the Boston City Council FY21 budget process and where we are:

  •  April 8: Mayor Walsh proposed FY21 Budget.
  • April 13 – May 28: The Ways and Means committee hosted 27 hearings on proposed FY21 budget with public testimony, including 3 hearings dedicated to public testimony.
  • June 3: Council took 1st positive vote (out of 2 required) on FY21 capital budget, passed limits on several revolving funds, rejected operating budget without prejudice.
  • Currently, Mayor Walsh’s Administration is reviewing the Council and public’s input.
  • TOMORROW June 9: The Ways and Means Committee is hosting a meeting for Councilors to discuss the budget and hear public testimony. Please see below on how to share your thoughts and learn more. A text description follows.
  • Questions and comments about Boston’s FY21 Budget?
    • You can testify via Zoom during the meeting (Tuesday 6/9 at 10AM). If you would like to do so please email Shane Pac at shane.pac@boston.gov
    • The deadline to submit a two minute video has passed.
    • You can also submit written testimony by emailing ccc.wm@boston.gov
      • Written testimony received prior to the meeting will be shared with all Councilors in advance of the meeting. Written testimony received after will also be made a part of the meeting record.
    • Click here to learn more about the City Council budget process.
    • Testimony is accepted in all languages and will be translated after for the Council.
  • During the week of June 15: Mayor Walsh resubmits operating budget for City Council review and the City Council begins reviewing the resubmission.
  • On June 24: the Council decides whether to approve the FY21 operating budget and takes the second vote on the FY21 capital budget.

Some budget vocab:

  • Revolving funds are used for programs that take in & expend money for a particular purpose.
  • The capital budget covers funding for infrastructure investments, including schools, comm centers, parks, streets, and bridges. It involves borrowing and requires two 2/3 votes.
  • The operating budget covers day-to-day expenses for City departments including staff, equipment, contractual services, supplies, and materials. 
  • The BPS budget is a separate operating budget docket from the rest of the City departments; the Council must vote on both.

Justice for George Floyd, and for all

Dear Friends, 

The Boston Common is in my district, and I was at the protest Sunday night in memory of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others. I saw firsthand our inspiring young people of color leading a powerful peaceful demonstration, calling for an end to police brutality and systemic racism. I’m so grateful for them, their bravery and clarity.

Last night I heard from several of their mothers, who serve on the board of the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance (MAHA) with me, working to close the racial wealth gap. (Donate here or below). I heard the pride and fear and fury mingled in their voices, at what their children risk to cry out truth, and what they risk to let them go downtown in a season of pandemic. 

Their witness underscored my own anger at the MBTA for closing Park Street Station on Sunday night, trapping too many young people on the Common just as they were trying to head home. Between 9 and 10:30pm I had to give countless groups directions to North & South Station, long walks that didn’t feel safe. We cannot order people to disperse and give them no secure way to do so. 

Meanwhile, with such a sizable crowd stranded on the Common, it seemed we weren’t able to speedily and effectively redeploy police resources to where opportunistic bad actors were looting in a premeditated, semi-professional way. This led to significantly delayed responses at Copley Mall, Newbury Street, and elsewhere. 

Yesterday morning in District 8 was sad, angry, and hard; I was out by 6AM sweeping up glass off the sidewalk, discussing how to safely remove graffiti from our beloved historic monuments, and tallying broken shop windows alongside my count of vacant storefronts on Boylston, Newbury, and Charles St. Our small businesses are already reeling so badly from the closures caused by COVID-19; they need our help, now and in the weeks and months ahead, to keep from being swallowed up by this rolling disaster.

But I have no patience for the framing of a tradeoff here between justice and order, from President Trump or anyone. What our young people are calling for – an end to police brutality & systemic racism – is urgent, an emergency even mid-emergency, and cannot be discredited. 

“I tell you, if they were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

Kenzie

Food Deliveries and Budget Season Continue!

Dear friends, 

I hope you all had a restful and reflective Memorial Day weekend, and to our Muslim neighbors and friends, I hope you had a blessed Eid. 

