On today’s 4 p.m. meeting at City Hall re: Affordable housing in Worcester

By Rosalie Tirella

For far too long our CDCs have been the whipping boys of the “a new Woo on the rise” – or should we say “ruse”  – crowd. Developers with lots of dough (some good, some bad) who paint the CDCs as little more than “projects” filled with “pajama people,” people “who do not contribute,” women who are shacking up with boyfriends – all the usual racial and class stereotypes called up during discussions like the one the city will be having today at 4 p.m. at the Worcester City Hall. TODAY!

These developers claim that by putting the kibbosh on the CDCs and cutting back on the city’s affordable housing stock, Worcester will be reinvigorated with newcomers. People who will come to our city with new ideas, new … money. These developers  paint the bleakest picture of Worcester (because our people do not conform to their preconceptions) – it is a false snapshot of my city. Worcester IS a Gateway City, but it is a Gateway City that is doing a thousand times better than the state’s other Gateway Cities, such as Springfield (they almost went bankrupt a few years ago), Lawrence (poor, poor,poor) and Lowell. Worcester, with its upper-middle class neighborhoods (the kind you would see in the better parts of Brookline, for instance), its many colleges, teaching hospital and hospitals and AMAZING AMOUNT OF GREEN SPACE is miles ahead of these other Gateway Cities. But it is no tourist town either – a place where people can go to forget the world and their problems. Worcester is, in its own wide open, clean, relatively safe, tree-filled way a huge family town and a little Statue of Liberty – welcoming people from all over the world. Take a walk through Main South or Piedmont and you get the picture – the feel: Great ethnic food, clothing, languages, cultures, traditions. Again, we have a ton of middle and upper class neighborhoods in the city that are as Leave it to Beaver as you can get. Our inner city hoods are exciting, real and diverse. Let’s keep them going!!!

Years ago, Wusta’s newcomers could have found decent paying work in the scores of factories in our city. If they, like many of my Polish immigrant relatives, worked hard and saved their paychecks,  they could even become homeowners – buy a so-so three decker in neighborhoods like Green Island, South Worcester. As  homeowners in these working class hoods, my relatives stabilized parts of the city the well off didn’t want to be a part of – and they offered shelter from the storm of life to relatives and friends.

No more. Today, Worcester’s factories are dead. Our newcomers – many who struggle with English and have few skills – do not have the economic opportunities their counterparts had in the 1940s and 1950s. Video gaming and bio tech jobs will not close Worcester’s job gap. However, this doesn’t mean our new people should be shunned or shunted away from Worcester. The minimum wage needs to be raised, city leaders must – like New Bedford has – hustle to bring new, light industry to Worcester, so that today’s Wusta immigrants and under-educated folks can have decent paying jobs so they can pay the bills – have a shot at a stable, working class life.

IT’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID. NOT THE CDCs!

In fact, the CDCs are saving Worcester’s butt! The economy has wreaked havoc on the housing market. Inflated prices for crap housing stock, housing stock bought by developers (some out of towners) who either flip the buildings or cut up the apartments and charge high rents. People – renters – are exploited. By building safe and affordable appartments and condos through the years, the Main South CDC has stabilized many families and rescued Main South – a total pit in the 1970s, a place where my uncle, getting out of his car to pick up a prescription at Moynihan’s in the middle of the afternoon, was pounced upon by a prostitute. A good egg, and Worcester boy, he took it in stride and went inside the pharmacy to get his prescription. Much of the grime and icky housing stock, thnaks to the Main South CDC,  has been  replaced with beautiful units or reclaimed. The housing has been rented out/sold to working folks who need safe, affordable housing and a landlord that will not jack up the rent, treat his tenants like shit, flip his property, be lax with his property, etc. The way many developers are. I am not saying all developers are low lifes – I know a few nice ones – but they are outside the norm. Most landlords want to make as much money off their tenants as possible. Their properties are a business to them – not a social contract. Often times families in Woo apartments are living in cold water flats … and struggle to pay their bills and feed their families – or save $$ for a better fuure. Off they flee, in the middle of the night sometimes, ahead of the constable. The kids suffer in school, parents are stressed … .

The CDCs take the anxiety out of the picture, and, contrary to what some developers in town tell you, THEY DO HAVE AND FOLLOW INCOME GUIDELINES. My friend, a wonderful single mom with kids and a full time job, could not get into CDC housing because she did not make enough money! The CDC housing stock is not filled with “pajama people.” The condos and apartments are filled with working class people – many of them immigrants or immigrants’ kids – who contribute, hold jobs and make our city vibrant.

Worcester is Worcester. We have our challenges but we are a family town with a healthy middle class. Unfortunately, many of these wealthier folks are not spending their money at sushi bars – places where many developers want to see them, kind of upper income urban hipsters. We have those folks. But many of our upper income folks are not cruising bars  … . They have kids and family responsibilities. Many are socking away their dough in college bank accounts for their kids. Some are saving for a vacation home at the Cape. It is a more conservative way to spend expendable money, but these wealthier folks create the Worcester I want to live in: family focused, strong, green and safe.

Don’t dump on CDCs, the working class or affordable housing! Worcester is a great city – and don’t you forget it!!!

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