• Our Opinion: Encouraging state effort for city neighborhoods

    In an attempt to stem the decline of neighborhoods essential to the continued viability of these cities, two legislators, state Sen. Brendan Crighton of Lynn and state Rep. Antonio Cabral of New Bedford have filed bills that would take a multi-pronged approach to stabilizing neighborhoods, increase the state’s investment in such an effort, and coordinate various state initiatives to maximize their impact. Specifically, the proposal would double the cap of the state’s Housing Development Incentive Program to $20 million, create a “spot blight rehabilitation program” that would address distressed properties before they could negatively affect surrounding neighborhoods and consider neighborhood viability when considering school construction, among other measures.

    Mr. Forman of MassINC, whose report helped spur the effort, was most excited about the role of schools in the process. “More than half the state’s capital spending in Gateway Cities is in school building,” he told The Eagle. “Schools are the most important drivers of residential property value.” A school, he added, can become the multi-purpose core of a solid, stable neighborhood. “We had to get the state away from the idea that it should build the same school everywhere,” he said, citing the provision of child mental and physical health care and nighttime English language classes as functions influencing the design of a school to suit the needs of its neighborhood.

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  • Lawmakers pitch plan to help struggling cities

    New legislation filed by members of the Gateway Cities Legislative Caucus, based on research by MassINC and the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations, aims to address those problems. The bill proposes a combination of state funding and initiatives that supporters say will help towns and cities stabilize distressed areas.

    The proposal is built on a report by MassINC, a nonpartisan think tank, and the MACDC completed earlier this year. Representatives from the groups joined lawmakers Wednesday to promote the bill, where copies of the 24-page report were handed out.

    “It really comes back to neighborhood policy that we’ve been lacking in some way since the federal government walked off the job,” said Ben Forman, executive director of MassINC’s Gateway Cities Innovation Institute. “These neighborhoods are the greatest assets to our cities.”

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  • Home prices in ‘gateway cities’ bounce back. That’s the good — and the bad — news

     

    Those steep climbs emerged from deep troughs: Gateway cities suffered more than most in the last recession, and unemployment rates remained stubbornly high even after other communities bounced back. “They didn’t get the wind in their sails until late in the recovery,’’ said Benjamin Forman, research director at the nonprofit Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth, known as MassINC…

    We may also be seeing the fruit of seeds sown more than a decade ago, when a 2007 report by MassINC and the Brookings Institution studied the disparities between booming Boston and the state’s smaller outlying cities, and urged lawmakers not to leave the latter behind. State funding followed for an initial group of 11 gateway cities — later expanded to include 26 communities of between 35,000 and 250,000 residents with income and educational attainment levels below the state average. And after years of investments, many are increasingly attractive to home buyers.

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  • Massachusetts cities like Springfield face barriers in combating urban blight, report finds

    In the wealthy Boston suburbs, housing prices are skyrocketing and affordable housing is hard to find, even for working families.

    But travel west to Springfield, and the picture is different.

    Housing prices, measured by median price per square foot, are among the lowest in the state. Nine percent of buildings are vacant. Nearly 40,000 residents — more than a quarter of the city’s population — live in areas where poverty rates are above 40 percent, according to a recent report by the MassINC think tank.

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  • MassINC, Fall River legislators push for new housing programs and funding

    FALL RIVER — As Ben Forman explains it, Fall River’s housing problem is almost the opposite of the issue facing residents and officials in Boston.

    While the state’s largest city faces a shortage of housing and a growing demand for places to live, Fall River, and many of the state’s other so-called Gateway Cities, are having to find ways to renovate and fill existing buildings that people can’t afford to, or don’t want to, live in.

    ″(These are) cities that have an older housing stock,” said Forman, the research director for the independent think tank MassINC. “They’re traditionally in low- or moderate-income communities and as that older housing stock gets more expensive to maintain, you see some challenges.”

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  • Poverty up in Worcester neighborhoods, as home values lag

    Even with a long period of economic growth and redevelopment through significant stretches of downtown, Worcester has not been spared from some broader troublesome trends, according to a new report from the Boston think tank MassINC.

    Worcester home values have fallen by 15 percent when adjusted for inflation since just before the Great Recession, placing it tied for last among the state’s 26 Gateway Cities.

    “When you already having broader economic inequality, and you lose the tools to counter that trend, it’s kind of a perfect storm, and it feeds on itself,” said Ben Forman, MassINC’s research director.

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  • Gateway City challenges: Pittsfield mayor asks lawmakers for help aiding neighborhoods

    Tyer joined with the nonpartisan MassInc research group to highlight recommendations in a new report, “Building Communities of Promise and Possibility.”