Last week, we distributed an additional 580 boxes of food to the West End and Beacon Hill, where we have many low-income and senior buildings with residents in need of better access to food. Once again, we had an amazing crew of volunteers! I am continuously grateful to those of you who have done deliveries with us, as well as those of you who continue to phone bank and check on your neighbors.

I am also thankful for Representatives Livingstone and Michlewitz and their staff, as well as the staff at Blackstone, Amy Lowell, Beacon House, Peter Faneuil, and Bowdoin School Apartments who partnered with us to organize and execute the delivery. As always, we are fortunate to work with the folks from the Mayor’s Office of Food Access, the AgeStrong Commission, the BPDA food operations team, and the Greater Boston Food Bank — plus the Building Trades workers who help pack the boxes, and the drivers who get them to us. Thanks to the Boston Resiliency Fund for financing this delivery.

The Council’s initial review of the proposed FY21 budget concludes this week, to be followed by further evaluation of the changing revenue picture, but there is still time to submit testimony. Our final budget hearing will be tonight (Thursday) at 6PM, and it is dedicated to public testimony. If you would like to watch you can do so via the livestream. If you would like to testify, please join us at this Zoom link at 6PM, or you can submit testimony by emailing or submitting a video clip. This morning at 10AM we’ll be having a budget hearing focused on the Inspectional Services Department (ISD) and the city’s Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT), and one focused on the BPDA at 2PM; these can also be watched via the Council’s livestream as well. As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out to my office if you are in need of anything during this time. You can also visit my website for information on a variety of resources. If this newsletter was forwarded to you or if a friend or neighbor would like to sign up to receive future newsletters, please fill out this form.

With thanks,

Kenzie

St Joseph’s Meal Site

We are thrilled to announce that St Joseph’s Church in the West End is now an official City of Boston meal site, providing free, prepared meals for adults and kids Monday through Friday from 10:00am to 12:00pm. St Joseph’s Church is located in the West End at 68 O’Connell Way. All are welcome! 

St Joseph’s prepared meals program is run by the Mayor’s Office of Food Access, with partnership from our office and State Representative Jay Livingstone’s office. If you have any questions about the program, please call the folks at St. Joseph’s Church at 617-523-4342.

Tufts University Emergency Grants for Local Nonprofits

Tufts University will be awarding one-time $1,000 emergency grants to local nonprofits in Boston, Medford, Somerville, and Grafton. The program was established to help address pressing community needs which may include food insecurity, emergency equipment purchases, or educational supply needs. For the Boston grants, they are focused on organizations serving our neighbors in Boston’s Chinatown, Fenway, and Mission Hill. Since applications will be accepted on a rolling basis (until funds are exhausted), interested organizations are encouraged to apply as soon as possible. Applicants must be registered 501(c)(3)s.

You can learn more about the program here and apply to the Boston/Grafton program here.  

Should you have any questions, you can contact Tufts University Government & Community Relations at 617-627-3780 or by email at communityrelations@tufts.edu.

Upcoming Volunteer Opportunities & Ways to Give

Call District 8 Elders and Neighbors 

  • Our amazing volunteers have begun calling elders and neighbors throughout District 8. If you would be up for making calls but missed the training sessions please watch this training video and email Emily.Brown2@boston.gov to be provided with phonebanking links. 
  • Specifically, if you speak Russian, we could use help reaching out to Russian-speaking elders. 

Historian’s Corner: Soldiers and Sailors Monument

The Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which stands in the Boston Common, honors the soldiers and sailors who died during the Civil War. The monument was designed by American sculptor Martin Milmore. At the monuments dedication on September 17, 1877, approximately 25,000 people attended, including Union Generals George B. McClellan and Joseph Hooker.  

Its inscription reads “To the men of Boston who died for their country on land and sea, in the war which kept the Union whole, destroyed slavery, and maintained the Constitution, the grateful city has built this monument, that their example may speak to coming generations.” This photograph was taken on Monday evening; the ordinary display of a flag for every Massachusetts casualty of war in our nation’s history was reduced this year in light of the ongoing public health emergency. 

