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INDYMASS: JANUARY 19, 2024

introducing IndyMass
Image by Jason Pramas. Copyright 2024 Jason Pramas.

A new regular roundup of articles from the Massachusetts independent press


Introduction

One of our core activities as a statewide journalism incubator at the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism is to do everything we can to network with fellow independent press outlets around the Bay State—as part of our mandate to help rebuild collapsing local news infrastructure hereabouts. 

Since we’re in increasingly frequent touch with our fellow publishers and have been syndicating all the articles BINJ produces to them for free through our MassWire news service, I started thinking that another useful service for us to provide along similar lines would be a regular column aimed at lifting up the excellent journalism they all provide their communities.

Because all too often, the good work that is produced by the independent local press doesn’t get the audience it deserves—only rarely being mentioned in larger print and broadcast news outlets or going viral on social media. A fact that makes it difficult for all of us to grow our audiences to sizes where our businesses become more sustainable for the long term. Ensuring that more and more municipalities in the Commonwealth risk becoming “news deserts” without professionally-produced journalism covering issues of the day in the public interest.

So welcome to IndyMass, where you can read articles from small commercial and nonprofit local news organizations from across Massachusetts that I’ll curate for you every couple of weeks to start. Naturally, I’m publishing this new column in HorizonMass—BINJ’s still-fairly-new, student-driven news outlet—and pushing it out to our growing audience via its newsletter … which happily also comes out every two weeks. 

Commentary: Wellesley Residents Stop Multi-Unit Housing Development for Questionable Reasons

Please note that I plan to discuss at least one article in some detail in every installment of IndyMass. This first time out, I’ll focus on “Developers head back to drawing board after Wellesley Select Board rejects condo plan” in the Swellesley Report by its Co-Editor Bob Brown.

Massachusetts has a terrible housing crisis. Currently, the state needs tens of thousands of new homes to meet the demand—most of them to serve working families who are the backbone of our economy but whose breadwinners cannot afford the ever-rising sticker prices to rent or buy homes in a market that’s undersupplied. And how could it not be given a toxic combination of developer and landlord greed coupled with the unwillingness of government at all levels to build (and properly maintain) public housing for over a half century now? 

Even in the midst of this very unfortunate situation, there are still opportunities to get at least some multi-family residences built by the aforementioned greedy developers in well-to-do suburbs that have used racist and classist exclusionary zoning to remain elite, expensive, and low-density for the 100-plus years of their existence. Hence, they have plenty of room for any number of large mixed-income housing complexes that won’t include nearly enough genuinely affordable units for working families in the current political economic climate but would at least have some.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has even created a raft of tax incentives to make building such structures profitable for developers while increasing housing density near suburban mass transit hubs–which we need more of, to be sure, but do better than other states in that regard. State government has also lowered the bar for municipalities to change their zoning laws to more easily allow such developments.

Problem is, even if the most tony Boston burbs have gotten somewhat less racist by being forced to accept wealthy people of color buying some of the large houses on large plots of land on offer (or to accept merely middle-class people of color renting or buying some of the smaller number of more affordable apartments and condos available), they’re definitely as classist overall as they ever were. (Annnnd, also still pretty darned racist … especially to Black and Latin families … progress usually being incremental, one supposes.)

That said, allow the Swellesley Report to transport you to fair Wellesley, one of the richest towns in the United States and indeed the world. And witness the serious difficulty that one developer just ran into trying to build a few dozen housing units on three acres of land near a highway. Pay particular attention to the effect a local advocacy group (that styles itself an environmental organization but that I read as more of a NIMBY group) had on the debate in the recent town select board meeting and in a long series of similar meetings leading up to it. Trying to “preserve local character” like many such groups have done since civil rights legislation started blowing holes in exclusionary zoning regimes in lily white “bedroom communities” nationwide mid-last-century. 

That “local character,” I tell you, there’s nothing like it.

And what is the character of that “local character,” I presage you asking. By way of an answer, might I suggest that you look at the only two images of people on the NIMBY group’s rather slick website here and here.

Yeah, they’ve got character to burn over in Wellesley. What they don’t have is the thousands of units of housing we need to build there and in other rich towns surrounding Boston over the next decade or so to stop the human rights disaster of growing numbers of impoverished people taking to our streets because they have literally nowhere else to go. For a better idea of why that is, spin through the article.

Independent Journalism from Around the Commonwealth

ARTS
BPS Families Receiving Free Admission to Boston’s Cultural Institutions Thanks to City Pilot Program
Jamaica Plain News (Boston)
Makes one wonder why this group of well-heeled private nonprofit institutions wasn’t doing this all along.

Preview: The Brattle’s (some of) the Best of 2023!
Boston Hassle
Cool movies from last year that you can check out at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge into early February.