    The study depicts a worsening picture for housing in the state’s 11 Gateway Cities — a designation given a decade ago to mid-sized communities that face “stubborn social and economic challenges.” Without new investments, the report says, neighborhoods risk further decay in their housing that can bring further declines…

    Ben Forman, MassInc’s research director, credits Tyer with helping early on to identify the issues that went on to be explored in the report released last week. Tyer and Deanna L. Ruffer, Pittsfield’s director of community development, served on the study’s working group.

    “Pittsfield has played a really big role in this,” Forman said.

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  • Report Spotlights Urban Blight In Mass. Gateway Cities

     

    The report — from the MassINC think tank and the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations — shows that across the state, more than 161,000 people live in areas of concentrated poverty: census tracts in which at least 40 percent of residents are below the federal poverty line.

    Ben Forman, MassINC’s research director, says that’s largely because of an increase in economic inequality, but also because support from the federal government in the form of Community Development Block Grants has been eviscerated.

    “Our Gateway Cities literally have $100 million a year less today than they had in 1980, to deal with older homes that are blighting a neighborhood and depressing everybody else’s property value,” Forman said.

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  • Forum explores ways to foster, manage Worcester’s growth

    “The answer is to build housing in cities that can absorb thousands of units of housing and move people to and from these cities efficiently on infrastructure that already exists,” said Benjamin Forman, executive director of the MassINC Gateway Cities Innovation Institute and research director at MassINC.

    MassINC, a Boston think tank, and The Research Bureau jointly hosted a presentation and discussion Thursday night on MassINC’s recent study “The Promise and Potential of Transformative Transit-Oriented Development in Gateway Cities.

    The 84-page report uses data from Springfield, Fitchburg, Lynn and Worcester to examine the impact of focusing development in transit-oriented districts – areas generally within a half-mile of commuter rail stations – in 13 Gateway Cities.

    The report finds that land surrounding commuter rail stations in these cities is generally either vacant or underutilized. In Worcester, for instance, the think tank calculates that the neighborhood could absorb roughly 10 million square feet of added development, 23,505 more residents, and 6,698 additional jobs.

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  • Study Examines Potential In Springfield For Mass Transit To Attract Investment

    If you don’t have a car, getting around in western Massachusetts and Connecticut can be tricky. More trains now carry daily passengers between Springfield and Connecticut cities. But the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority is raising bus fares and threatening service cuts. There’s a cycle to this: Low ridership can mean weak economic investment near transit stations. And that means even fewer people ride.

    The new study examines this thin four so-called “gateway cities” in Massachusetts: Springfield, Worcester, Lynn and Fitchburg. Ben Forman with MassINC helped to lead the study.

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  • Linking Commuter Rail to Jobs, Housing, and Opportunity in Eastern Massachusetts

    According to the study, a dozen factory towns around Boston—including other former shoe towns like Haverhill and Lynn, and former textile cities like Lawrence and Lowell—could accommodate well over a 100 million square of additional development within walking distance of existing transit stations. This is sufficient space to house at least a quarter of the population and employment growth projected for the entire state over the next decade. With Boston hugely expensive and bursting at its seams and suburban communities, like the one where I boarded this train, doing everything in their power to keep growth out, these former mill cities represent long-overlooked housing, commercial, and transit opportunities for the Boston metropolitan area.

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  • Editorial: Alternative needed for elderly, sick Mass. inmates

    Ben Forman, research director at the think tank MassINC, says there is also a question of priorities. Letting the perpetrator of a violent crime free a few months early can feel like a violation of social responsibilities to the victims. “But,” he says, “we also have a responsibility to future victims.”

    His argument: There are limited resources in the corrections system, and we should be pouring them into services for younger and potentially more dangerous inmates — making them less likely to re-offend, and victimize new people, when they get out of prison.

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  • State should empower regions to re-invest in themselves with regional ballot initiatives

    Ultimately, Regional Ballot Initiatives would save money by helping regional planning agencies, city and town governments, and construction contractors budget and plan for local projects ahead of time, instead of waiting on state or federal funds to decide their fate.

    The initiatives could also encourage growth in our downtowns: a recently released report by MassINC’s Gateway City Innovation Institute identified Regional Ballot Initiatives as a key way to promote transit-oriented economic development in our state’s mid-sized cities.

    When voters are given a choice over raising new revenues, and know exactly where their money will be going, they will fund projects that their communities need.

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  • Tarr: Teamwork needed to tame budget cost drivers

    As another effort to generate savings, Spilka said the budget would create a commission to study the costs of prisons and jails and recommend appropriate funding levels for the Department of Correction and sheriffs’ departments. A report released Monday by MassINC found that the number of inmates in state and county correctional facilities dropped 21 percent over the past eight years while correctional budgets increased by nearly 25 percent.

