My Plan to Move Worcester Forward in a Positive Way
I love this city. But I do have concerns about some issues. They are issues that can be fixed but I believe it will take new leadership to do so. There comes a point in time when turnover on any governing body is good. New perspectives, different experiences, changes in skill-sets, and fresh ideas are all healthy and productive ways to make the policy and budgetary changes that bring transformative change.
Worcester is fortunate to have exceptional assets: first rate colleges and universities, a thriving health care industry, a strong transportation infrastructure, a beautiful park system, numerous cultural, recreational and dining options, and many residential neighborhoods each with its own set of unique characteristics. I believe with the right vision and focus these tremendous assets can be strategically leveraged in order for Worcester to fulfill its potential as a model of excellence for midsized urban cities.
As a graduate of the Worcester Public School system (Thorndyke Road School, Burncoat Middle School and Burncoat High School) and as the son of two retired Worcester Public School educators I am a product and a champion of the Worcester Public Schools. I was fortunate to learn from dedicated teachers in the classroom and coaches on the field. These dedicated professionals provided me with the guidance and foundation needed to further my education at both Holy Cross and Clark University. And although the Worcester Public Schools remain a good choice for elementary and secondary education, improvements can and should be made. There is no reason why the Worcester Public Schools cannot be the best urban school system in the country. The backbone of any community is the school system. Families choose to move to a city and stay in a city based on the quality of the public school system. Businesses grow when the available workforce has the education and training to meet their hiring needs. .
I will be an advocate for the funding of capital improvements for schools whose physical condition is not conducive to an appropriate learning environment.
With South High School already being accepted into the Massachusetts School Building Authority eligibility period I will be an advocate for new building construction at both Doherty and Burncoat High Schools.
I will be an advocate for public-private partnerships between our colleges, businesses, and non-profit community which enhance the offerings for our public school students.
I will be an advocate for the appropriate public safety initiatives that ensure our schools remain a safe environment for our children to receive an education.
Worcester’s economic development agenda should prioritize the use of our current assets to grow existing business and attract new business. Working with our college and university partners to facilitate internships and to provide the tools needed for our graduates to start businesses in Worcester is crucial. Leveraging Worcester’s health care and biotech industries to attract the Boston investment dollars to our city is important. Taking advantage of the financing available from state programs for infrastructure improvements that spur economic development and job creation is necessary. Also, continuing to build on our current transportation infrastructure by advocating for high speed train service between Boston and for additional daily flights from the airport is essential.
As your City Councilor I will support established economic development initiatives such as the Worcester Economic Development Coordinating Council (WEDCC) which is comprised of the Chamber of Commerce, Worcester Business Development Corporation, Mass Biomedical Initiatives, the City of Worcester Economic Development Office, and key business leaders throughout the community. I will also advocate for the city of Worcester’s continuous support for Destination Worcester. As the travel and tourism agency for the City of Worcester and the surrounding region, Destination Worcester is a critical partner to ensure Worcester’s hotels and restaurants are full and tourism dollars are spent in the city.
Although the larger economic development strategies are critical we must not overlook efforts to grow and support small businesses in Worcester. Small business growth is a core driver of urban economic development. I would offer the following small business strategies in order to spark economic development and create local jobs.
Neighborhood Commercial Districts
Most of Worcester’s residential neighborhoods have commercial districts that are home to coffee shops, restaurants, convenience stores, and other small retail businesses. Although not perceived as large drivers of economic development, in reality these businesses employ our residents, pay taxes, and contribute to the overall experience of city life. I live within a five minute walk to Tronic Square, more commonly known as the corner of Pleasant Street and Richmond Avenue. This corner includes a coffee shop, a pizza shop, a barbeque restaurant, a frozen yogurt store, a dry cleaner and a package store. Similar neighborhood commercial centers are located on Chandler Street, Burncoat Street, Main Street, Lincoln Street and in dozens of other neighborhoods throughout the city. I will advocate for the administration to look to replicate Boston’s highly successful Boston Main Streets program which is a public-private partnership that develops long-term strategies to increase the economic power and resources of neighborhood commercial districts.
Biz Worcester Now
The highly successful "Buy Worcester Now" program is a public-private partnership which has promoted and preserved homeownership in Worcester. I believe the city should replicate this effort by developing a "Biz Worcester Now" program to promote and preserve small business ownership in Worcester. Facilitating access to capital from local financial institutions, promoting internships with local college students, expediting the permitting process, marketing the façade & awning incentive grant program, assisting with parking solutions and identifying work space are actions the city can take to foster small business growth.
Access to capital
Limited access to capital restricts the ability of small businesses to achieve viability, to generate new jobs, and, generally, to reach their full potential to contribute to the economic development of the communities and regions in which they operate.
Seventy-one percent of inner city companies are dramatically undercapitalized, operating with only one quarter of the capital compared to their industry peers. These undercapitalized firms are 50% more likely to be headed by a minority business owner.
As your City Councilor I will push for programs which connect inner city businesses to traditional and non-traditional financial institutions. With at least twenty financial institutions operating within Worcester the city administration can play a role with the facilitation of access to capital in order to expand businesses and spur job creation.
The strength of Worcester is in its many residential neighborhoods where we raise families, socialize, and play. Housing and public spaces are Worcester’s most important neighborhood assets. Regardless of zip code every neighborhood in Worcester deserves some level of assistance. Although some streets are in need of a higher level of commitment, a city-wide approach with multiple strategies will prove to be the most beneficial for sustaining property values, ensuring there are enough housing options for all our residents, providing sufficient space for recreational activity, and reducing crime.
