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Left In Lowell » Blog Archive » Poverty is Big Business in Lowell

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February 21, 2012

Poverty is Big Business in Lowell

by at 5:47 pm.

Many of of us simply accept the notion that Lowell is destined to be a city strapped by poverty, with a broad swath of social maladies plaguing it. That this condition just is.

Do we ever wonder, if those serving the less fortunate among us are truly motivated to minimize poverty? Or, are they inclined to sustain an “acceptable level,” so that they may enjoy a long and fulfilling career? Do the do gooders do as much good, as they could do?

Community Teamwork, Inc. is the mothership of such services.


Programs that serve our Most Vulnerable Citizens are targeted for cuts by the Obama Administration. See our fact sheet to see how Community Action impacts the Greater Lowell area. Help save Community Action–the only nation-wide program providing a comprehensive approach to helping vulnerable families! Find out more at www.capworks.org

Mission CTI’s Mission is to assist low-income people to become self-sufficient, to alleviate the effects of poverty, and to assist low-income people to participate in the decisions that affect their lives.

CTI will be an advocate and catalyst for systemic change on issues that affect low-income people, including education, workforce training, housing, economic development, and civic engagement.

CTI is not a passive organization, by the way. They work hard at engaging the community around them, applying themselves at every level. My understanding is that CTI’s Executive Director Karen Fredericks Testerman encourages staff members to seek public office.

This holistic philosophy has recently taken an interesting turn.

Panagiotakos registered as a lobbyist in early January.

Besides CTI, he is also representing the Massachusetts Chiropractic Society and a California-based educational services firm he also does consulting work for.

In addition to running his Lowell-based law firm, Panagiotakos has also worked as a strategic policy adviser for the firm Greenwood & Hall, a national educational firm that contracts with universities to assist with admissions, financial services, retention and other student services, after leaving the Senate. Greenwood & Hall is now one of Panagiotakos’s lobbying clients.

Panagiotakos said he is still working out what his clients’ legislative priorities will be. He said he is not advocating for any particular piece of legislation.

He said his work with CTI, a local nonprofit community action agency, will focus on issues such as housing, homelessness, mental health assistance and employment.

“Right now it’s in its infancy,” he said. “Strategizing. Getting it up and running.”

In the 1990’s, President Clinton and Speaker Gingrich charted a course that was meant to cut the welfare roles. However, let’s consider what has happened since then. What have we accomplished? And, as we strive to shrink government until we can drown in a bathtub, do we mean to make government go away? Or, are we simply transforming it? Are we creating a privatized system that sustains itself on tending to the needy in such a way that poverty will continue to be generational?

Taxpayers are burdened with huge costs associated to micro-economies fastened to industries in Energy, Defense & Health Care sectors. When we try to cut these “structural costs,” a legion of advocates gush forth to quell the populist uprising.

Locally, we have our own micro-economy. How many homes/apartments are paid for or subsidized by Section 8? How much home heating is subsidized? Food? Do the sellers of these goods and services take a “haircut?” We know doctors don’t get full rate for Medicaid? Do absentee landlords get full market rate for the apartments they rent? We have local convenience stores trading EBT credits for booze and cigarettes. Have you heard about the sting busting these store owners? ;v)

Truthfully, part of me is proud, and thankful, that Lowell endeavors to help the less fortunate. I was lucky enough to have had someone there when my family was challenged. It is critical that a safety net be there for those that need a “hand up.” Further, there are those among us that will always need a “hand out.” For various reasons, some folks can’t make it on their own. As humans, we must do what we can to assist, if not completely carry them. In between the brackets of occasional assistance and full institutional care is the wheelhouse of many not-for-profit organizations, like CTI. What checks and balances do we have to ensure that they are run efficiently? That the senior management and executive staff are fairly compensated for what the do? For those skeptical that govenment can, let alone should, provide such services; what proof can we give them?

Once, this city was great at pumping out cloth. That carried Lowell for several decades. Now, we excel at propping up paupers. How long can we do this? How long should we?

PS. For context, please watch the video below. Thanks to Felicia Sullivan for her timely facebook post.

Watch Portraits of Hunger on PBS. See more from Need to Know.

42 Responses to “Poverty is Big Business in Lowell”

  1. Lowell Resident Says:

    Here’s where you and I part ways, my friend, respectfully of course. It’s a good thing because agreeing with you and helping you call out B.S. on the internets is fun and all but I don’t want people to talk, you know what I mean?

    So why not a little disclosure…you (and leftinlowell in general) don’t like Steve Panagiotakos and so once he is hired by CTI, you start to question CTI too. Why is this post tagged with corruption? Are you claiming the organization is corrupt? Maybe the system itself is somewhat backwards, but it is what it is. CTI is a huge organization but they do help people. Would the people be better served without a middle man? Maybe but that ship sailed in the 90’s did it not? When I see news about CTI hiring the former State Senator as a lobbyist I see a smart organization who knows an effective voice when it sees one.

