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Episode 152: Putting out a welcome mat for housing

Greater Boston’s booming housing market may be lucrative to real estate speculators, but the constricted supply of housing isn’t helping those who make long-term investments in their homes, according to a Boston city councilor and housing advocates.

Councilor Lydia Edwards, who chairs the Housing and Community Development Committee and represents East Boston, Charlestown, and the North End, said that if housing production (including affordable housing production) rises to a rate that better meets demand, speculators might be hurt but ordinary homeowners will gain a more long-term perspective on their investments.

“What we’re seeing is an inflation of that value and people buying in like it’s the new stock market in order to get a return that is just unheard of even on Wall Street on housing that they’re not occupying or even – sometimes – renting out,” Edwards said. “If that’s your goal, to make that kind of return on your investment, yes, building a lot more units might actually hurt that.”

Edwards joined Chris Norris, executive director of Metro Housing Boston, and Eric Shupin, the director of public policy for the Citizens Housing and Planning Association, on the Codcast.

Episode 151: Slowing down the ‘stroads’ of Boston

Boston’s version of vision zero, an idea that originated in Sweden more than two decades ago, sets as its target zero fatalities or serious injuries by 2030 among people who walk, bicycle, or drive.

A recent policy report from the Vision Zero Coalition indicates the number of fatalities has been declining in Boston, falling from 21 in 2016 to 10 in 2018, with the number of pedestrian fatalities dropping from 14 to 7 over that time period. But the number of crashes that required response by emergency medical service teams actually increased slightly, rising from 4,355 in 2016 to 4,367 in 2018.

“Generally speaking the trend lines are better, or at least they’re not any worse, than when the program was adopted,” said Matthew Lawlor, who is active in WalkUP Roslindale. “We’re making progress, but those of us who are advocates think progress isn’t coming fast enough.”

Episode 150: Health care chairs vow action on price variation

The co-chairs of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Health Care Financing may be new to their posts, but both seem to grasp the urgency of tackling big issues facing the state’s health care sector and both sound optimistic about solutions to some thorny problems emerging in the current session on Beacon Hill.

That’s the takeaway from a conversation with Sen. Cindy Friedman and Rep. Jennifer Benson convened by Paul Hattis and John McDonough as part of their “Health or Consequences” interviews on The Codcast.

One of the biggest issues looming over the health care sector: the large price variation in what hospitals charge for similar services, a problem that vexed lawmakers last session, as they adjourned without reaching agreement on an approach to dealing with it.

“This is a very, very, very big issue, and it is not something that we’re going to be able to skirt if we really are going to address health care costs,” said Friedman. She said there’s a need to address issues “at both ends of that spectrum” — dealing both with the much higher costs charged by big teaching hospitals while also making sure community hospitals aren’t bringing inefficiency to the overall system by trying to add costly services already provided elsewhere.

Episode 149: Baker increasingly isolated on transportation taxes

Gov. Charlie Baker finds himself increasingly isolated on Beacon Hill with his opposition to new revenues for transportation.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka are both open to raising additional revenues for transportation and the two chairs of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, in an interview on the CommonWealth Codcast, said new money is desperately needed.

Rep. William Straus of Mattapoisett said his first priority this session is developing a revenue package with money dedicated for transportation along with a list of spending priorities for the future. He said lawmakers don’t like to increase taxes, so the revenue option chosen will be “the one people hate the least.”

“For me,” he said, “it’s hard to see the kind of revenue in the kinds of numbers we’re talking – hundreds of millions of dollars – that isn’t built at least as a core component of a gas tax change.” He said raising the gas tax is efficient and relatively straightforward, with each penny increase in the tax raising $35 million a year.

Episode 148: New voices, proposals emerging in Boston’s biz community

Winds of change are starting to blow through Boston’s business community.

One clear signal came earlier this month, when close to 20 business organizations said they would heed an appeal from House Speaker Robert DeLeo to help develop a transportation policy that likely will call for additional revenues. “It’s time for a united voice from the business community that can be a powerful driver of progress,” said Jim Rooney, the CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

On the issue of climate change – and what to do about it – the folks at the Environmental League of Massachusetts say business community attitudes are also changing on climate change. League officials offered up for the CommonWealth Codcast three business leaders who reflect that change — Cynthia Curtis, senior vice president of sustainability at the commercial real estate firm JLL; Kyle Cahill, director of corporate responsibility at John Hancock; and Tedd Saunders, chief sustainability officer at the Saunders Hotel Group.

