ACE Blog

Standing against displacement in Dudley

February 2, 2016

On January 15, ACE members and neighbors rallied against gentrification and displacement in Dudley Square at a protest organized by City Life/Vida Urbana, one of our partners in Right to the City - Boston (RTCB).

Residents of 9-15 Ruggles Street, across the street from ACE's office, are facing eviction from real estate and management groups that are profiting from predatory rent hikes. The Mayo Group and Advanced Property Management (APM) are renovating the units to rent at much higher prices, pushing out families who are willing to negotiate a reasonable rent increase but can't afford to pay hundreds more.

Building residents and supporters shared stories of no-fault evictions in Boston's low-income neighborhoods, dramatic rent increases and landlords clearing buildings for higher-income renters.

"I've been in this building here for 16 years. I've been a good tenant, I've paid my rent," said Felicha, a Ruggles Street resident threatened with eviction who has lived in Roxbury for 49 years. "This is my home - this is where I grew up."

Fight Night at the MBTA

February 2, 2016

Join our T Riders Union (TRU) tonight for the MBTA's fare increase hearing at the Transportation Building and on February 10 for the meeting in Roxbury! We are organizing for an equitably funded transit system and a moratorium on fare hikes and service cuts.

The Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB), appointed to oversee the MBTA by Governor Baker, will be voting on two fare increase proposals in the next couple months. These plans will raise fares by an (unlawful) average of 6.71 or 9.77 percent, respectively bringing in an additional $33.2 million or $49.4 million.

Last year, Baker proposed abolishing the fare cap from our 2013 transportation bill that limits fare hikes to five percent every two years. This year, he, along with some legislators and transit officials, has shamelessly twisted the law to allow for a 10 percent increase, including substantially higher fares on the people least able to afford them - youth, seniors and disabled people.

In an additional show of disrespect to riders, the administration has deliberately misrepresented monthly passes as being different from fares to exempt them from the cap. Under this interpretation, passes will be subject to raises of any amount at any time.

Fares on seniors and THE RIDE could be raised as much as 10.3 percent. Monthly passes for the bus - the mode used most by low-income riders - could be hiked by 19.5 percent. Worst of all, the cost for Student Passes (and our Youth Pass) is the most extreme of any increase, at 23.1 percent.

The FMCB claims that fare hikes are the last option and the only way to balance the budget. But we have identified a number of ways to cut costs and increase revenue without raising fares, using the T's own numbers and Baker's promised $187 million in state funding that has been hidden from the public.

Open Letter to MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board

December 14, 2015

Dear MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board Members,

On behalf of the T Riders Union (TRU) program at Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE), I am submitting this testimony offering our perspective on your upcoming December 15 report to the Massachusetts Legislature.

ACE is an environmental justice organization with 1,000 members based in the Dudley Square, Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. For more than 15 years, our programs—including the T Riders Union (TRU), the Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project (REEP) and Environmental Justice Legal Services (EJLS)—have been working with Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) riders, both adults and young people to organize and advocate for an affordable and reliable public transit system for all.

ACE, TRU, dozens of organizations, elected officials, and tens of thousands of riders, business owners, and residents are deeply concerned about what this board plans to include in its long-awaited report to the Legislature. Over the last six months, your slideshows have depicted cost inflation and stagnating ridership—a misleading representation of problems. We hope that you will change direction to bring honesty and clarity to this situation.

Increased funding is the keystone solution for the MBTA and without this, it will be impossible to stop the MBTA from falling apart. Last winter should have made that clear to each of you, as it very publicly showed the depths of the MBTA’s financial crisis.

Fighting fare increases for 2016

November 24, 2015

It's that time of year again - MassDOT is beginning to prepare the 2016-2017 MBTA budget. Until recently, this carried the threat of massive fare increases to deal with the T's ever-worsening fiscal crisis. In 2013, we won a provision in transportation legislation limiting fare hikes to no more than five percent every two years. By this measure, there would be a possible five percent increase in 2016.

However, some legislators, transit officials and Governor Baker's Fiscal and Management Control Board are now debating whether the law permits a 10 percent fare increase instead. As if this wasn't bad enough, some even want to raise prices on our paratransit system THE RIDE, bringing the cost of a one-way trip from $3 to $4.20, the highest fare allowable under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"As a T rider, I've experienced two fare hikes that have impacted my daily life," said Emmanuell de Barros, TRU intern, at a MassDOT board meeting in November. "Sometimes I would have to walk to school or work due to the cost, or because of inadequate service."

Unfortunately, service cuts - not improvements - are high on the Control Board's agenda. For example, bus trips used by some of the most vulnerable riders could be slashed, with the remainder being transferred to ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft (with documented worker exploitation issues). This circumvents union jobs and moves us closer to privatization - even though corporations like Keolis have failed to provide better service at a lower cost to the state.

Despite the need to close the MBTA's $242 million budget gap and fund the more than $7.3 billion in backlogged repairs, Governor Baker is promoting the same "reform before revenue" fallacy that has precipitated the dire straights our transit system is in today. Our governor and legislators seem to prefer debating fare hikes in place of alloting the $261 million granted to the agency for the 2016-2017 fiscal year by the 2013 Transportation Investment Act.