    I think the bigger relevation would be that this would seem to rule out Mr. Panagiotakos in the various high profile public sector positions that have been floated about. Not saying he couldn’t end up back in elected or appointed office, but usually the (vastly overrated) “stain” of registering as a lobbyist is something people looking for further public work (especially elected) refrain from. (Besides, as the Senate President in waiting, I never quite understood why people would think he’d leave the legislature just to take on another less powerful and less prestigious public sector position like City Manager).

    Anyways, I think your opinion of Mr. Panagiotakos is clouding your commentary. But to try to make this conversation constructive, my question is why is this tagged “corruption?” And what exactly are you trying to say about Community Teamwork Incorporated?

  2. Jack Says:

    Hold up, a minute. You are assigning an opinion of Pangy to me. Though not completely unfounded, I would not say I have a resolved opinion of the man. It is evolving. And, to be clear, it is based on his public life. I don’t know much about him as a private person.

    Starting from there, let’s proceed. Few in Lowell politics enjoy the stature of the former Senator. His political “whereabouts” and plans cause giddy and disgruntled speculation. This is why Chris Camire opted to disclose his latest vocation.

    What you may not know, depending on how well you know me and how often we speak (I’m not sure who you are), is that I’ve been using the phrase “Poverty is big business in Lowell” for some time now. I am very interested in how social services have been privitized. How federal and state budgets have been shuffled around, so that grants are the new earmarks. All fascinating!

    So, yes. I, like most of us, am watching St. Steven. And I, like less of us, am curious how CTI embeds themselves in our civic life.

    CTI is iconic. I suggest we put it under the microscope and see what there is to be seen.

    Corruption? The perfectly legal kind, I’m sure. The new boss ain’t the same as the old boss.

  3. Lynne Says:

    I too have to part ways on this, having worked with and having seen the work of CTI - and they are overworked and serve so many - and not just hand outs, but teaching people how to better their circumstances.

    What I am annoyed about is the concept of Pangy lobbying. It is not a dignified profession in any case as far as I am concerned. I know it’s “how business works” and certainly, if businesses and rich people can have them certainly CTI should also be able to or else they will be left behind, but I dislike the trading of influence for any goal. However, lots of orgs I love to death lobby and hire lobbyists. Hell some of them have had John Cox on their payroll for heaven’s sake (talk about odious). It is, unfortunately, how things get done at the state house. To ignore that is at your own peril, whether or not you are a service nonprofit org, or an environmental group, or a business coalition.

    Whatever else Pangy is, I think he does like orgs like CTI. Too bad he won’t be donating his time for free, which would really help them out by not draining any of their funds needed for other services which they are so great at delivering for what, to me (anecdotally) appears to be a pretty low admin cost (if the tons of hats worn by the individual admin people I’ve encountered is any indication).

  4. Lynne Says:

    “Would the people be better served without a middle man? Maybe but that ship sailed in the 90’s did it not?”

    I’d rather have the middle man be a nonprofit org than privatized. Often a nonprofit can do a lot of agile things in a local area in a more efficient manner than a larger, statewide or federal department. If the middle man has to make money (a la privatization) then you have a problem.

  5. Lowell Resident Says:

    Fair enough, as you know, I sometimes don’t specifically remember whether posts in question are from you or from one of the other posters (Lynne is the one is who is no fan of our former State Senator IIRC). I could go back and look, but I’m pretty sure there’s at least some posts out there about your opinion of the man too that would lead me to that conclusion, which at least had some merit.

    I was not personally familar with your phrase “poverty is big business,” but I suppose I just am looking for a more fleshed out context to the phrase. The danger is it sounds awfully close to a right-wing talking point that would surmise that if we just cut off those programs, then the “paupers” would learn to be self-sufficient, which I think we agree is bogus. It’s not that simple, especially in this day and age with opportunities for working class Americans become fewer and fewer. The problem is Lowell can’t be in the cloth business or any other business that is based on low-cost labor when you’re competing with a globalized economy (especially in Massachusetts, where our standards and therefore costs of living are higher than in most states).

    I absolutely believe that some degree of scrutiny is always appropriate. Your point about earmarks have given way to grants is a good point. But social services being privatized is a national trend, not a local one. I just think Lowell has some of the more skilled operations in that field.

    You also suggested that these organizations are basically not committed to putting themselves out of business (another thing I’ve heard from other contacts). I’m not sure how fair that is, because I really doubt they, even with their skilled advocates and their considerable influence, have ever had remotely close to enough resources to make that choice. I do think that could be considered an argument for more direct government assistance (although you would figure the gov’t employees would be facing the same problem if we ever reached the quixotic but still worthy goal of completely eliminating poverty). Theoretically thats a problem for any social service organization at any time. I guess the big question is are we arguing philosophy and theory or practical terms and reality? I think your post had a little of both. I’ve often said, if it was a utopian theoretical world, I’d agree with the Libertarians. But its not.

