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UCIA - Letter of Support for the Problem Properties Task Force on Bakersfield Arms

To: Problem Properties Task Force
From: The Uphams Corner Improvement Association
Topic: Bakersfield Arms
Date: December 12, 2012

The purpose of this letter is to register support for the efforts of the Problem Properties Task Force and to ask your organization to sustain (not rescind or lower) the charges applied to the Bakersfield Arms property for City services rendered. Our position follows, developed at some length.

The Annapolis Community

We begin with two perspectives on the Uphams Corner community in order to better understand what happened on Bakersfield Street. The BRA defines Uphams Corner as a 0.33 square mile section of Dorchester which is further subdivided by the major roads running through it, namely Columbia Rd and Dudley/Stoughton Streets as well as Hancock Street. What results is five sub-neighborhoods that hold unique identities: NW, NE, Jones Hill, SW and SE. Yet another way to look at Uphams Corner is through the demographics of the census tracts – 912 to 915.

While Uphams Corner west of Columbia Rd has a "bad" reputation (crime), the same cannot be said of the east side of Columbia Rd. Especially the section north of Hancock Street including Jones Hill and moving on out to East Cottage and Pleasant Streets is considered to be the "more desirable" section of Uphams Corner.

US Census Bureau tract #912 covers the area just described. Of the four Uphams Corner census tracts, the one with the highest educational attainment is #912 at 23.5% with bachelor’s degree or higher and this is compared to the lowest census tract in Uphams Corner at 12.65%. So this collection of residents far exceeds the rest of Uphams Corner in its educational demographic. You would expect a higher quality of life here with a lower crime rate.

The Bakersfield Arms Property

Bakersfield Arms stands out in stark contrast to our understanding and expectations of the Annapolis neighborhood. What we imagine as a safe and friendly section of Uphams Corner has been distorted by a property that seemed to be "festering" and spreading its problems out to the surrounding residences. What’s more, the property was out-of-control. Residents were not able to get the problems stemming from that site to stop or go away, regardless of the calls into the police.

We use the analogy of a "cancer" because of the continued generation of ill-health to the community – a growth that the body at large cannot stop until it finally takes over and destroys.

The Annapolis neighborhood meeting on October 25, 2012 provided a venue for presenting a community at the end of its patience. Confusion was rampant. It wasn’t clear who / what was the biggest contributor to the crime wave that had taken over the community in the last two years (since 2010). Was it the Steps to Solutions program? Was it the other Wendy Rist tenants? Was it some influx of drug dealing?

Peter MacCarthy, owner of Steps to Solutions, came to the meeting well equipped with a gang of program graduates to demonstrate that his program (housed at Bakersfield Arms) was not the cause. Wendy Rist portrayed herself as a demure, contrite and sincere property owner with only the best in mind for the Annapolis neighborhood.

So who / what was the cause of the problem?

The facts surrounding Bakersfield Arms point to several factors working together, exacerbating and escalating the fundamental issues. Wendy Rist owns at least $12 million worth of property in the City of Boston. She is no stranger to real estate transactions either, being the owner of two real estate firms. Representing herself at that meeting in the way she did to the residents was a clear attempt to misrepresent what is obvious. She is the owner of Bakersfield Arms for one purpose and that is to make money. She is not the owner so that she can bestow good will onto the surrounding community.

Wendy Rist stated that she personally selects her tenants, yet many (some) of them turned out to be highly problematic. Although she likely did not choose her tenants for that characteristic, her selection methods clearly focus on minimizing cost, not on minimizing the repercussions for neighbors.

Wendy Rist made a decision to lease to a recovery program, Steps to Solutions, for one reason only and that was to maximize her income, not minimize potential problems for the community.

So it turns out that the behavior of recovery clients is unique to their goals. They are highly committed to staying on track which means following certain protocols to keep them occupied and busy. Hanging out in the neighborhood, watching what is happening nearby and actively  participating as a normal resident is not part of their regular behavior. Get home, shower, get ready for the next activity, ..., eventually sleep.

The net result was a set of "bad" tenants (Wendy’s) who were using drugs, overdosing on drugs and engaging in domestic violence with frequent calls to the police and other city services. At the same time, the Steps to Solutions program clients were paying no attention to the bad behavior because their own behavior is so tightly controlled by their goals.

So the "eyes" of the community were closed to the criminal behavior that spread its way out of the Bakersfield Arms complex into the surrounding community.

One other ironic problem that manifests as a result of how the Problem Properties Task Force is gauging properties is this: The number of calls coming out of a residence increases the measure of how problematic a property is. In other words, the more you call the police, the more problematic you are rated. [Please forgive if this is a misunderstanding, but several people are under this impression.]

When the suggestion was made to Peter MacCarthy that his guys should be paying attention to the surrounding behavior and calling the police when appropriate, his response was to say: "No, no, no." He explained that if his guys were to do that, then it would reflect poorly on the program. So they are advised to just ignore what is happening and to stay quiet.

A Final but Important Story
One member of the Improvement Association - call him Sam - knows one of the program clients – call him Adam. Sam offered Adam a ride home shortly after the October 25 neighborhood meeting. While Sam and Adam were standing in the Bakersfield Arms courtyard talking, a guy, who Sam said was clearly a junkie, walked up to them and tried to sell them a TV. Then his girlfriend came forward and started yelling at the junkie. Sam asked Adam: "How do you put up with this?" Adam said he just ignores it.

Adam has other things on his mind. He is not a permanent resident of the neighborhood and in a matter of days on good behavior, "I’m outa’ here." So is Adam helping to protect the neighborhood? While Adam may not be promoting or participating in the criminal behavior, he is, in essence, condoning it by not taking steps to stop it.

What we have here is a landlord who is not doing what is right for the surrounding communities and a set of residents who are ignoring problematic behavior.

Concluding Remarks

The real culprit is not the Steps to Solutions program who are, in effect, innocent bystanders, but the landlord who has failed to take steps to establish a working relationship with the surrounding community - to meet with them and to address issues in a responsible way.

The Bakersfield Arms property and its mismanagement is deeply troubling and painful for the Annapolis residents. It also adds to the "problematic reputation" of Uphams Corner. The property owner is not just affecting a select and limited set of residents but an entire community.

It is incumbent on all members of this greater community to sit down together and review what steps should be taken and what changes should be put in place to heal this neighborhood as quickly as possible and to prevent similar problems elsewhere from escalating.
  1. Encourage and empower neighborhood groups to review property owner behavior
  2. Encourage recovery program clients to participate in their neighborhoods as would any renter / home owner
  3. Encourage phone calls to the police and don’t penalize them when they come in

The Uphams Corner Improvement Association believes the Problem Properties Task Force handled the situation appropriately while the property owner did not take the situation seriously.

We are asking that the PPTF not rescind or lower the charges issued against the property for the work done by the City in securing that property. Doing so sends a message that Ms. Rist’s behavior was "oh ... maybe not so bad."

About the Improvement Association

The Uphams Corner Improvement Association (UCIA) was formed to promote the image and the quality of life in the whole of Uphams Corner as well as improved relationships with our neighbors – the people, the organizations and the communities.

We believe that effective relationships are based on thoughtfulness, respect and love and are integral to our quality of life. We strive to achieve improvements which stem from a common vision and which manifest through consistent action in concert with others.

Contact Information: 
ucimprove@gmail.com, 617-436-8559

Executive Committee:  Carol Perez, Shemiram Fabian, Nancy Conrad

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Posted: December 15, 2012     Nancy J Conrad

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