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News ::
Public service employees call on Boston City Council to provide more affordable
08 May 2002
Changes proposed to make residency requirement fair
Boston, MA -- Boston's public service employees called on the City Council to provide more affordable housing and to fix inequities in a twenty-five year old residency requirement.

Soaring housing prices are making it harder for low and moderate-income employees to stay in the city. Last year, Boston's median housing prices increased by 14 percent (from $231,583 to $263,900) and median advertised rent for a two-bedroom apartment increased by 6.3 percent (from $1,600 to $1,700).

Meanwhile, wages for SEIU members increased by only 3 percent last year. (The median income for SEIU Local 285 members is $35,435, less than half of the median family income for the Boston-area of $74,200.)

Because salaries have not kept pace with increases in the cost of housing, many employees cannot afford a decent apartment, are living in overcrowded housing, or spending too much of their take home pay on rent or a mortgage.

Elias Cruz, a police clerk, is typical. "Our one and a half bedroom apartment is already tight for us, and in just a few months our second child will be born," Cruz said. "Then it will really be overcrowded. I'm already paying $800 a month for rent, more than half my take home pay. A good two bedroom in the city will run at least $1,200."

Prospects for buying a home on a city employees' salary are nearly impossible. "My apartment is so expensive that I can't save for a down payment," said Priscilla Tollen, an administrative assistant at Boston City Hall. "I'll never be able to afford to buy a home unless I leave the city. But I can't leave the city because I would lose my job."

A 25-year residency rule for city employees makes living in the city a condition of employment. Enforcement of the rule begins on dates ranging from 1976 to 1998, while some employees are exempted.

"The city's residency rule is all over the map," said Celia Wcislo, president of SEIU Local 285. "Today we are proposing a single date for administrative enforcement and a fixed length for application of the rule."

"We also are proposing 1,000 rent controlled apartments be made available to city employees and new incentives for landlords to offer affordable housing. If something isn't done soon, many experienced and highly qualified Boston employees will leave," Wcislo added.

Along with SEIU Local 285, sixteen other local unions belong to the Boston Union Residency Coalition, which seeks to make changes in the residency requirements.

Wcislo, Cruz, Tollen and several other SEIU Local 285 members are prepared to testify at today's City Council hearing.

Over 2,000 SEIU Local 285 members work for City Hall, Dept. of Neighborhood Development, Community Centers, Police, Municipal Police, Public Health Commission, Elderly Commission, Boston Public Schools and Boston Water and Sewer.

Contract negotiations with the city are set to begin on May 21.

SEIU Local 285 is a statewide union of public service and health care employees with more than 11,000 members. The local union represents public service employees in over 30 Massachusetts cities and towns.

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