Coming Attractions: January 14 through 30 — What Will Light Your Fire
The Arts Fuse (Somerville)
Upcoming cultural events worth attending.

CIVIL RIGHTS
MLK Day event draws nearly 200 to Town Hall
YourArlington
A nice memorial covered nicely.

EDUCATION
Policy changes ripple through Cambridge schools from adopting universal pre-K, toughening rules
Cambridge Day
Cambridge’s newly-seated School Committee already has its hands full dealing with some very complicated changes to its pre-K program.

Schools to pay nearly $120K to former Student Services leaders
Marblehead Current
This piece—on what happened after two Marblehead school officials lost their jobs for failing to handle some apparently out-of-control elementary school students in what teachers and community members considered a reasonable and timely manner—leads down an interesting rabbit hole of original reporting by the Marblehead Current.

ELECTIONS
Town election slow to attract candidates
Needham Observer
Only one of 11 races in the upcoming Town of Needham election is contested. What to do?

ENVIRONMENT
Group seeks to stop Holtec from evaporating Pilgrim plant’s radioactive water into the air
Plymouth Independent
As BINJ reporter Miriam Wasser showed in her monumental 2018 review of 50 years of community activism to shut down the Pilgrim nuclear plant in Plymouth, no matter who is in charge of the now-shuttered facility, they have zero concern for the environment and the well-being of area denizens.

EPA ‘Justice40’ grants target grassroots efforts: $50m will go to groups in New England
Bay State Banner (Boston)
The feds are working with regional environmental organizations to distribute funds “to meet the needs of grassroots community-based organizations focused on environmental justice and climate issues.” Worth watching to see if the approach works.

GOVERNMENT
Many Non-Union Town Staff’s Pay Below Average, Study Reports
Bedford Citizen
Here’s something you don’t see every day: An employer, in this case a town government, realizing it’s underpaying non-union managers and staff and moving to improve pay.

Burlington Fills Venue at First-Ever Civic Expo
Burlington Buzz
Civic engagement on steroids as Burlington residents meet their local government officials and nonprofit leaders.

Efforts underway to reduce community center borrowing by several million dollars
Lincoln Squirrel
Locals raising money to lower the costs of a major public building project by the Town of Lincoln.

HOUSING
Developers head back to drawing board after Wellesley Select Board rejects condo plan
The Swellesley Report (Wellesley)
See the Commentary section of this column.

The cruelty machine made visible
Worcester Sucks and I Love It
Unhoused activists protest conditions at a new emergency shelter by starting their own encampment just outside. Worcester cops are called. Bill Shaner chronicles the blow-by-blow and the systemic issues behind the resulting fracas.

INDIGENOUS RIGHTS
Residents propose official recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Lexington
Lexington Observer
Native American residents lead the push for the Town of Lexington to start observing an important holiday on the second Monday of every October.

IMMIGRATION
Boston’s Vietnamese Community largely invisible in the news, civic leaders say Advocates point to lack of political representation, Asian journalists, vocal leaders
Sampan (Boston)
Deep dive into a complex and underreported topic by Boston University students Mitch Fink, Frankie Puleo, Audrey Tumbarello and Ella Willis.

LABOR
Officials press to end child labor in New Bedford seafood plants
New Bedford Light
Our high-tech paradise of a blue state couldn’t possibly be returning to 19th-century labor conditions … could it?

POLICE
Editorial: Don’t fall for the ‘big lie’ about city safety
Dorchester Reporter (Boston)
Dot Reporter Managing Editor Bill Forry demolishes some unfortunate aspects of HBO’s documentary on the infamous Charles Stuart case like only a local journalist can.

Outgoing Greenfield Mayor Gave Big Raises To Police Officials
The Shoestring (Somewhere in Western Mass!)
Some fine investigative reporting demonstrating that one of the former Greenfield mayor’s “last acts before Election Day was to give raises of 20% and 25%, respectively, to the city’s police chief and deputy chief.” After previously reinstating the chief when a jury found him guilty of discriminating against a Black officer.

PRISONS
Massachusetts Supreme Court Rules Against Life Without Parole for Emerging Adults
Greylock Glass (Williamstown)
A useful explainer on the recent landmark ruling.

TRANSPORTATION
Concord presses Massport for documents on Hanscom expansion
Concord Bridge
Literally no one in the Bay State is shocked that the Town of Concord is having to put the screws to the “financially self-sustaining public transportation authority” Massport to get up-to-date information about its planned expansion of one of the three airports it controls.


IndyMass is produced for HorizonMass, the independent, student-driven, news outlet of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, by Jason Pramas and is syndicated by BINJ’s MassWire news service. Copyright 2024 Jason Pramas.


Jason Pramas is executive director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and editor-in-chief of HorizonMass.

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