  6. Lowell Resident Says:

    “It is not a dignified profession in any case as far as I am concerned.”

    Come on… I’m going to say the unpopular thing here but there is nothing inherently wrong with lobbying. Thats just an easy cheap shorthand political talking point. Don’t blame the politicians, it’s the lobbyist’s fault. Nobody likes a lobbyist. You won’t find an easier softball than to attack the corrupting influence of lobbyists. But what if they are lobbying for a cause thats near and dear to your heart? Not all lobbyists are working for big business…and Senator Panagiotakos chose to work for an organization that helps the underserved in Lowell. He didn’t chose to work for ExxonMobil. He will advocate for poor people in Lowell. I just think its interesting that he actually registered as a lobbyist because as your(Lynne) post showed, its politically poisonous. There’s so many other titles that skirt around the laws (*cough*consultant*cough*) because they aren’t direct lobbying positions. Better than claiming to be a historian I guess?

    I suppose there’s some theory and practice again: Are there issues with campaign finance, influence peddling, sure. Where does the line become drawn between lobbying and advocating. Sure one would be presumably doing it for a paycheck, but that also means they are professional and it’s their job to advocate instead of the person who has a day out of their regular job to go up to Beacon Hill or Capitol Hill. There are thousands of bills filed every year in the State Legislature. Most of them die a very quiet death. If lobbyists called themselves advocates would it just sound nicer?

    It’s not just how its done in the State House, by the way. It’s the way its done in America. It’s the way its done in representative democracy.

    I think there is also a thin line between nonprofit orgs and privatization since nonprofits are still in essence “private.” The question should be between nonprofit and for profit. In which I agree that nonprofits are preferably, but they also inevitably will need to advocate for public moneys.

  7. Jack Says:

    I think your radar, LR, is good. The 2009 couch lineup was a low spot. But, I have to give it up for anyone that can get that far. I look for folks with all the externals Pangy possesses. Voters drool over a package. We hardly ever find candidates that can check so many of the boxes.

    Now let’s talk about something more important.

    “… earmarks have given way to grants …”

    Two concerns:
    - Money is being shuffled around, so politicians don’t have to explain appropriating it.
    - Mega-”not for profits” sucking up gobs of the funding. The “WalMart-izing” of assistance.

  8. Christopher Says:

    For me this is pretty straightforward. A worthy organization has hired a worthy and presumably influential advocate. This can only be good for the issues that CTI and its allies care about.

  9. Jack Says:

    Spoken like a Clintonista, LR. :D

  10. Gerry Nutter Says:


    CTI is one of a few Non-Profits that participate in the PILOT program and pay the city and have since the PILOT program began in 2006,increasing their contributions yearly.

    FY 11 $11,265.30
    FY 10 $10,036.04
    FY 09 $ 8,370.00
    FY 08 $ 8,060.00
    FY 07 $ 7,502.00
    FY 06 $ 5,715.46

    Additionally, they now effectively pay taxes on their office space since moving into the Bon Marche. Their old office space on Dutton will pay taxes once it is sold.

    While I also have some concerns about whether it is approciate use of funds to pay a Lobbyist I have to give them credit for their willingness to pay the city, when many non-profits choose not to.

  11. jdayne Says:

    I don’t think that CIT paying the City a contribution in lieu of a tax has genuine economic meaning. It is sort of a shell game when the source of funds is a transfer of tax monies levied on taxpayers from outside of Lowell into Lowell-whether directly to CIT and thus to the City or directly to the City because its revenues are insufficient to support necessary activities.

    Much more meaningful to the economic health of a city like Lowell with a large % of nonprofits is the nature of the non-RE tax-paying entities. A college or university has a much, much different economic effect on its home town than a poverty alleviating organization. This about Hope College and its home city, Holland, Michigan, dated late 2011: “Earlier this year an independent firm analyzed the economic impact of Hope College on the greater Holland area and calculated a dollar figure of $1 billion over the next five years.” Here is a non-RE tax-paying entity contributing massively to the economic health of its home city. And I might add that Hope and Holland are hardly warm and fuzzy about economic analysis unless viewed as apt, both being very, very conservative and very new-style Republican.

    I would be interested in a study of tax-dollar transfers with respect to Lowell and the “returns” on those transfers. Historical tax credits, infrastructure grants, CIT/LCHP/LTA underwriting, public transportation funding, not to mention state support of the public schools . . . the tilt of tax money is from the outside of and then into Lowell. Some returns are economic, like Hope/Holland, others are economic in the sense that we do not want our city or our conscience to be associated with citizens dying of cold, hunger or untreated illness. But whether the transfers into Lowell have adequate benefit or even the intended benefit would be interesting to explore.

    A facet of this public policy that massively transfers public funds is how veiled these transfers have been from public view or discussion until recently. Is it that we are uncomfortable in the USA with facing the fact that many non-profit institutions would not be able to operate without tax dollars collected by the states or federal governments? when these organizations are, in the reality of their funding, an extension of the government. Why not investigate reality and address the whatever the implications?