"We need to be looking at real solutions instead of backtracking on the ones riders won in 2013 - and that includes capping fare hikes at five percent every two years and investing in the system," said Emmanuell.

Fare hikes and services cuts are not the answer to balancing the T's budget. No fare increase would be enough to cover the more than $9 billion in debt and bring the system into a state of good repair. We believe that a fare increase of any amount is too much when riders are already struggling to with the costs of getting to work, education, healthcare and other necessities. The T needs to be relieved of the Big Dig Debt and allocated a sustainable source of funding to provide the affordable, quality service that we need.

Join us to fight for real solutions for the T! Testify with TRU at MassDOT Fiscal and Management Control Board meetings on November 30 and December 9. We are expecting fare hike proposals to be unveiled by January 6, with a board vote in February. Learn more at our next TRU member meeting and sign up to join us for outreach! For more information, contact Caroline.  

Health centers supporting transit justice

November 24, 2015

Since the fall of 2014, ACE and our partners in the On The Move coalition have been working with community health centers in Boston to explore the connection between health and public transportation. As part of this process, health professionals recognized that better transit service would improve patient access to healthcare.

"The transit justice collaboration with ACE was transformative for our Health Center. Our partnership opened a new space to combine organizing, public health, racial justice language and values that was powerful and shared," said Abigail Ortiz, Director of Community Health Programs at the Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center. "Focusing the goals of the project on the extensive transit organizing done by ACE and its members, rather than re-creating new ones, gave our health center clarity about how we can be most effective in placing our patients' realities at the center of our health equity policy work."

This year, 11 health centers in Dorchester, Roxbury, South Boston, the South End, the Fenway and Jamaica Plain collected more than 1,300 surveys from patients, the majority of whom are people of color.

The survey revealed that two-thirds of patients rely on public transportation to get to appointments, with 47 percent using the bus. Over 60 percent of respondents had missed appointments due to issues with public transportation. But this doesn't affect all people equally: Black patients are 1.25 times more likely than white patients - and Latino patients 1.3 times more likely - to miss or be late to an appointment due to transit reasons.

The surveys also show how displacement creates additional strain and affects the well-being of patients. When rising rents push residents out of gentrifying neighborhoods, patients are often forced to move far away from health care providers. Over 34 percent of survey respondents travel more than 30 minutes to reach their appointments, with many reporting commutes over two hours long.

When public transportation fails, patient health suffers. Missing appointments means that medical concerns can go unchecked and can lead to an increase in chronic hospitalizations and trips to the emergency room. In addition, patients can experience negative health impacts due to the stress of long and difficult commutes.

In EJ communities, exposure to environmental inequities like waste incinerators, power plants and other polluting industries, combined with a dearth of fresh food and green space leads to higher rates of illness and disease. Our communities are more likely to need medical care, and less likely to have reliable access to it.

"It is impossible to avoid the need for organizing and systems change when 60 percent of our patients are missing health care appointments - and work, school and more - due to bus service. This burden is carried overwhelmingly by black and Latino patients," said Abigail.

In September, the results of the survey were shared in a gathering of health care professionals in Boston. Community health centers have joined us to support better public transportation by advocating for a permanent Youth Pass, a tiered fare structure on THE RIDE, improved service on key bus routes used by low-income people of color, and by inviting patients to join our T Riders Union (TRU) to fight for transit justice. Directors of the centers are also pushing for a Racial Justice and Equity Commission in Boston to create equity in all areas of life that impact health outcomes.

Thank you to the Center for Community Health, Education, Research and Service, Codman Square Health Center, Fenway Community Health Center, Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center, JP Tree of Life/Arbol de Vida, JP Racial Justice and Equity Collaborative, South End Community Health Center, Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center, Kevin Odell of On the Move, and Nashira Baril for your leadership for racial and transit justice and to the Boston Alliance for Community Health for funding this initiative! We look forward to continuing this work together. 

Elections tomorrow: Where do city council candidates stand?

November 2, 2015

Thanks for coming to our Annual Meeting!
Thank you for making our Annual Meeting such a blast last week! We're happy to introduce Genea Foster as our newest board member and look forward to her leadership and guidance. We also thank departing board members Neenah Estrella-Luna and Donna Dear for their many years of service as their terms come to a close.

Join us to follow up on our development and gentrification discussions next Thursday, November 12, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. New to ACE? You're invited to our People's Power Seminar on Saturday, November 14 for an orientation and Toxic Tour.

Don't forget to vote on Election Day tomorrow, November 3! For those of you who are registered in Boston, please check the position of city council candidates on key issues like affordable housing, raising the minimum wages and expanding youth jobs. See MassVOTE's questionnaire.

Also, the councilors and candidates that Right to the City - Boston has on record for supporting our Just Cause Eviction policy are:

Marching for a Just Cause Eviction policy Councilors:
Frank Baker (District 3)
Michael Flaherty (At-Large)
Tito Jackson (District 7)
Stephen Murphy (At-Large)
Ayanna Pressley (At-Large)
Michelle Wu (At-Large)
Charles Yancey (District 4)

Andrea Campbell (District 4)
Charles Clemons (District 7)
Annissa Essaibi-George (At-Large)

Polls are open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. For more information, check your Massachusetts polling location and see sample Boston ballots.