Parks and Recreation
I will advocate for public-private partnerships that assist with the planning, capital improvements, and ongoing maintenance of city parks. Well maintained playing fields, playgrounds free of litter, and properly lit space are essential elements of our public parks. The adoption of public parks by our colleges and universities and corporate businesses will be a priority. Commerce Bank Field at Foley Stadium is an example of a public-private partnership which has proven to be a great success. This can and should be replicated throughout the city in order to increase playing fields for recreational purposes.
Infrastructure improvements: streets, sidewalks, lighting, tree removal and tree plantings
I witnessed firsthand the destruction caused by the asian longhorned beetle in the Burncoat and Greendale neighborhoods. The sense of loss when beautiful tree lined streets suddenly became barren affected many homeowners. Fortunately over the last few years efforts were made to replant trees, repave streets, lay new sidewalks, and bring the vitality back to these proud neighborhoods. As your councilor I will advocate for funding to ensure sidewalks are replaced when necessary, appropriate lighting is used to keep streets well lit and safe, and dead trees are quickly removed while new trees are planted and maintained.
Physically distressed three-family properties
Based on a 2012 housing market study Worcester has 14,652 three-family housing units of which 99% were built before 1940. As noted in the same study many of our neighborhoods with a predominance of three-family housing units have a housing vacancy rate between 9 and 16%. These percentages are significantly higher than the “balanced market” rate of 4%. Furthermore Worcester’s 2011 citywide property revaluation identified 2,400 three-family housing units in fair, poor, or very poor condition. As your councilor I will advocate for the following policies and programs to reverse the neighborhood blight resulting from years of disinvestment.
Increase the number of owner occupied three-family properties
The benefits of homeownership to a community are plentiful. A three-family property can prove to be an avenue to homeownership for someone who may need to use the rental units as additional income to secure a mortgage. Worcester can facilitate the increase in owner occupied three-family properties by targeting the use of down payment and closing cost financial assistance, by assisting with the marketing of available properties, and by working with local financial institutions and state agencies to increase the availability of mortgage capital. The successful “Buy Worcester Now” program has room to expand and it will be important to work with local businesses in order to connect local employees with the opportunities to purchase three-family properties as primary residences.
Engage our community based partners
Worcester’s Community Development Corporations have been instrumental in stabilizing Worcester neighborhoods. These community based organizations understand the needs of our working class families and will need to play a role in the continued efforts of stabilizing our deteriorated three-family housing stock and providing affordable housing options for those who need it most.
Support the responsible investor owner
Worcester is fortunate to have many individuals willing to invest their time, money, and effort into the purchase and rehabilitation of market rate three-family properties. More importantly, these responsible investor owners make the necessary upfront capital improvements, manage their properties responsibly, keep up with routine maintenance, and offer safe and decent quality housing for Worcester’s young professionals and working families. Private capital investment is a sign of a healthy community. But due to years of disinvestment by absentee landlords many properties require too much private capital investment to validate a purchase by a responsible investor. Fortunately, due to our status as a Gateway City, Worcester was able to adopt the Housing Development Incentive Program in 2014. The program provides two tax incentives to developers to undertake substantial rehabilitation of properties for lease or sale as multi-unit market rate housing. The program is designed to increase residential growth, expand diversity of the housing stock, support economic development, and promote neighborhood stabilization. As your City Councilor I will be an advocate for use of the HDIP by responsible investor owners.
The elimination of blighted housing units
A percentage of the three-family housing units identified as being in “poor” or “very poor” condition are most likely not suitable for rehabilitation. Furthermore they put a tremendous strain on our first-class Department of Inspectional Services and Legal Department. They contribute to the decline of surrounding property values, they invite crime, are susceptible to fires, and most importantly they do not provide the type of housing options our families demand. I will advocate for policies and programs which assist with the demolition of our most dangerous housing units. Replacement uses such as new construction, community gardens, small pocket parks, and off street parking are all improved land uses.
Worcester has seen an increase in gun violence and gang activity. This is a concern for all residents, no matter what neighborhood they live in. I believe that community policing is an important prevention strategy. In addition, providing recreational and after school programs to engage our youth is necessary. Most of the gang members are known to the schools, the police and the courts. The solution requires coordinated efforts and early intervention from these partners.
As your City Councilor I will advocate for programs and policies similar to the Summer Impact Program which targets crime, drugs and violence during the summer months.
Opportunities for youth
I am a current Board Member for Worcester PIF, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the development of young boys and girls through the game of basketball. Worcester PIF serves youth at risk of becoming involved with gangs, crime, drugs, violence and teen pregnancy. Programs similar to Worcester PIF need the support of the city in order to reduce the incidence of violence seen from our youth.
Worcester has 52 neighborhood watch meetings across the city. These meetings provide the opportunity for residents to voice their concerns, communicate with various city departments, and meet their neighbors. As your City Councilor I will advocate for ways to increase the engagement of residents at these meetings and to improve the communication between public safety departments and residents.
The City of Worcester has struggled with outstanding pension and other post-employment benefit (OPEB) liabilities. While the city is engaged on a plan to fund its pension obligations by 2032, there is no plan in place to address the more than $700 million owed for OPEB, which mainly consists of retiree health care costs. As your councilor I will advocate for a long term consistent plan in order to pay off this liability. Not only is the implementation of a plan to pay down OPEB sound fiscal management but consistent payments is one way to ensure the city maintains a healthy bond rating which ultimately affects Worcester’s ability to borrow money.