Boston City Council fails again to vote on Mass. and Cass ordinance

10/20/23 By Colette Lauture

Boston City Council has not yet taken official action to enact Mayor Michelle Wu’s plan to clear temporary shelters around the Mass. and Cass. area. With the plan announced almost two months ago, Wu voiced her disappointment on WBUR’s “Radio Boston” program, saying that a vote on “such an urgent issue that everyone across the board is hoping to see action on” has been delayed again. 

An ordinance was filed by Wu on Aug. 28, in response to what she said was an alarming increase in public safety incidents at Mass. and Cass this past summer. Boston police officers would have the power to take down tarps and tents around the area quicker. Currently, officers are required to provide those living in these structures with notice 48 hours before their dwelling will be cleared. The ordinance would also help to connect those that live on Atkinson Street with service and shelter, additionally restoring it to a functioning roadway.

If no action is taken by City Council within a 60-day period, it would automatically go into effect. That window is nearing its end, and councilors only have one meeting left to vote on the plan.

The ordinance was originally on the agenda for this week’s meeting. However, the Boston Herald reported that Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, who chairs the government operations committee, missed the meeting after contracting COVID-19. 

Further complicating matters is the state of the Massachusetts emergency shelter system. Since filing a state of emergency months ago, Governor Maura Healey has been pressuring federal officials to provide more funding and expedite the work authorization process for new arrivals. Healey contacted National Guard members and contracted with hotels to expand housing and services, but a constant influx of families are still entering the system.

Healey said Monday that the shelter system would reach capacity by the end of October, forcing officials to implement a waitlist. This would prioritize those who are the most vulnerable. Healey also said there is only enough space, service providers, and funds to accommodate 7,500 families. As of Thursday, 7,080 families total were enrolled in the shelter system. As people are shut out of shelter, many could end up at Mass. and Cass.

Wu’s administration has been planning for the possibility of it taking this long to pass the ordinance. Its initial announcement and filing was timed so that, even after the full window, it could be put in place before bitterly cold temperatures come to Boston, she said.

Arroyo informed his colleagues that he would bring the ordinance to a vote at next week’s City Council meeting.