My coverage has been spotty lately – work, family…the whole catastrophie. Until Inside Lowell hires me an understudy, these things will happen from time to time. To the dozens who missed the blog, kindly accept my apologies.
Due to an overflow of unfinished business at the September 12th Meeting, the council elected to convene last night for a “special” meeting. Let’s see what kind of government was happening…
1. The People Demand More Sister Cities!
A “sister city” is an agreement between two geographically and culturally diverse municipal governments for the purpose of promoting cultural and commercial ties. Apparently, the practice dates back to the WW2 era.
Last night, there was a motion (taken out of order, of course) by Mayor Chau to “Req. Mayor Establish A Sister-City Relationship With Cork, Ireland.”
In my cynical opinion, the hype surrounding these agreements is disproportionate to what they actually deliver – which, for your average citizen, is pretty close to nothing. On the other hand, it doesn’t really cost us anything either, so I guess it’s all harmless, feel-good-type-fun.
Now, if Cork wanted to offer use of the Cork Inn and Conference Center and/or kick in a few hundred units of housing and wrap-around services, I’d be singing a different tune. But alas, I’m thinking that we’ll be getting the usual: a photo-op and a
bullshit questionable speech about how the people of Cork are beside themselves with joy to be “partnering” with Lowell.
If you’re keeping tabs (and again, why would you?), we currently have ten sister cities:
If Cork makes the cut, I guess we’d have two in Ireland? Or does this mean we are breaking up with Limerick? You’ll never hear me downplaying the importance of the Irish, but how come Ireland gets two? Why not two sister cities in Cambodia? Oh…..right, right, right..
2. Is Housing First “On Hold?” Yes, but No, but Yes.
My shoddy memory and half-assed internet research skills confirm that in 2019 then City Manager Eileen Donoghue formed a Task Force comprised of various community leaders to “change how the City at large responds to growing homelessness, housing, and other associated issues.” Under the guidance of a “nationally renowned consultant,” the Task Force determined a shift towards a “housing first” model would make the biggest impact on these collective problems.
Housing First is an alternative to a system of emergency shelter/transitional housing progressions. Rather than moving homeless individuals through different “levels” of housing, whereby each level moves them closer to “independent housing” (for example: from the streets to a public shelter, and from a public shelter to a transitional housing program, and from there to their own apartment or house in the community), Housing First moves the homeless individual or household immediately from the streets or homeless shelters into their own accommodation.
As Lowell does, when a new manager and councils come in, old plans get scrapped, reversed or outright ignored. Is this the case with “Housing First?” There was a Response to a motion penned by Councilors Jenness and Nuon:
Req. City Mgr. Provide An Update Around Lowell’s Housing First Strategy And Hiring Of A
Director Of Homelessness Initiatives To Address The Needs Of The Unhoused Population Within Our Community
The response stated that the Housing First methodology is “on hold.” in Lowell. The response goes on to argue that Lowell’s Housing First policy is “gridlocked” and “no longer working,” due to the following factors:
- Lack of land to build within the infrastructure of the city.
- Lack of reasonable buildings that could be renovated.
- Lack of workforce to provide staffing and case management.
- Cost of renovation has become unaffordable for any one agency.
- Time to renovate typically exceeds 3 years.
- Weak incentives for developers and investors
Fair enough, but the same report cites the projects moving forward by the South Middlesex Opportunity Council (SMOC) and Community Teamwork (CTI) with the support of the City. It was noted that:
“SMOC has recently opened a building on Westford Street housing 21 individuals and will open another on Andover Street that will house another 9 individuals. CTI is in the process of renovating a building on Summer Street that will house 19 individuals, estimated to open in November.”
That doesn’t sound like a pause or gridlock. However, it should be noted that it’s not enough. The report notes that “the estimated number of units still needed is over 300.”
Councilor Jenness expressed disappointment with the suggestion that the city was, apparently, moving away from the housing first model that the city adopted just a few years ago – after expending considerable research into the issue. Further Councilor Jenness cited data from around the country suggesting that housing first policy works. Councilor Robinson countered that the evidence on the streets suggests that the housing first policy is a failure in Lowell. Specifically, in instances where the newly housed individual is not provided the resources to maintain stable housing. It could have been noted by Councilor Robinson that there is also growing body of research and journals that support his position.
Manager Golden apologized for the wording of the response and walked back the “on hold” language. Councilor Gitschier successfully moved for a report seeing more information and data on the topic.
3. New Mayor Portrait Policy
There was a Response and brief discussion relative to a motion by Councilors Scott and Robinson to:
C. Robinson/C. Scott—7/25/23–Req. City Mgr. Provide An Update On Policy Regarding Mayoral Portraits
Nobody should care about this issue and I doubt that any of the adults in the room actually do. It is kind of interesting that a full decade later, the composition and placement of Patrick Murphy’s Mayoral portrait is still breaking brains:
Per the language in the policy, if you have impeccable taste, they can’t stop you from using the cool laser beam background that your mom would never agree to order on picture day. Although, the matter is now headed to subcommittee where some killjoy could move to take away nice things.
4. The Rest
- A motion to move Halloween (really “Trick or Treat”) to Saturday died on the vine. This would be better, as nobody has ever had more fun on a weeknight than a weekend. However, the council did vote to cancel the October 31st meeting this year. In related news, the Council will not be finishing the agenda at the November 7trh meeting.
- A motion tacked-on to the agenda to “To Add Language To Section 3J Of The Proposed ADU Ordinance So That The Section Would Apply With The Adoption Of The Home Rule Petition, Which Mirrors Salem, Ma., Granting Rate Reductions And Tax Relief For The Proposed Units” disappeared.
- There’s both laws and policies regarding aggressive (read: “illegal”) operation of off-road vehicles. As per the Police Chief, we can enforce them, but probably will not.