Mission Park Produce Delivery: Success!

Dear friends, 

Last week, we were able to deliver an additional 1,100 boxes of fresh produce from Katsiroubas Brothers and Fresh Truck to District 8 residents! This time, our incredible volunteers helped us deliver produce boxes to residents of Mission Park, one of the most vibrant and diverse communities of elders and families in District 8. I am again so grateful to have such a dedicated community of people and partners. Thank you to everyone who volunteered and was involved in facilitating this major accomplishment last week.

I want to give a special shout out to Karen Gately, Lori Taylor, Laura Adams, and the whole team at Roxbury Tenants of Harvard (RTH), plus Nancy Weinstein and the whole team at Trinity Management who partnered with us to organize and execute the delivery.  They’re doing tremendous work to keep their residents safely housed every day. I’m also very grateful to everyone who signed up to volunteer, whether from the Mission Hill and Fenway neighborhoods, my Trinity Church community, or the Red Sox and Red Sox Foundation. Thanks again to the Mayor’s Office of Food Access, the AgeStrong Commission, and the food operations team for their unyielding support, to the folks at About Fresh and Katsiroubas Bros for the food and excellent truck-driving, and to the Boston Resiliency Fund for financing this delivery. Finally, this would not have come together without my staff — thanks again to Lauren, Emily, Henry, & Jon for all the invisible work they do behind the scenes!  

As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out to my office if you are in need of anything during this time. You can also visit my website for information on a variety of resources. If this newsletter was forwarded to you or if a friend or neighbor would like to sign up to receive future newsletters, please fill out this form.

With thanks,

Kenzie

Historian’s Corner: Mission Park

Delivering produce to the old neighborhood, which is still a part of Mission Park today. Toni Komst, a Mission Hill resident loading produce in this picture from last week, grew up in the part of Mission Hill that was later demolished.

Mission Park, owned by Roxbury Tenants of Harvard, consists of 1100 units of affordable housing and is home to a close knit community of elders in Mission Hill. Its existence today is a result of fierce advocacy to protect the neighborhood and its residents from displacement in the late 1960s, when Harvard University bought the homes along Francis, Fenwood, St. Alban’s, Kempton Streets, and part of Huntington Avenue. The University planned to evict residents, demolish their homes, and expand their medical campus, but residents like Theresa Parks, with the allyship of Harvard students Doug Levinson, Jeane Neville, and Hayden Duggan, organized and created the Roxbury Tenants of Harvard. After many negotiations with Harvard officials, by 1970, the University agreed to preserve some of the buildings as permanent housing and to provide replacement housing for homes that would have to come down as a result of future University needs. Eventually, through further deliberations with RTH, Harvard University provided assistance in building new housing on vacant land owned by Harvard. Construction of the newer Mission Park buildings began in October of 1975, and by 2000 RTH became the owner of Mission Park. Three of Mission Park’s buildings are named after the Harvard student organizers Doug Levinson, Jeane Neville, and Hayden Duggan. 

Delivering produce to the new buildings

District 8 Pets!

This week’s pets: Bunny Jean of The West End, Charlie of Beacon Hill, Cleo of Beacon Hill, and Jitterbug of Fenway

  • During the stay at home order, pets have benefited from the extra attention. We’d love for you to send photos of your pets to Lauren.Brody@boston.gov 
  • Please include your pet’s name and neighborhood and they will be featured in future newsletters.

Fenway Food Delivery: Success! Next Up: Mission Park!

Dear friends,

We are so fortunate to have such a supportive community of people and partners who want to help District 8 residents. I am so grateful to everyone who helped us get 470 boxes of produce from Katsiroubas Bros and Fresh Truck, funded by the Boston Resiliency Fund, to Fenway families in need on Tuesday! Next week, we will be delivering fresh produce to the residents of Mission Park, please see “Upcoming Volunteer Opportunities” below if you are interested in volunteering.