“For a long time, legislators were only hearing from industry representatives and businesses that said this legislation or that policy is going to be bad for business – we’re going to have to lay off people and costs will go up,” said Saunders.

Episode 147: When muskets defended the editorial page

Much has changed in the national discourse since a pro-war rabble two centuries ago tore down a Baltimore newspaper building, besieged the paper’s editor, and later broke into the city jail to attack him yet again.

But while legal and conventional structures have been erected to protect a robust free press, the baying mob hasn’t exactly gone away, according to Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, and Rep. Josh Cutler of Duxbury, author of the new book Mobtown Massacre: Alexander Hanson and the Baltimore Newspaper War of 1812.

The two appeared on the Codcast to talk about the violence that followed Alexander Hanson’s decision to publish an anti-war editorial, and to then double-down with another screed after political opponents tore down his newspaper building.

“I was struck on many occasions with the parallels today,” said Cutler. “We owe some of the liberties that we see today because folks like that literally put their lives on the line to defend the freedom of the press.”

Episode 146: A health care leader from the grassroots

Community Health Centers often have a strong grassroots connection to the neighborhoods they serve. But no center may proclaim that more loudly through its leadership than the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center. Its president and CEO, Manny Lopes, is a native son of Eastie whose first job after high school was as an 18-year-old field researcher at the nonprofit health care center.

He now not only leads the neighborhood health center, he’s emerging as an important health care leader in the city and state. In December, Lopes was named chair of the city’s Board of a Health, which oversees the Boston Public Health Commission, and he also serves as chairman of new collaboration among 17 health centers statewide that is part of a big state Medicaid initiative that is trying to deliver better quality care at lower price.

Lopes, appearing on the latest episode of the “Health or Consequences” Codcast, said the Medicaid effort to test the impact of “accountable care organizations” is promising, but still unproven. “We’re still waiting for the data and we’re still early in the process,” he told hosts John McDonough of the Harvard Chan School of Public Health and Paul Hattis of the Tufts School of Medicine.

Episode 145: Immigrant voices on immigration reform

Everyone has an opinion on the polarizing topic of immigration reform, but rarely do immigrants get to be in the presence of key decision makers who determine their fates. Student Estefany Pineda and community organizer Jose Palma got that opportunity recently, when Pineda attended the State of the Union as a guest of US Rep. Ayanna Pressley, and Palma testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee.

Pineda is a recipient of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gives legal status and work authorization to those brought into the country illegally by their parents as minors. Palma, who came to the US in 1999 after a natural disaster in El Salvador, has temporary protected status, which allows him to live and work legally here as well.

Pineda and Palma described the challenges faced by immigrants under President Trump’s administration on the Codcast. While they represent different groups of immigrants, Pineda and Palma say the best way forward for both of them is to find a pathway to citizenship through the recently proposed Dream and Promise Act. The new legislation, proposed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House leaders, is the first to seek permanent legal residency for both groups of immigrants.

Episode 144: H-P chief: Medicare for all debate is good

The chief executive of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care doesn’t want the government to take over the entire health insurance business – at least until after he retires –  but he sees some advantages to the movement seeking an expansion of Medicare so that government-backed insurance covers everyone.

For one, Harvard Pilgrim CEO Michael Carson thinks Medicare for All – a rallying cry among many Democrats – is part of an important discussion to have. For another, Carson said, the best plan is a middle way that involves more collaboration between the government and private insurers.

Carson shared his thoughts about potential changes big and small to the health care marketplace with Paul Hattis, an associate professor at the Tufts University Medical School, and John McDonough of the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, during the “Health or Consequences” Codcast.

Episode 143: Councilor Wu, Paul Regan dissect the MBTA fare hike

Michelle Wu and Paul Regan took very different positions on the MBTA fare increase, but they both agree on the big picture needs of the transit authority.

Regan, the executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board, said on CommonWealth’s Codcast that the $29 million derived from the fare increase approved by the Fiscal and Management Control Board last Monday is needed just to cover a small wage increase for union employees, not to mention rising costs for commuter rail, paratransit service, and other operations. “They’ve spent the entire fare increase already,” he said.

Wu, the Boston city councilor, presented a petition to the control board calling for no fare hike, free passes for students and seniors, and selective bus routes operated fare-free. Wu said it made no sense to raise fares and lose riders at a time when congestion is pervasive and climate change is looming.