    I would welcome a straightforward discussion of how citizens want basic human needs to be provided–through the screen of a CIT or directly? And given that Medicare is economically more effective than private insurance in dollars spent on the purpose intended, I think it is a fair discussion. I would welcome a discussion of the utility of the tax deduction for charitable giving. Why I should subsidize some millionaire’s love for homeless cats or other cause? The 1% benefit far, far more from the tax deduction–which loss of dollars to the Treasury is economically made up for by the remaining 99%–than any of the 99% benefit. And yes, I am hearing the howls from my friends in the non profit industrial/charitable complex. Thus an illustration why we may never have open, direct and clear tax policy in the US. Somebody always benefits disproportionately.

    And, oh yes, lobbyists–whether for big pharma or little nonprofit, act to insure those benefits are preserved irrespective of more fair overall outcomes.

    At a minimum, we should not deceive to ourselves about what supports nonprofits in Lowell. Or about who will support former Senator P’s lobbying fees for work on behalf of CIT.

  12. Jack Says:

    Gerry, how many housing units are subsidized in Lowell? How many privately owned rental units are living on the dole? We focus on the tenants. What about the property owners? How often are these units inspected to ensure they are up to snuff?

    There is a micro-economy built around the “the dole.” We so often blame the less fortunate. Do we ever think of the fat cats who own 20+ units, live in suburbia and only come to Lowell to put the garbage out and collect the rent?

    CTI is not the “end all, be all” to my point. Pangy is not my point.

    Poverty is big business in Lowell.

    Massachusetts Mills is about to be renovated further. The developer is seeking state aid to make the project “doable.” That aid is pinned to affordable housing set asides. Those set asides come with deed restrictions. For how long? 20 years? In perpetuity?

    Poverty is big business in Lowell.

    I’ve talked to downtown residents that complain, not about the 2 am drunks, but about the droolers doing the “thorazine shuffle” during business hours. Don’t tell me that retail is not adversely affected by a parade of pajama clad, scooter riders chatting with their SSI pals diminishing the curb appeal of the downtown.

    Poverty is big business in Lowell.

  13. Shawn Says:

    Geeze Jack,
    If I wrote that I’ld have all the moonbats screaming at me about how I am an uncaring typical Republican!

  14. Jack Says:

    Geez Shawn,

    There are plenty Republicans that live off the dole. They are just twice removed, so they can deny it and cry about taxes.

    The game is rigged.

  15. joe from Lowell Says:

    I am not cool with accusing CTI of being poverty pimps. Not even when you use more polite language.

    Are you sure you wouldn’t be more comfortable posting on Right Side of Lowell?

    I can’t believe I’m reading this.

  16. joe from Lowell Says:

    Lowell is a port of entry city for immigrants and refugees. Of course we’re going to have high poverty - we have a lot of very poor people coming here. To conclude that the poverty-alleviation efforts aren’t working because there is still poverty makes the mistake of assuming that today’s poor people are yesterday’s poor people, who never made it out of poverty. That’s not true. Today’s poor people are new people, who just got here within the last few years. Yesterday’s poor people are living in Tyngsboro and the Highlands…tut-tutting about the new poor people.

  17. Jack Says:

    You obviously don’t read RSoL. Cliff is a compassionate conservative. Ranting about freeloaders usually occurs over at Gerry’s. However, I’m not ranting about freeloaders.

    I’m more concerned with the “bookends” around the “clients.” Here is a simple model:

    Section 8] - client - [Absentee Landlord

    See how the client, aka freeloader, is merely a conduit to pass wealth from taxpayers to property owners?

    Call them poverty pimps, if you like. It is catchy.

    How about this one?

    School Budget] - Students - [Teachers

    Year after year, after year, after year, after year, after year, ….

    Don’t leave your sacred cow alone with me, Joe.

  18. Gardner Says:

    All burocracies, whether government, charitable or business, seek to defend, sustain and purpetuate themselves. That is why they should be required to use zero-based budgeting and to have some form of external oversight.
    Among all the other questions ask in and in response to this post, we must ask about the unintended consequences of good deeds. As enlightened and necessary as the services provided by CTI are, do we want to purpetuate poverty in Lowell (the new poor, not the old poor) by attracting new residents based on the availabilty of good services for the poor? It may be good for those individuals but I could argue that it is not good for the economic development and future of Lowell.
    (I apologize for the lack of a spell checker!)

  19. Lynne Says:

    joe’s right. Higher poverty in cities, and cities which attract newcomers to the country, isn’t a failure to address poverty per se, unless you want to start talking *nationally* and with regards to things like failure to keep wages at the same level of inflation and expenses, failure to keep health care costs and out-of-pocket expenses down, failure to give access to ALL students, regardless of ability to pay, excellent college educations if they qualify/want them, etc. Those are failures far beyond social services to the working class.