We were able to deliver produce boxes across the Fenway neighborhood, including to all the elderly residents of St Cecilia House and Morville House, to local congregate housing at Brooke House and Yearwood House, and to many individual households.

I want to give a special shout out to all of the organizations under the “Fenway Cares” banner who partnered with us to check in on families in need of these boxes and sign up volunteers, including Fenway Civic Association, Fenway Community Development Corporation, Fenway Community Center, Audubon Circle Neighborhood Association, Peterborough Senior Center, MissionSAFE, Operation P.E.A.C.E., and the Fenway Alliance. Thanks also to the staff of St Cecilia’s and Morville House for all their work, to Representative Jon Santiago for stopping by to help, and to the Red Sox and the Red Sox Foundation for sending volunteers and spreading the word. I’m grateful also to the Mayor’s Office of Food Access and Age Strong Commission for their partnership.

A huge thank you also for the ongoing work of our phonebank volunteers, who are calling elders across District 8! So far, our volunteers have made over 1,500 calls, and both my staff and Representative Livingstone’s staff have followed up with folks to connect them to needed services. Many neighbors have also kindly volunteered to follow up by making regular check in calls with elders that are socially isolated due to the public health emergency. We are so grateful for everyone who has been a part of this effort thus far! If you’re interested in making calls but missed the training session, please see “Upcoming Volunteer Opportunities” below. Specifically, if you speak Russian, we could use help reaching out to Russian-speaking elders. You can also read more about the effort in the Beacon Hill Times.

Finally, please don’t hesitate to reach out to my office if you are in need of anything during this time. You can also visit my website for information on a variety of resources. If this newsletter was forwarded to you or if a friend or neighbor would like to sign up to receive future newsletters, please fill out this form.

With thanks,

Kenzie

Upcoming Volunteer Opportunities & Ways to Give

Help Deliver Food to Households in Mission Hill – Wednesday May 6th and Friday May 8th 

  • Volunteers needed to distribute 1,050 boxes of fresh produce to residents of Mission Park.
  • The delivery is divided over two days, Wednesday, May 6th and Friday, May 8th from 8:30am – 11:30am.
  • Volunteers will be given masks and gloves.
  • Please sign up here if you are interested in volunteering for either shift. Please email Lauren.Brody@boston.gov if you have any questions.

Call District 8 Elders and Neighbors 

  • Our amazing volunteers have begun calling elders and neighbors throughout District 8. If you would be up for making calls but missed the training sessions please watch this training video and email Emily.Brown2@boston.gov to be provided with phonebanking links. 
  • Specifically, if you speak Russian, we could use help reaching out to Russian-speaking elders. 

Pine Street Inn

  • As you may know, in an effort to get as many of our neighbors safely housed during this crisis as possible, the Pine Street Inn has recently opened an additional shelter for COVID-negative guests in a Suffolk University dorm on Beacon Hill.
  • They are looking for 2 volunteers for each meal shift to push a cart of packaged food, knock on doors and leave meals at each guest’s room on a number of floors. Masks and gloves will be provided to all volunteers.
  • Shift times: Breakfast 7:30am.  Lunch 11:30am.  Dinner 4:30pm. Volunteers should arrive 15 minutes before the beginning of the meal. The meal delivery should take no longer than one hour and fifteen minutes from the start time.
  • Volunteers will meet at the Miller Residence Hall, 10 Somerset Street, Boston, which is a dormitory of Suffolk University.
  • For more information call: Matthew Ferrer, Volunteer Administrative Coordinator, 617-892-9186

The Office of Representative Nika Elugardo is Collecting Donations to Purchase Gift Cards for Families In Need

  • Over $4000 has been raised so far for food and supplies for folks in need, and masks and PPE have been delivered to 150 youth and elders.
  • Additional donations will continue to help Tenant Task Forces and community partners to safely collect and distribute food and supplies to elders, people with disabilities, and school children.
  • To contribute, Venmo Krista Magnuson your donation at @kmagnuson. Krista buys the gift cards on your behalf, and Representative Elugardo delivers them to the district’s public housing developments and beyond as needed.
  • Don’t have the Venmo app? You can drop off grocery or other gift cards (denominations of $25 or less please) to Representative Elugardo’s house. You can email nika.elugardo@mahouse.gov to make sure she’s home. Representative Elugardo lives at 32 Sheridan Street #1 in Jamaica Plain.

