Upham's Corner Online

Bakersfield Arms - Affected Residents Left out of the Conversation

Not without reason did the City’s Problem Property Task Force attach the "problem property" label to Bakersfield Arms.  Whoever was living there or visiting there, be it sober house or regular housing, someone or group of someones was bringing crime and a dramatic reduction in the quality of life to this neighborhood.  Nor was the October 25, 2012 neighborhood meeting going to get to the bottom of the problem.

Click here to see full article and photos on the Oct 25 meeting.

Who are the Players in this Foray?

Both Wendy Rist, property owner, and Peter MacCarthy, sober house owner, came to the meeting equipped to draw upon the "mercies" of the people attending.  Owner Wendy read a letter where she cited the following:
  • The changes I made to the property have greatly improved the neighborhood
  • I am humbled by this experience
  • I want to get it behind me
  • I have taken steps to remove three of the most problematic tenants

Owner Peter came armed with at least half a dozen successful graduates from the Steps to Solutions program (though he did not state if they graduated in Dorchester or in Brockton) and emphasized that what he is doing is an important humanitarian effort.
  • This is a God inspired mission
  • The guys are drug tested three times per week
  • There is zero tolerance
"The whole purpose," he said,  adding parenthetically "which is God's will, not my will," is to "take a broken individual and align them with God's will and get them on the right track. All these guys [he pointed to the many program graduates present for the meeting] here have over a year clean of sobriety."

In other words, Peter runs a reputable program and "could not possibly" be the cause of the problems in the neighborhood that seemed to have arisen within several months of the program’s arrival.  It must be something else. A resident stated:  "The problem is not your success stories. The problem is your failures." 

As much as one resident claimed that the big problems began in 2010, another resident stated that Bakersfield Arms has been a problem "for years. I have called the housing department and filed several complaints and repeatedly called the police for loud noises and people smoking weed."

Why is this property such a problem?

First are the differences between owner-occupied and rental property.  Yes, both types of dwellers can be problematic but rental property is notorious for a greater set of problems - non-payment, damage, loud parties, drugs and alcohol and friends "moving in."

Second is the need for extreme care in selecting to whom you, the owner, will rent.  Does Wendy employ a rental agency to screen tenants?  "No," she said, "I do the best I can."  But Wendy does not live on the property or even close by.  She lives in Quincy and, on occasion, travels with no one left "watching the hen house."

Third, is the decision that Wendy made without consulting the community - to rent multiple units to the Steps to Solutions program.  "I thought I was doing a good thing for the community, reducing the homeless population I see all over. But obviously I failed to convey to the neighborhood what are, to me, obvious good intentions."

Let’s step back a minute and understand that neither Wendy nor Peter are saints.  We are not talking to St. Francis nor Mother Theresa, as much as both would like you to think so.  Both of these "owners" are committed to making a profit, to earning a living and to making decisions that will maximize their bottom line, not appease the concerns of the residents.

Sober Homes and Halfway Houses in Residential Neighborhoods

Signing a lease with a sober house program is like building a large secret box in your neighborhood where people seem to come and go but no one has any idea  who they are, what they are doing or how long they will be there.  This contrasts markedly with a home for sale, sold and a new neighbor moving in.

Sober homes are, by definition, private and anyone associated with them is required to protect the privacy of the people in the program.  In other words, instead of a neighbor moving in, you have a group of nameless people who arrive, stay for awhile and then they are gone and no one has any idea why.  There are no relationships with anyone in the neighborhood because sober homes are operated with a rigid format so as to guarantee success for the client but not add value to the neighborhood. 

Not only can this lead to suspicions (neighbors misunderstanding) but it can also lead to clients being so aloof to the normal standards of the neighborhood, that they fail to identify problems "right before their noses."

In another section of Uphams Corner, a half-way house (not a sober home) on Virginia Street brought many problems to the neighborhood.  "Linda," an alcoholic, was often seen in public after having wet her pants, panhandling in Edward Everett Square.   Residents brought up her behavior as unacceptable, regardless of her "rights."   At neighborhood meetings, we were cautioned to not use her name but, luckily, at least one resident insisted on addressing her by her known name.  What could the halfway house do?  Nothing because Linda has rights to behave however she wants.  Eventually, though, the house managed to move her to a location more appropriate for her behavior. 

Other issues that were identified with that same program include a woman who sang at the top of her lungs first thing in the morning and a delivery van that liked to honk loudly very early in the morning. The managers and owners of this house (two different organizations) did not understand the issues.  After all, this was a halfway house, not a residential home.  That is EXACTLY the point.

Laws (ordinances) exist to make sure that drug dealers and pedophiles stay a certain distance from school zones.  Why?  To protect the children, to maintain a childsafe zone.  What about residential sections of the city?  Home owners expect a reasonable set of behaviors - courteousness, taking care of the property, reporting problems to authorities, controlling the behavior of their children. 

As in child safe zones, any non-residential organization that seeks to enter a "resident safe zone" needs to be prevented from doing so until they can prove they will not be disturbing the quality of life.  It is a fact of life that non-residents will automatically disturb a residential area because they do not understand and will not adhere to the unspoken (or spoken) standards of the community. 

As a point of comparision, businesses that want to open up shop come before all the appropriate neighborhood groups (as well as city licensing organizations) to explain their proposed business.  A sober house is exactly that - a business.  How can they move in without consulting the neighbors?  Same with a property owner who rents to a business while the neighbors thought she / he would be renting to people.

Residents Left out of the Conversations

Based on an analysis of the last two year’s of history, the most important conclusion is this: 

The property owner, the program owner, even the City of Boston made / are making decisions WITHOUT including the residents of the neighborhood in the conversations.
  • The property owner made a decision to rent to Steps (a business) without consulting with the neighbors
  • The program owner did not meet with residents before or after moving in
  • When the City became aware of the potential "problem property" status, they did not contact the residents to get their input / feedback
Hidden costs of being in business and their true impact on the cost of city maintenance must be identified, not left under the rug.
  • What quality of life costs have these residents had to pay in the last two years? 
  • What has been the cost to the City of Boston for extra police detail?
  • What has been the cost to the City of Boston for police responding to calls?
  • How much time has been spent by the Problem Properties Task Force?
Is all of this (like the air we breathe) free?  Or does it come down to residents paying the price (through taxes) so both Wendy Rist and Peter MacCarthy can make a profit WITHOUT paying for the true cost.

Residents would do well to organize themselves around a strong position that says "NO" in the same way we teach our kids to "just say no" regarding drugs, sex or any other illicit or undesirable behavior.


Following are some simple recommendations that will go a long way towards bettering the Annapolis / Bakersfield neighborhood.
  • Wendy needs to assure the community that she is doing "more than her best" to screen tenants.  Given her poor results, it should be a requirement that she hire a rental agency to take on this function along with the agency guaranteeing the quality of the tenants "or else."

  • Peter needs to teach his clients how to be neighbors - participating, watching, getting involved.  After all, a treatment program needs also to teach drug/alcohol addicts how to properly assimilate into society.  In particular, given how many problems occur at this property, if, as Peter claims, his clients are NOT the cause of the problem, then they need to help in solving the problem by watching out for problematic behavior.

  • At the same time, residents need to step up to meet with Wendy, Peter and a representative from the Problem Property Task Force and possibly Neighborhood Services to review the incidents and to advocate for change with meetings frequently at first (weekly?) and decreasing as the problems abate.
Posted: November 14, 2012     Nancy J Conrad

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