    What orgs like CTI do is treat the *symptoms*, but you can hardly expect them to single-handedly come up with solutions. That’s big-picture stuff that should be addressed at the state and federal level. (And point of fact, many of the programs orgs like CTI do are about teaching people to fish and not handing fish out.)

    Subsidized housing also gave us the Appleton Mills redevelopment project, Coalition for a Better Acre’s excellent housing rehab for low income families, etc. Does Section 8/subsidized housing need reform? Some. But without it, our lowest paid working families could not afford to live in our state.

    Not all of “today’s poor people are new people” and there is a revolving door of poverty that can cross generations. However, in a city like Lowell, there is a constant influx of need. People who have few means live in cities because they cannot afford the suburbs, they cannot afford their own transportation, they cannot afford to live far from services. Couple that with the attraction to newcomers that many people from their community live here, creating a built in support system and a small piece of home, and you can easily see why people from other lands move here first.

    I also resent the idea that even those who remain poor and cannot be easily helped to rise are totally at fault for it (or that the orgs that help them are). The disabled who cannot work and live on very little SSI, single moms struggling to work more than one job, the elderly, the mentally ill, those who are addicted to substances, etc. All people who service orgs help, and a very fragile and difficult population with very tough needs.

    You want to fix poverty? Stop blaming the developers who are incentivized to build housing by state subsidies. Start blaming the lack of an increase in the buying power of the least among us. Blame the erosion of the middle class which has pushed everyone downward except the rich. You don’t fix “the business of poverty” by blaming the people who are on the front lines.

    Also, I will have you know, any org I’ve ever met who gets state or federal or even foundational funds is in CONSTANT danger of losing them if they don’t prove they are doing what they are supposed to with it. The shifting nature of funding for service orgs means they run REALLY lean as they continually have to do the same amount of work with less and less money, most years.

  20. Lynne Says:

    And if you want to go after the absentee landlords than find something to address that, instead of throwing orgs like CTI or CBA under the bus. It would not be that difficult to address that, but you have to realize most of the services and even the housing for the poor is NOT run by absentee landlords.

  21. Gerry Nutter Says:


    I can speak from experience that when it comes to CTI contributing sect 8 housing, all the homes are inspected twice a year by CTI Inspectors. They check code and safety and are very picky.

    Same cannot be said for all property owners.

    Poverty is a BIG Business but CTI pays propoerty taxes on buildings they rehab and rent out to section 8 and low income.


  22. Robert Forrant Says:

    Just to clarify a bit here, the money spent working to alleviate poverty is a drop in the bucket compared to the large farm subsidies still awarded, and a host of tax shelters and breaks given to the private sector. There is a larger structural problem here - there are no freaking jobs being created in this economy for young people that provide enough of a wage to let them start households, get married, pay off their student loans, etc. The birth rate for single women in their 20s is going through the roof. The numbers of kids moving back home after college is reaching epidemic proportions. The debt young people are now saddled with is heinous. We’ve got trouble of epidemic proportions and unless the folks weeping and moaning about CTI here have a sparkly crystal ball with a plan inside of it for creating decent paying jobs with health insurance for the thousands of unemployed and underemployed in greater Boston, you are beating your gums and keyboard fingers in what I think is a mighty cynical way.

  23. jdayne Says:

    I believe that the issue organizations like CTI, which is effectively a government-funded entity, raise is how do we (citizens of Lowell or the USA) want to address the problems of our society? Why do we collectively hesitate to admit it takes government’s transfer of resources from other people into Lowell (as an example) to keep Lowell even marginally afloat? CIT is not the root of poverty but it may be relevant to review the source of its monies and the results for Lowell.

    My wish, but it is vain, is for fair tax policy considering all income and payroll tax and all deductions (like the charitable deduction) and intelligently allocated resources. The special ed scandal, the housing authority or probation department scandals would not have happened if we did more than distribute out funds but, in fact, monitored their use.

    More than any transfers, I wish for a significant re-investment into the public schools. Poor schools = poor outcomes. I credit my public grammar school education as giving me skills of reasoning, curiosity and discipline necessary to navigate a challenging world, economic or otherwise. And it is a challenging world where US competitiveness is challenged by countries which underwrite different standards of education and training (like Germany) or offer inexpensive labor (like Vietnam) or are aggressively undertaking an upgrade in their own intellectual capital (like China).

    Decent paying jobs were much more easily achieved post WW II with a ramped up industrial/mfg sector ready to meet the ramped up post war demand. And the US had no effective competition, Europe being in ruin and Asia not even in consideration. Now demographics argue against ramped up demand and Europe, Asia, Latin America and now Africa are competition.

    I also wish for Lowell to attract a mix of residents and employment opportunities. If Lowell cannot grow out of being other than a majority subsidized city, critically dependent on “other people’s money” to sustain itself, then all the subsidizing will have, at some level, failed.