Historian’s Corner: Morville House

On Tuesday, as a part of our efforts to deliver fresh produce to residents in the Fenway neighborhood, we delivered 170 boxes to elders living at Morville House. Morville House was developed by the Episcopal City Mission in 1971 for the purposes of allowing low income seniors to age in place. The Episcopal City Mission was incorporated in 1844 following a donation from William Appleton, who admired the work of two members of Trinity Church who ran a homeless shelter and Sunday school for homeless youth. In 1938, the first Morville House was built on Clarendon Street. Though the Episcopal City Mission has evolved and grown since its early years, it remains committed to carrying out racial and economic justice work in Massachusetts.

District 8 Pets!

This week’s pets (clockwise): Tommy of East Fenway, Whisper of Back Bay, and Fern of The West End

  • During the stay at home order, pets have benefited from the extra attention. We’d love for you to send photos of your pets to Lauren.Brody@boston.gov 
  • Please include your pet’s name and neighborhood and they will be featured in future newsletters.

Volunteer Opportunities & Happy (Belated) Earth Day!

Dear friends,

Happy (belated) Earth Day, and to our Muslim neighbors and friends, Ramadan Mubarak!

I’ve been chairing budget hearings a lot these past two weeks, and today’s was on the City’s capital budget. Funding a robust city capital budget, especially at this time when interest rates are so low and Boston’s credit rating remains very strong, is actually one of the most substantial “countercyclical” things that we can do through the local budgeting process to help counter a recession. But we also continue to need a serious capital budget because of all our pressing capital needs, and none is more pressing than the investments we must make to respond to the climate crisis. It’s worth noting this Earth Day that we simply don’t have the time as a society to recover from COVID-19, then turn our attention back to climate issues in a few years — so tackling the two will have to be utterly intertwined in all our recovery efforts.

In the spirit of Earth Day, which is very much a spirit of care for all creation, I thought I’d send along some opportunities to care for our neighbors. Below please find several upcoming volunteer opportunities.

I am so thankful for those of you who have already volunteered and continue to check in on your friends, family, and neighbors. With your help, we have already delivered food to hundreds families, made calls to elders across District 8, increased donations to the Resiliency Fund, and so much more.

Speaking of thankfulness, I never truly appreciated the tree outside my window until now. Lately I’ve been looking out at it every day as I meet with staff on Zoom calls, speak with constituents, and chair Ways and Means Committee hearings on our City Budget. The turn of the seasons, spring emerging out of winter, really is a good reminder of a deep capacity for resiliency, one that we will need to tackle both COVID-19 and the climate crisis

Gratefully yours,

Kenzie


Upcoming Volunteer Opportunities

Call District 8 Elders and Neighbors – this Saturday!

  • Our amazing volunteers have begun calling elders and neighbors throughout District 8. If you would be up for making calls, we are having a Phonebank Training on Saturday, April 25 at 1PM, hosted in partnership with the Offices of Representatives Nika Elugardo and Jay Livingstone.
  • Please sign up to volunteer here and the information for joining the training (via Zoom) will be sent to you in advance of the training.
  • If you would like to make calls, but can’t make the training, please email Emily.Brown2@Boston.gov

Help Deliver Food to Households in Fenway – Tuesday, April 28

  • In partnership with Fresh TruckKatsiroubas Bros. Produce, and Fenway Cares, we are delivering produce boxes to individuals and families in the Fenway area on Tuesday, April 28th, from 2:30 to 6:30 PM.
  • If you are interested in volunteering for any shift within this time, please sign up here!
  • These are no-contact deliveries, volunteers will be given masks and gloves.
  • Made possible by the Boston Resiliency Fund.

