Tania Fernandes Anderson, who chairs the City Council’s Ways & Means Committee, told members of the Greater Mattapan Neighborhood Council (GMNC) early this month that the city bureaucracy moves too slowly in distributing funds and the Main Streets model does not work in Black and Brown communities. She suggested that some other type of program replace the model in communities like Mattapan and Dorchester.
Fernandes Anderson, who once led the Bowdoin-Geneva Main Streets program, was discussing the upcoming city budget process at the remote meeting when she brought up her criticism of the model, which involves independent nonprofits focusing on helping commercial districts.
“A lot of time the people on the board – they’re not equipped with the tools to fundraise," she said. "The point is I believe Main Streets should be properly funded [by the city] and people should be better paid.
“The formula has one director overseeing all businesses with zero resources,” she added. “We need to better fund our Main Streets and communicate to our small businesses what resources are available.”
She also gave a harsh appraisal of one of the programs in the Main Streets portfolio – the storefront and signage improvement effort, calling it “stupid” because it requires businesses to pay the money up front and then be reimbursed. That’s a challenge in low-income Black and Brown districts, she said.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” she noted. “You can’t ask our people to cough up money from their overhead to pay for a sign and then be reimbursed. The city has to do a better job of moving faster. It’s too slow.”
Those comments by Fernandes Anderson, whose District 7 Council seat includes Roxbury and parts of Uphams Corner and the South End, came weeks before thousands of Main Streets professionals from around the country are scheduled to arrive in Boston (March 27-29) for the Main Streets Now 2023 conference that will bring Main Streets leaders from cities all over the country.
The agenda calls for the usual workshops but also for attendees to see the successes of Boston’s 20 Main Streets districts, including five in Dorchester:
Greater Ashmont, Bowdoin-Geneva, Uphams Corner, Fields Corner, and Mattapan Square.
Anderson’s comments on Main Streets and the city’s slow ways with them were prompted by community member Azan Reid, who noted that a lot of residents are doing upkeep for the city on their own dimes.
“I spend money out of my pocket to buy trash bags and tools to beautify the neighborhood,” he said, detailing efforts to clean up city property like the Mattapan Branch Library landscape. “At the same time there are people that hang out in the neighborhood all day long. Maybe we can give them gift cards to help clean up and I think they would…There’s really no funds to help small people with these small things…No one is interested in finding out what is happening in Mattapan until someone gets killed and then they want to be seen.”
District 4 Councillor Brian Worrell, who represents most of Mattapan and is the vice chair of the Ways & Means Committee, also attended the virtual meeting. He said that he has been reviewing historic disinvestment in District 4 via the city’s capital budget for the last 18 months and that is something he hopes to reverse, putting District 4 where it should be on funding for parks, schools, and other infrastructure.
“I’m excited about this new year and this new fight to make sure our community gets the investments it needs and should have had,” he said. “Throughout this process I’d like our neighbors and residents to be heard at the hearings.”
Fernandes Anderson is about to embark on her second year as chair of the budgetary review committee as councillors work with new budgetary powers that give them a greater say in what the mayor proposes.
Typically, the mayor presents the administration’s budget proposal to the City Council in April. From there, numerous hearings will take place in the Ways & Means Committee, and a budget will be hammered out, maybe revised, and sent back to the mayor. The new budget is due to be in place on July 1.
•The new Mattapan Senior Drop-in Program at the Mildred Avenue Community Center is showing great popularity quickly, said Barbara Crichlow. They have had some 50 senior citizens at the Tuesday and Thursday drop-in. She said many seniors in Mattapan need socialization and many also live alone. They will begin computer classes this month.
•The new GMNC Education Committee gathered a lot of steam with its first meeting late last month, led by members Meshell Whyte (a BPS parent), and Cisco Fernandez (a BPS student).
“We need to hold these teachers accountable, and we need to hold the School Committee accountable,” said Whyte. “The curriculum definitely needs to change. Going forward, I am incredibly optimistic about this committee.”
•The new Economic Development Committee will have its first meeting on March 22 under the leadership of member David Halbert. It will focus on small business development.
•Councillor Brian Worrell said he is mounting a campaign at the Council to advocate for more liquor licenses designated for District 4. He noted that there are only about one or two Black-owned businesses with licenses out of approximately 1,200 licenses citywide. He said those businesses want more than 200 to be designated for just Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, East Boston, and Hyde Park.