  24. joe from Lowell Says:

    Here, Jack, let me do some:

    Medicaid] - poor patients - [doctors

    Donors] - poor people - [Greater Lowell Food Pantry

    So what?

    Casting aid-givers as self-interested parasites who merely use the people they assist has long held a special place in the right-wing bag of tricks.

  25. joe from Lowell Says:


    Lowell is the urban center of the region, and the longtime home of well-established immigrant communities. We will always therefore be the primary center of services for the region, and also the primary point of entry for new immigrants. That is part of the deal for cities, and will remain true whether CTI is getting funding or not. Casting the existence of those programs as the cause of poverty here gets it backwards.

    As for our economic development, I’ll tell you this: absolutely none of the tremendous progress Lowell has made in the past two decades has resulted from trying to get rid of poor people or the services they need. Quite the opposite, look at the commercial centers in the Lower Highlands, like Cupples Square. Those places were ready to dry up and blow away in the early 90s, and now they’re jam-packed with profitable, busy, businesses who fix up the buildings and pay taxes and keep our neighborhoods from rotting out with blight. And you know who is running and working at and patronizing those businesses that have done so much for our economic development? People who came here dirt poor and received services.

  26. joe from Lowell Says:

    “If Lowell cannot grow out of being other than a majority subsidized city, critically dependent on “other people’s money” to sustain itself, then all the subsidizing will have, at some level, failed.”

    This is certainly true, jdayne, but let’s not forget that the very existence of the downtown housing market was made possible by subsidies, often subsidies aimed at housing the poor, and now it’s become very self-sustaining indeed.

  27. Jack Says:

    “Casting aid-givers as self-interested parasites …”

    You’re exaggerating. I’m saying some enterprising folks have figured out how to profit from a chronic problem. I am particularly interested in those in the housing sector, as they have no interest in improving their properties.

    I think, as well, that it was a neat political trick for politicians to have removed themselves from the welfare assistance spigot.

    Your answer, besides litmus testing my progressive street cred, is; ‘Yes! Poverty is big business in Lowell. It’s supposed to be.’

  28. Robert Forrant Says:

    “Do we want to perpetuate poverty?” Huh??? Does anyone really think that CTI or any other anti-poverty agency somehow wants to keep people poor so they can stay in business? Please? This sounds like Mr Mitty speak. Poverty is not made by antipoverty agencies last time checked. We have an absolutely horrible economy, a major jobs deficit, incredible household debt, almost no way for large numbers of teens to enter the job market… I can go on. Old mill cities are what they are and they have, in MA, nearly 150 years of history to overcome. When folks made it economically they left Lowell, Lawrence, Fall River and New bedford. New people moved in to restart the cycle. Along the way the mighty job creation machine failed, trapping families in a tough spot.

    Capital flight from these places and the lack of serious social investment by the mill powers that made their fortunes around here and then gave the money to Harvard, MIT, Mass General, Museum of Fine Arts. This lack of investment and sustainable employment creation is the big issue here. To think otherwise and talk about payments in lieu of taxes, and other such budget maneuvers as the solution won’t get us there. Lock up the scam artists who abuse the public trust - and do the same diligence with the banking interests responsible for the current economic mess we are in. CTI=like organizations are part of the solution, not the problem.

  29. Lowell Resident Says:

    Jack, you know it on the Clintonista! Hillary 2016…I still believe!

    But seriously, some good discussion here but people need to keep their eyes on the big picture. Joe from Lowell and Prof. Forrant have said it best so far…

    I will add that if you’re going to criticize Lowell for being a subsidized city you also should admit that Lowell “subsidizes” the other communities in the Commonwealth by being a center for the immigrants and other assistance needing populations allowing the suburbs to continue their NIMBYistic post-white flight realities.

  30. Thirty Says:

    I think asking for salaries, financials, and data on CTI’s success rates, is more than a reasonable request. We should have learned a lesson from the Barrenco mishaps at the Merrimack Valley Ed Consortium. Immigrants and refugees are placed in Lowell, because we have the vast number of non-profits to serve them, such as the International Institute http://iine.us/ I would agree that poverty is big business. The non-profits seem to be some of the largest employers in town.

  31. joe from Lowell Says:

    I’m saying some enterprising folks have figured out how to profit from a chronic problem.

    Oh, you’ve gone quite a bit further than that, Jack:

    Are we creating a privatized system that sustains itself on tending to the needy in such a way that poverty will continue to be generational?

  32. Lynne Says:

    “Immigrants and refugees are placed in Lowell”

    Placed? No. (Who is it that would “place” people??) Immigrants are attracted to Lowell. One big reason is, members of their community or similar communities are already here, and when moving to a new country, it’s vastly easier to feel comfortable in an enclave of people who face the same difficultly, speak the same language, as you do. This is the same the world over - Americans moving to other countries also tend to live in English-speaking enclaves at least for the first generation.