Help Deliver Food to Households in Mission Hill – Date TBA

  • We expect to be partnering with a Mission Hill organization around food access in the coming weeks. If you are interested in volunteering, please sign up here.

Pine Street Inn

  • As you may know, in an effort to get as many of our neighbors safely housed during this crisis as possible, the Pine Street Inn has recently opened an additional shelter for COVID-negative guests in a Suffolk University dorm on Beacon Hill.
  • They are looking for 2 volunteers for each meal shift to push a cart of packaged food, knock on doors and leave meals at each guest’s room on a number of floors. Masks and gloves will be provided to all volunteers.
  • Shift times: Breakfast 7:30am.  Lunch 11:30am.  Dinner 4:30pm. Volunteers should arrive 15 minutes before the beginning of the meal. The meal delivery should take no longer than one hour and fifteen minutes from the start time.
  • Volunteers will meet at the Miller Residence Hall, 10 Somerset Street, Boston, which is a dormitory of Suffolk University.
  • For more information call: Matthew Ferrer, Volunteer Administrative Coordinator, 617-892-9186

Historian’s Corner: The Fenway Victory Gardens!

The Fenway Victory Gardens, planted in 1941, are the oldest World War II Victory Gardens in the United States. Victory gardens were planted in the United States during the World Wars to increase food access locally, therefore enabling farmers to send more food to troops overseas. During wartime, other public land, including the Boston Common and Public Garden, was also used as victory gardens, but reverted to its original use. The Fenway Victory Gardens remain a vital part of the Fenway today; community gardeners plant flowers, fruit, and vegetables and care for the garden’s infrastructure. Visit The Fenway Victory Garden’s website to learn more! We’re thrilled that this year’s City’s capital budget is proposing to add a new project to create a more accessible path through all of the Back Bay Fens, so everyone can better appreciate this beautiful oasis in the heart of the city.


Send Us Photos of Your Pets!

  • During the stay at home order, pets have benefited from the extra attention. We’d love for you to send photos of your pets to Lauren.Brody@boston.gov 
  • Please include your pet’s name and neighborhood and they will be featured in future newsletters.

Budget Season Begins!

Dear friends, 

Budget season is upon us! The Mayor introduced a proposed budget last week, which the Council will formally consider over the next two months, prior to a vote. This year’s FY21 budget process is coming in the midst of great uncertainty, as our city grapples with the immediate challenges of COVID-19. This public health emergency will have enormous impacts on the budget for next year and the years to come – both in terms of government revenues and in terms of the needs we must meet for the people of Boston. Already the needs for food access, housing support, and business assistance are huge and only growing. So more than ever before, we can expect this year’s budget to be a work in progress, one that may have to change significantly over the next few months.

Nonetheless, the ongoing situation makes a public budgeting process all the more important. To the extent that we need to shift resources to address urgent problems, or make hard decisions because of more limited revenues, or take action on longstanding inequities and gaps exposed by this crisis, we need a diversity of voices involved in those decisions – both on the Council, and from the public.

As the Chair of Ways and Means, I’ve been working to adapt this year’s budget process to accommodate everyone participating from home. We’ll be conducting all working sessions and hearings on the Zoom platform, allowing constituents to submit video recordings of their questions or concerns in advance, and grouping departments together for hearings. You can learn about ways to get involved in the budget hearings here, see the proposed budget here, and view the Council’s budget review schedule here

This upcoming week the Council will be hosting several introductory hearings, including a budget overview by the Administration and Finance Department, a presentation on the City’s approach to revenue and assessing, and a summary of the proposed budget for the Boston Public Schools. You can watch the first hearing, which begins at 10AM today, here. You can also join us for a dedicated public testimony hearing on Thursday evening at 6pm to contribute your questions for the process ahead.

In other policy news, you can watch my recent interview with Chris Lovett on BNN here. We spoke about my resolution calling on property owners with vacancies to immediately rent to families with Housing Choice Vouchers, and about a number of other issues. 

