By Michael Coughlin Jr.
Ben Weber, who was sworn in last month as District 6’s new City Councilor, joined the Jamaica Pond Association’s (JPA) monthly meeting on Monday to speak with attendees about what he has been up to in his first month in office.
After describing his first month in office as “sort of a whirlwind,” Weber recapped the staff he put together, which includes Jordan Frias as his Director of Policy and Communications, Aran Hamilton-Grenham as his Chief of Staff, and Melissa Beltran as Director of Constituent Services.
Frias previously worked with former City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, Hamilton-Grenham worked as Weber’s Campaign Manager, and Beltran previously worked as the Jamaica Plain Liaison for the Office of Neighborhood Services.
In addition to highlighting his staff, Weber spoke about the maiden speech that he gave last Wednesday, which focused on creating an access-to-counsel pilot for tenants and small landlords in eviction proceedings.
Weber, who served as a workers’ rights attorney for 18 years, said, “It’s sort of a problem crying out for a solution. In the eviction proceedings for non-payment, roughly 95% of landlords are represented by attorneys where less than 5% of the tenants have counsel.”
He further explained that programs similar to what he spoke about in his maiden speech have been used not only in this state during Covid but also in other areas like New York City, Cleveland, and more.
“All those programs show that giving just an advocate to represent the tenants in these proceedings allows them either to stay in their homes or more time to find a new home before they end up on the streets, and that actually saves taxpayer dollars,” said Weber.
Further, Weber spoke about how he was appointed Chair of the City Council’s Labor, Workforce, and Economic Development Committee.
“We’re going to try and do as much as we can to help workers get paid what they’re owed in Boston and for our employers to embrace hiring a diverse workforce of local workers and hope to benefit everyone here in Boston,” said Weber.
Weber also pointed out that he will serve as the Vice Chair to District 1 City Councilor Gabriela Coletta — the Chair— on the Government Operations and Environmental Justice, Resiliency, and Parks Committees.
“I’m really looking forward to helping the City Council work; helping us getting a progressive agenda through that I support, and I think the Mayor stands for,” said Weber.
After providing updates to those in attendance, Weber took several questions and comments. For example, one attendee asked about Weber’s hopes and plans for tackling economic inequalities in the city.
Specifically, Weber spoke about a potential wage theft ordinance and talked about being on the “cutting-edge” of workers’ rights work in his time as an attorney and more.
Another attendee had brought up a topic Weber spoke about at another meeting, which was described as a vacancy ordinance or vacancy-fine ordinance, which prompted a more extensive overall discussion.
Weber, in describing the ordinance said, “This would be to try to discourage long-term commercial vacancies. I feel like this is especially a problem in Jamaica Plain.” Later, adding, “We just have spaces that sit empty for way too long.”
He further explained how it would work: if a property sat vacant for a certain amount of time, a fee or tax increase would be assessed to the owner, and he suggested that money could go back into the neighborhood.
As the meeting progressed, other topics were discussed, such as a tree ordinance and special protection zones, an initiative from Action For Equity that prioritizes protecting affordable housing stock.
According to an attendee, this initiative was “championed” by former City Councilor Kendra Lara, and Weber agreed to discuss it further and learn more about it in the future.
Ultimately, Weber had to go to another meeting, so the discussion eventually ended, and he appreciated the JPA for having him. The next monthly JPA meeting is scheduled for March 4th.