    It’s not because we have lots of non-profits. If anything, it’s because you can live (fairly) cheaply, live without automobile if needs be, and because things you need to survive are close by, like grocery stores. Remember, not everyone can afford a giant SUV and a 2000-square foot house in the suburbs and a weekly trip to Trader Joe’s 20 miles away.

    RE local non-profits and transparency, it’s my understanding that they are pretty open about what they take in, what they spend, etc.

  33. Lynne Says:

    RE “Are we creating a privatized system that sustains itself on tending to the needy in such a way that poverty will continue to be generational?”

    This was the argument of the neoliberals and the Republicans against welfare, and the reason for the 90s welfare reform, which was a dismal FAILURE. Sure it kicks people off of welfare, but to what? Destitution for the most part.

    Now, I will go so far as to agree there are issues with welfare (the concept, and the manner in which it was practiced in the 20th century), and welfare itself, alone, does not solve the problem of generational poverty (though I would argue that it doesn’t really increase generational likelihood of poverty either). However, the answers to that problem START with good fair equal education, then jobs…and jobs that pay enough to help a single mom or a family survive healthily, actions like increasing the minimum wage and then indexing it to cost of living increases. Giving single moms free child care so they can work and not put a huge proportion of their paycheck into child care or having to make do with questionable child care. Also, we need to stop predatory lending, credit cards, and paycheck cashing scams from preying on the least among us. We need to stop exponentially increasing the cost of housing!

    For god’s sake, Jack, go read Elizabeth Warren’s The Two Income Trap before you post one more comment on this thread!

  34. Robert Forrant Says:

    For the record, people are indeed placed here. When the immigration laws were relaxed by Saint Ronald certain organizations, many of them national faith-based organizations, were effectively given the franchise to be able to liberate folks from refugee camps in various places around the globe. What started with small numbers, did indeed become a fairly concerted effort to relocate folks to certain places. This is why across New England there are pockets of individuals from war-torn African countries, Southeast Asian nations, and now countries in the Middle East. People are usually initially settled in places where rents are affordable and there is at least some visible record of a social services infrastructure to help folks find work, get the kids into school, etc.

  35. Lynne Says:

    Refugees, maybe. But that is a small proportion of immigrants coming today.

    In the 80s that was more the case (but again, still not most or all immigrants - in fact, not even all refugees I imagine, as some will come here after others have for the reasons mentioned). I can hardly imagine it is the largest source of immigration on the city.

  36. Victoria Says:

    Actually, refugees are “placed” in Lowell because we have a local volag, which is another quasi-governmental agency that places refugees brought into this country by the state department (I’m referring to the International Institute of Lowell, which is an arm of the International Institute of Boston). Refugees get subsized support from the government for their first year here and non profits and the schools working with refugees (not immigrants) are eligible for special grants for more than 20 years after those refugees have settled, if their numbers are large enough. Those federal funds are what originally built the CMAA.

    Also, our very large Hispanic population is not primarily an immigrant population, as most are from Puerto Rico and have all the same rights and priveleges as any other citizen.

    But if Lowell is ever to make an upward transition, in my opinion the biggest change that needs to happen is in the school system. First, education is still the major road to increased earnings. Many studies by Andrew Sum at Northeastern can tell you how much of a drag drop outs are on our economy, and my guess (no data to back this up though) is that most drop outs tend to stick around here. Anyone on this blog know what the graduation rate is at Lowell High??? It is 70% overall but only 67% for boys. Anyone think that is a problem for our community? What are all those boys doing, if not graduating? During my years at ONE Lowell we created a very successful and cost effective program of wrap around services for highly truant students. Some of the funding was from the government but a significant amount was also from private foundations, so non-profits, especially the non-quasi governmental ones, bring a lot of money into Lowell that is not from taxpayers.

    In 1999 the School Committee created the Latin Lyceum as a means to try to keep middle class families in Lowell and even bring in new families the way that Boston Latin does for Boston. We spent a year doing a study of the success of the program over the last ten years and pretty much no one was interested. Not only that, one school committee member said that the parents in the Lyceum were trying to start a “war” when we compared the money spent on other special groups, like the football team or the bridge program (about $800,000 for 55 students is my understanding)…yet not a dime for the Lyceum. The program has gradually been deteriorating because it has no one doing the administrative tasks necessary to the program and will continue to do so unless someone with the power to save it steps up to do so.

    But the real message we get is that Lowell doesn’t like programs for what many call “elites.” All that really means is kids who are smart and actually really like school and like to learn. Lowell is about spending money on sports and specialized academies similar to what you’d find at the vocational school, not on specialized college prep academic programs. How many times have I heard that sports is the best dropout prevention program around? I wish people on the school committee would show just one single study to show that’s true. (and don’t misunderstand, I agree that sports are integral to the high school experience and wouldn’t take them away for anything. Let’s just stop fooling ourselves about the role that sports play in the life of the high school. It’s not dropout prevention.)

