, Salem, MA

May 2, 2014

Letter: Gateway Cities program a disservice to those in need

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

Uh oh, the Gateway Cities program is in the headlines again (“Funding sought for Gateway cities,” April 28). Hear that collective groan throughout Salem? Truthfully, this program funds some nice improvements in our city. And I like their vision of matching local educational programs with skills gaps in our state — although they haven’t actually figured out how to do that yet. But they’ve got that one big misguided goal of packing lower-income families into the Gateway cities in order to improve economic opportunity. Now, how does that work?

The answer is, it doesn’t. In 2009 the original Gateway Communities Pact was signed with the objective of revitalizing the economies of 11 tired industrial cities and equalizing economic opportunities in Massachusetts. Any success? Not really. Massachusetts still has one of the most unequal income distributions in the nation. And now the number of economically challenged Gateway cities has grown to 26. If the Gateway Cities program is successful, shouldn’t the number of Gateway cities be shrinking instead of growing?

And let’s look at the progress of the demographics of these ever-growing Gateway cities. Residents represent 30 percent of the state’s poor and half of all welfare cases and incarcerated youth. More than 70 percent of students attend underperforming schools. Median home values and household incomes in Gateway cities are way below state averages. And, these slum demographics haven’t been getting better.

Let’s face it, subsidizing housing through the Gateway Cities program is just good old-fashioned redlining. Taxpayer dollars are being used to steer lower-income families into struggling cities, without similar opportunity for affordable housing in the leafy suburbs with their superior school systems. Furthermore, Gateway housing schemes obstruct Chapter 40B, which requires all state communities to have 10 percent affordable housing. The average percentage of affordable housing in Gateway cities is already over 11 percent. Affordable housing in our nice, leafy suburban communities isn’t even close.

I get the idea of their newest plan to build market rate housing in Gateway cities, then give subsidized vouchers for lower-income families to live there. Yes, this keeps properties on the municipal tax base at market value. But, it also continues to promote segregation because it steers our less-fortunate families into our less-fortunate cities. I’m betting no vouchers will be handed out for market-rate housing in Marblehead.

Wake up Massachusetts. The Federal Fair Housing law requires that all people be afforded equal opportunity to live in communities with strong public services. And, the definition of public services doesn’t just mean transportation, as the Statehouse chooses to misinterpret the law. It means schools. And it means that affordable housing and vouchers have to be made equally available in our leafy suburbs. Our legislators should stop institutionalizing their long-standing practice of housing segregation through the Gateway Cities program…lest they open themselves up to a well-deserved judicial review.

Jennifer Firth