I met with Lydia Edwards, candidate for City Council 1st district (Charlestown, East Boston, North End). Edwards is a lawyer who currently works in the city’s Office of Housing Stability. She hails originally from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – a military kid who came to Boston after law school at American University. (She also completed a Tax Law LLM at BU in 2015.)
She’d just come from a meeting with Charlestown residents regarding the Charlestown Housing Authority’s One Charleston project, a 10-year rebuilding and tripling of the site, which means a whopping 25% increase in the population of Charlestown. The people who live in the CHA will have to be displaced — for years. Who moves back in first — the market-rate residents or those of low income? Charlestown will contend with increased school population, more traffic (with the new casino to the north), and parking scarcity. The next district 1 councillor will have to contend with this knot of problems.
Edwards feels that we should develop without displacement, and that we need not cater to the whims of developers. “Boston is hot [stuff],” she says — “We should act like it.” She says we can choose pick and choose developers that adhere to best practices with regard to quality, inclusion, and environmental factors. “We’re not desperate” for the attention of developers.
Edwards questions the notion of developers’ reluctance to build middle-income housing. “Developers making a profit? That’s not the question I begin with,” Edwards says. She points out there are alternative structures that can create and preserve housing: Non-profits, Community Development Corporations, Community Land Trusts (like the Chinatown Land Trust and the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative). CLTs can develop and stabilize housing for residents (pdf), resisting predatory flipping and gentrification.
She’s concerned with social mobility, which in her view has three legs: Housing, transportation, and education. She’s concerned that Millennial-age people who grew up in Boston — in whom the city has placed considerable investment via education — can’t afford to stay and raise families.
She says the recent hiatus in rent increases is a “small measure of success” in providing adequate housing. She sees ownership — be it traditional or in an alternate arrangement like a land trust — as a true measure of housing success, since it builds wealth and therefore upward mobility.
Two and a half years after Long Island homeless shelter was shut down, its residents have still not all found housing, and reportedly some have lost their lives due to relapse into addiction. Edwards supports an increase in the requirement of emergency housing with new developments – 3-5% for “housing crisis” units.
Edwards helped start the East Boston Community Soup Kitchen. She has seen up close how housing, mental health, and addiction are related: “Homelessness is a symptom of addiction” — and often addiction is a result of other mental health issues. As a lawyer, she had to advocate for her own father, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. At Greater Boston Legal Services she has helped navigate this web of challenges — securing disability benefits from Social Security; housing vouchers; cleaning up CORI records so that one can work; etc.
Edwards is not satisfied with the underfunding of Boston Public Schools. She remembers her own schooling in Michigan — replete with extracurriculars, arts, music, other supports for kids. She supports keeping the cap on charter expansion until there is stable funding for regular schools, and notes that Mayor Walsh would use funds generated by tourism to support pre-K expansion (for which the state would have to grant permission). She views the Fair Share amendment with some optimism.
She views the job of City Councillor as a check on the administration — asking questions on behalf of constituents. But with regard to the Mayoral election, she says definitively (and as a member of the administration), “I’m Team Walsh.”