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  • Over 8 Years, Mass. Spending On Incarceration Is Up 25 Percent Despite Inmate Numbers Dropping 21 Percent

    Massachusetts prisons and jails hold 5,000 fewer people than they did eight years ago, but spending on those facilities has continued to rise nonetheless.

    That’s according to a research brief out Monday from the think tank MassINC, which advocates for criminal justice reform measures. The findings are an update to the group’s report last year that found correctional spending in the state had increased $181 million over five years, despite fewer inmates.

    Monday’s new figures, MassINC said, mean the trend has continued, and “in fact, the divergence between spending and population is accelerating slightly.”

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  • Prison spending up as inmate population drops

    “If more dollars were going to provide job training and other services that reduce the likelihood individuals will re-offend when they get out, that would be one thing,” said Ben Forman, MassINC’s research director. “But the money is going to hiring more correctional officers and increasing staff pay.”

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  • Editorial: State, cities must get on the same track with transit-oriented development

    Large corporations are moving back into the city. To support such a trend — to ensure that employers have easier access to talented workers — we need the state, cities, towns and private developers to embrace transit-oriented development incentives and, once and for all, get on the same track.
  • Rail reality: Focus on transit offers huge potential for Worcester growth, study says

    “The interesting thing that we found about Worcester is that the market is strengthening to the point where it can be developed,” said Mr. Forman, citing the CitySquare project as an example. “In Worcester, there’s going to be gaps in some projects, but they’re starting to narrow, to the extent that if we improve the transit service and make the transit service a larger development value,” the development will occur.

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  • MassINC: Building near commuter rail could transform cities

    The study finds that today, the land surrounding commuter rail stations in these 13 cities tends to be vacant and underutilized. It could potentially house 230,000 residents and 230,000 jobs, which would be an increase of around 140,000 residents and workers.
  • The missing piece of Mass. criminal justice reform

    A recent poll by MassINC found that overwhelming majorities of Bay State voters support providing resources and training to help incarcerated individuals reintegrate back in the community as a way to reduce crime. In particular, 86 percent support doing more to prepare incarcerated individuals for reintegration back into the community, including sending them to residential reentry centers, commonly known as halfway houses.

  • MCGEE: Lynn Deserves Great Transportation

    Once an industrial force in the state’s economy, the city of Lynn has become a prime example of how an economy can languish when transportation infrastructure is lacking.

    Yet, Lynn isn’t alone. As a Gateway City, it is a part of a bigger story of urban centers that are a key piece of the Commonwealth’s economic puzzle, but face debilitating social and economic issues due largely in part to a lack of transportation options. A MassINC and Brookings Institute report revealed that “incomplete transportation networks represent the most visible shortcoming in the Gateway Cities’ infrastructure connectivity.”

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  • 8 innovative things ‘Gateway Cities’ in Massachusetts are doing to bounce back from the Great Recession

    Activating waterfront property that once drew mill workers along the Merrimack River. Turning an historic Worcester park into an art gallery. A “pop-up restaurant” to help advance the careers of food entrepreneurs in Fitchburg.

    Those were some of the initiatives underway across the Bay State, meant to serve as catalyst in their respective “Gateway Cities” as they recover from the Great Recession.

    Massachusetts has 26 so-called “Gateway Cities,” urban regions that have traditionally provided economic pathways to residents and immigrants, according to the Gateway Cities Innovation Institute, which is under nonprofit think tank MassINC. While Boston is the likely front-runner, 9 Gateway Cities submitted bids for Amazon’s second headquarters.

    “Cities are now factories for ideas,” and it’s ideas and creativity that are drawing in businesses like Google and Apple, according to Mark Davy, a consultant and the founder of Futurecity, who spoke at a MassINC celebration of Gateway Cities.

    The initiatives in Pittsfield, Lawrence and elsewhere were honored Wednesday at the Gateway Cities Innovation Awards and Summit, held inside a brick mill building overlooking the Merrimack in Lawrence.

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  • Criminal justice reform: Business as usual is not an option

    Among the highlights of the bill championed by Hinds and sponsored by Sen. Will Brownsberger, D-Belmont, Senate chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, are repealing “ineffective mandatory minimum sentences for low level drug offenders,” reducing and eliminating overburdensome fees and fines, reforming the bail system, allowing for compassionate release for infirmed inmates, and reforms to the juvenile justice system, Hinds said.Hinds pointed to a what he called a “profound study” by MassINC, an independent think tank whose director of research, Ben Forman, presented at the conference later in the day. The study examined incarceration rates and their geographical distribution in the city of Boston.

