Boston housing officials shoot the messengers

There is plenty to crow about in praising the good things about Boston. If you leave aside its insane housing costs, it’s one of the country’s most livable big cities. Crime rates are lower than in many other big cities, and the city’s public schools outperform many other large urban districts. But to suggest that families might find safer neighborhoods and better schools in suburban communities hardly seems like a controversial statement, let alone one that deserves a reprimand.

But that’s exactly what the Boston Housing Authority has meted out to two employees who let slip that inconvenient truth in a message to low-income residents who hold Section 8 housing vouchers that provide deep subsidies to rental costs.

The Boston Herald reported on Saturday that a BHA flier went out promoting a pilot program to help Section 8 recipients who want to move out of the city with information about finding apartments out of Boston. The letter said a move might be attractive to families because it would “allow your children to grow up in a low-crime environment with good schools.”

That sent Mayor Marty Walsh and BHA administrator Bill McGonagle into a tizzy. The letter was “an insult to the residents of Boston,” said McGonagle. “It blew my mind.” Walsh said, “It sends a bad message.”

McGonagle said the missive was drafted by a “mid-level” employee and went out without his knowledge. Walsh said over the weekend that he was “not happy” about the letter and that, “There should be some sort of discipline.” McGonagle said yesterday that two BHA employees have been disciplined, with one of them suspended.

“I am convinced that all of the folks involved are truly sorry, I would say despondent,” McGonagle told the Herald. “I have every confidence that this kind of grave miscommunication error is not going to happen again.”

It’s understandable that BHA higher-ups, had they reviewed it, might have worded the flier differently. But the essence of its message one that has prompted tens of thousands of middle-class residents with children to migrate from Boston to its suburbs over the last several decdes. It’s why thousands of Boston families sign up for the METCO program that allows city students to attend suburban schools. Why wouldn’t lower-income residents with Section 8 housing vouchers be similarly motivated?

Boston is booming. The city is undergoing a rate of population growth not seen since World War I. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t real worries, far more concentrated in some neighborhoods than others, over public safety, or concerns about the quality of the public schools and resources they have to work with. The flier may not have conveyed the message the city wants to send. But that’s not the same as saying it said anything that wasn’t true.



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