Last Wednesday, both my resolution on renting to homeless families and another in support of the Mashpee Wampanoag were adopted. Along with Councilors Wu and Edwards, I also called for a hearing regarding targeted property tax deferral due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is definitely an opportunity for us to help property-owners struggling in this crisis, and reward landlords who take rent abatement action now or agree to greater rent affordability in the long term. On the other hand, our property tax receipts account for more than 70% of our city budget; they are the main source that funds all the most critical city services that our residents need now more than ever. The majority of Bostonians who don’t own any property are some of those being hardest hit by this crisis. So we must consider any tax abatement through an equity lens. 

None of this is quite what I expected to be tackling when I joined the Council back in January — but I’m glad to be serving in the important role of Ways & Means Chair as we confront these challenges together. We will need to exercise strong collective judgment over the coming months about what is the best way to budget for this pivotal year ahead, and I look forward to doing so with all your help.

With thanks,

Kenzie 

In the News

  • “‘The reality is we have 500 families right now in shelters with housing vouchers who have not found permanent housing, and I think we really need to seize this moment to solve that problem and get those families housed,’ said Councilor Kenzie Bok, a lead sponsor of a resolution calling on property owners to consider helping out.” Read more by Christopher Gavin 
  • “‘This COVID-19 crisis has really put a spotlight on all the weaknesses and injustices of our society,’ said Bok. ‘I think one thing it has shown us — which we already knew — is everyone needs a home to be safe.’” Read more by Kenneal Patterson
  • “‘I’ve seen so many Bostonians reaching out to help one another during this crisis already, and renting vacant apart­ments to families with vouchers is another crucial step.’” Read more in the Beacon Hill Times
  • “I think we all know that this year’s budget is going to be a work in progress,” said Bok on Wednesday. She added, “None of us quite know what the budget might need to look like in a month.” Read more in the Boston Globe.

A Prayer for This Season

Dear friends,

Passover and Holy Week blessings to all those who celebrate!

I was lucky enough to grow up as a Christian with Jewish godparents, whose seders were a fixture of my childhood, so it made me smile to see so many families continuing the Passover tradition virtually over the past two nights. The endurance of that festival across millennia, despite every historical challenge, is a comfort to us all in hard times like these. My own church community also gathered virtually last night for Maundy Thursday, to commemorate the love and fellowship at the heart of the Last Supper — which was itself a Passover meal, and began the Christian tradition of Holy Communion.

Though different, both Passover and Easter trace an arc towards a common hope and prayer: a people’s deliverance from death. Now more than ever, I feel that same prayer welling up in me on behalf of our city of Boston and all the people we love. We are relentless doers here in this city — we have opened a 1000-bed facility in less than a week, we have launched systems to feed and shelter those without, we have leapt to one another’s aid. We will keep doing everything we can and must to stop the spread of this virus and handle the surge in cases. But as we stand on the threshold of the week ahead, in the midst of a holy time for so many of us, I hope you will join me in also praying this evening for our city.

There is a Muslim tradition that this hour on Friday is a time in which prayers are most readily answered; in a couple more hours it will be Shabbat, the Jewish sabbath in the midst of Passover. In the Christian tradition, we marked a few hours ago the death of Christ on the cross.  

For some, these religious traditions are anchors in a storm like the present crisis. For others, it may seem futile to talk of faith when living in such times as ours, suddenly losing things and especially people that we love, and seeing every weakness and injustice of our society exposed. But in a strange way, this day — Good Friday — is the moment in the Christian calendar when those two perspectives meet. Today is the day, in my tradition, that death appears to triumph over all, the day the cry goes up “my God, why have you forsaken me?” We pray on this day in spite of grief and fear — not pretending it away.

I want to acknowledge the pain and anxiety that grips us in this moment — yet also make it my prayer that we will continue to find within ourselves reserves of love to beat back despair and forge hope into action. A year from now may we once again be sitting together in person at our holiday tables, a people transformed by our mutual care and giving thanks for our deliverance.

My love to you all,

Kenzie