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  • Black, Latino communities seek voice in criminal justice reform

    One report from the MassINC think tank found that cash bail tends to be set higher for black defendants than for white defendants.

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  • Is this the year Massachusetts will eliminate mandatory minimum sentences?

    Advocates for repeal say they are seeing more momentum and more political openness to the idea than ever before. But making changes will not be easy, with opposition from many of the state’s prosecutors. Democratic state senators have been leading the charge to end some mandatory minimums, but Democratic House leaders have been more reticent. Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, has been noncommittal.

    “We’re starting to see a shift in political opinion that reflects public opinion,” said Ben Forman, research director of MassINC, a think tank that supports criminal justice reform.

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  • Editorial: Cost of tough-on-crime policies do not add up

    Budgets, we’re told by politicians and policy-makers, reflect the priorities and values of the community.

    Want children educated? Fund education. Safe streets? Fund public safety. And so on.

    But lost in the discussion over our priorities and values is a question central to the efficacy of our government: Is money being spent in a way that achieves the desired results?

    It is in this light that we take note of a new study, “The Geography of Incarceration in a Gateway City,” prepared by MassINC and the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.

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  • Report: High incarceration rates raise crime in Worcester neighborhoods

    WORCESTER – The idea that too many people are given prison sentences instead of treatment for addictions or mental ailments is nothing new.

    But a new study released recently by an independent Boston think tank urging criminal justice reform uses Worcester’s neighborhoods to support that theory, mapping in detail where offenders live and suggesting that crime in some areas might actually be driven by high rates of imprisonment.

    “You would think that locking people up who are creating disorder is always beneficial, but if you’re putting a lot of people away for nonviolent offenses, it reduces the stigma attached to going to prison and makes it less of a deterrent,” Ben Forman, research director at MassINC, said in announcing the results of the Sept. 25 report.

    Titled “The Geography of Incarceration in a Gateway City,” the 18-page report confirms what many would suspect: The bulk of people placed behind bars live in rougher neighborhoods. But by presenting the data alongside other neighborhood measures – voting records and school discipline, chiefly – it suggests that poor neighborhoods may be caught in a cycle of crime driven, as opposed to relieved by, incarceration of law-breakers.

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  • Report: High incarceration rates raise crime in Worcester neighborhoods

    “You would think that locking people up who are creating disorder is always beneficial, but if you’re putting a lot of people away for nonviolent offenses, it reduces the stigma attached to going to prison and makes it less of a deterrent,” Ben Forman, research director at MassINC, said in announcing the results of the Sept. 25 report.

    …In the study, MassInc noted that crime in Worcester is relatively low and socio-economic conditions are better than in many other Gateway Cities. Mr. Forman said high incarceration rates are “no doubt even more problematic” in cities that struggle more deeply with crime.

    In an opinion column, Mr. Forman wrote that “overuse” of incarceration exacerbates the long-term costs of the opiate crisis, because offering treatment in jail is less effective and more costly.

    The MassINC report juxtaposes a number of costs in its report. The cost to incarcerate residents from the Main Middle neighborhood in 2013, $1.7 million, eclipsed the city’s $1.6 million economic development budget that year, it noted; the state spent twice as much incarcerating Union Hill residents that year ($1.9 million) as it gave to the city for youth violence prevention.

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  • Ben Forman: Incarceration overuse can undermine state’s Gateway Cities

    BOSTON — Fear often trumps levelheaded reasoning when it comes to criminal justice policy in Massachusetts. With audience-hungry news broadcasts constantly fanning the flames, counterproductive laws have accumulated like weeds on a long neglected lot. This has repercussions for everyone, but the pain is especially sharp in Gateway Cities. If these communities are going to provide solid pathways to the American dream in a challenging economy, we must confront this reality.

    A new report from the nonpartisan think-tank MassINC demonstrates the extent to which the overuse of incarceration hurts Gateway Cities by mapping the Worcester County Sheriff’s intake data: On some Worcester streets, admissions to correctional facilities come from home after home; a downtown Worcester neighborhood lost one out of every 10 young men to incarceration between 2009 and 2015; within the span of a single year, another neighborhood saw 350 admissions to the county’s correctional facilities.

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  • Prison pipeline can drain whole city

    This week, however, we were reminded by a MassInc report on the city that economic development must be intractably linked to social development, or the former will be harder to maintain.

    According to the report, “The Geography of Incarceration in a Gateway City,” high rates of incarceration can have a chilling impact on community and economic development in cities like Worcester.

    In addition to creating a climate for increased crime, high incarceration rates can lead to low school performance, behavioral problems among children, and long-term political and civil disengagement, the report noted.

    Meanwhile, communities with high incarceration rates generally nurture high levels of poverty, unemployment and racial segregation, according to the report.

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