Annual Meeting next Thursday

October 20, 2015
Join us at our Annual Meeting!
We're looking forward to seeing you at our Annual Meeting on Thursday, October 29! We're excited to share our plans and goals for the next year, elect Board members and celebrate our work together over dinner.

We'll also continue conversations on gentrification and displacement from the Right to Remain Assembly earlier this month, where hundreds of our members and partners in Right to the City - Boston came together to demand a Just Cause Eviction policy in Boston.

Marching for a Just Cause Eviction policy Residents shared how extreme rent increases and evictions threaten to displace low-income families and rallied for a citywide policy that would offer basic protections to tenants.

Several city councilors in attendance pledged to back a Just Cause Eviction policy in Boston. Councilors Frank Baker, Michael Flaherty, Tito Jackson, Stephen Murphy, Ayanna Pressley, Michelle Wu and Charles Yancey gave their support, along with city council candidates Andrea Campbell, Charles Clemons and Annissa Essaibi-George.

Thank you to everyone who came out to march with us, share your story and build power for our right to remain! We hope to see you at our Annual Meeting to keep this work going.

Enroll in the Youth Pass pilot today

Sign up for a Youth Pass today! October 20, 2015

Are you a young person looking for more affordable transit options - or know someone who is? There's still time to sign up for a Youth Pass!

With the school year underway (and Student Pass program back up), space in our Youth Pass pilot has become available. This means more openings for youth who don't receive passes from school and still need a way to get to work, class, extracurricular activities and doctor's appointments.

The Youth Pass is a result of eight years of sustained, youth-led organizing, and is open to 1,500 riders ages 12 to 21 in Boston, Chelsea, Malden and Somerville.

Enrollment is rolling and participants may choose between weekly ($7) or monthly ($26) passes.

The pilot program also demonstrates the need for affordable transportation, and provides data on youth ridership that will be important when MBTA and MassDOT officials consider whether to implement a permanent Youth Pass.

The program began on July 1, 2015, and will run until June 30, 2016. Find out if you're eligible to participate and sign up today - if you are eligible and have previously signed up, please register again to ensure a spot on the list.

In our community

October 20, 2015

Congratulations, Haley House! Art in Dudley Square

Earlier this month, REEP Youth Organizers and members visited "The Faces of Dudley" exhibit at the Dudley Square Library, part of artist JR's worldwide Inside Out Project.

The portraits provide an opportunity to reflect on the #Right2Remain in Roxbury. Will the forces of gentrification and displacement change the face of our community?

Calling all members!

Renew your membership this fall with a donation of $5 or more. Not a member yet? Sign up today!

Member Profile: Sue Harden, ACE member

October 20, 2015

Sue is an ACE member and active member of our Massachusetts EJ Alliance.

My husband and I lived aboard our boat in East Boston in the harbor and we got on the subway one day with somebody that had some sort of sticker on. I’d been looking to make connections because I’d been in environmental justice and social justice work my entire life. I met this gal with the sticker and went to a meeting with ACE lawyers Staci Rubin and Gene Benson. We sat around this paper-covered table and I thought, this is really interesting. The people were committed and very, very productive.

The need for an Executive Order on Environmental Justice became evident when I started working with community groups in Chelsea and East Boston. Before, I was an environmental activist and a social activist but I never really saw the intersection of the two.

What I learned through ACE is that they are at a very important intersection. These pieces all fit together. Sometimes I’m talking strictly about environmental justice, or sometimes I’m saying let’s plant more perennials so we can get the carbon back in the soil. It’s all integrated-it’s all pieces of the same puzzle.

In Chelsea and East Boston we were working on the ethanol campaign. It’s just such a pleasure to spend time together and to know you can get the job done and get support from one another. Without camaraderie, it’s pretty hard to do something like this.

The campaign for the EJ EO was as statewide as possible. We started collecting these postcards saying that environmental justice was important. I said that we needed to demonstrate that these came from the state of Massachusetts and not just from ACE and its friends. We wanted to be very sure that we had postcards from everywhere, including Deval Patrick’s hometown. We had them from Fitchburg to Holyoke, from the Berkshires to Boston, from Cape Cod. We covered the state.

I colored in each part of the map that we had postcards from. The map showed that it really was from those individual places, and the number of postcards spoke for itself. We walked in with the map and with the postcards and it was pretty dramatic.

After finally getting it passed and thinking Wahoo, We’re done, we weren’t done. We had to keep the pressure on. Now we’re having listening sessions with all the state agencies on how they will implement the Executive Order.

When we had the Executive Order signed, that was just such a moment. Being in the presence of the group of people-professors from Northeastern, lawyers who are donating their time, and all the other folks-that’s the payoff.

People wonder why would you do something like this, but the payoff is in your heart and in the sense of being a part of something bigger than yourself, making a difference, being able to use that difference and go forward with it. It’s been just a terrific ride.