    These kids (lyceum) have never once been recognized as a group by the high school. Nope, not even a page in the year book. They get called snobs and nerds, including by non Lyceum teachers …. and what is the message? That Lowell High School just doesn’t want to invest any money to push kids to the very top. yes, we can be proud if ANY of our students get into Harvard or whatever, but let’s be really sure that we do not spend any EXTRA money on helping our smart kids with a general academic focus rather than vocational focus to reach their potential.

    So, if you want Lowell to move up economically, why not start by changing the mentality at Lowell High School. How about praising students who make a choice to choose the hardest academic path possible? And praise them loudly and often and let everyone know that choosing the harder academic path is a worthy goal for Lowell students. And change the ranking system that puts Lyceum kids at a disadvantage. (and by the way, some of our best athletes are in the Lyceum, so there is NO WAR!!!). For example, check out our boys swimming program that just broke school records. Of the four, two are in the Lyceum…not on the way to dropping out. (But you won’t hear about that). More importantly, Lowell High School won several awards for our fall sports program for scholarship, because so many of our athletes had a GPA over 3.2. As I recall, we had the highest GPA in the state for our fall athletes, so not to fear about dropouts!

    How about putting some money into the Lyceum? We can’t even get a lousy few thousand dollar stipend for someone to take care of the administrative needs of the program, which are grossly neglected. How about making it an attractive program that keeps drawing in more and more students rather than a program that is getting smaller every year?

    But “OH NO” that would mean that Lowell is getting “elitist” and for sure we don’t want that to happen. So let’s continue to let the Lyceum deteriorate. We were not even allowed to have a single guidance counselor for the Lyceum, which wouldn’t cost a dime, rather than the current method that distributes all the Lyceum kids across all the guidance counselors that ensures that none of them really understand the program and can offer the proper guidance. We want to be sure we don’t play any favorites with smart kids. Let’s say that Lyceum parents are creating a war because they want a few thousand dollars for someone to do some administration of the program. Let’s be sure that we don’t give people the wrong idea about what we value in our children’s education in Lowell.

    School budgets, like any budget, are a moral document that demonstrate the values of a community. The fact that not a dime goes into this program clearly demonstrates what we don’t want at Lowell High…. a bunch of elitist smart kids. And since the graduation rate has remained pretty much the same since 2006 (furthest back the data goes on the MADOE website), we aren’t making any movement in that direction either.

    Want a better Lowell? Make a better High School. Invest in the Lyceum, Praise the students who take the hardest courses, FIND OUT WHY SO MANY STUDENTS ARE DROPPING OUT, by asking the students themselves!!!! and then, of course, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

    Finally, I just want to say, for the sake of any school committee member who might read this, yes, you did vote in some simple changes for the Lyceum,(thank you) but then you made the assumption those changes were being implemented. Think again. If you are interested, call me. We need a director who can make sure the changes happen. Just a few thousand lousy dollars for 150 smart kids. But I guess that would be sending the wrong message, because surely it cannot be asking for too much money.

  37. Jack Says:

    Our public schools are burdened (and enriched) by the children of immigrants and refugees. This is the bittersweet reality of gateway cities.

    No worries. Someone is out there to provide top notch “wrap around” services to pick up some of the pieces. (Part of the micro-economy.)

    No worries. We have a brand new charter school (Part of the micro-economy.), so the local whites can flee with no commute.

  38. Gardner Says:

    Joe from Lowell: If the downtown housing market has become “very self-sustaining indeed” as you state, then why does the proposed Mass Mills project require subsidies?

  39. jdayne Says:

    Victoria’s post raises terrific issues to consider with respect to our collective future in Lowell.

  40. Joe S. Says:

    Question to the criminal - “Why did you rob the bank?”

    Criminal - “Because that is where the money is!”

    Question to the ex-politiain - “Why did you become a lobbtist?”

    Ex-politician - “Ditto!”

  41. PlainJane Says:

    I agree that the money should be spent on education and teaching from day one that the reason you’re in school is to learn to SURVIVE an an adult. The sooner kids realize that every day in the lowell school system is an opportunity to add to their skills and development, then they’ll be less likely to drop out. Having a goal post education means having a PATH starting at a very early age. It’s often too late for their parents who may sponge off the system forever. However, if we spent all that CTI money on our elementary, middle and high schools (including the Voke) by increasing teachers, counselors and paid mentors, then we’d head off another generation of do nothings. Maybe Marty Meehan should be in charge. He’s certainly refurbishing the college like a one man army.

  42. joe from Lowell Says:

    Joe from Lowell: If the downtown housing market has become “very self-sustaining indeed” as you state, then why does the proposed Mass Mills project require subsidies?

    Physical conditions. Remember, that’s not just a project to create housing, but to rehabilitate and reuse a historic building in very poor condition.

    Take a look at the existing downtown housing stock. It doesn’t need subsidies to keep it filled. Heck, if we removed the affordability restrictions from the neighborhood’s affordable housing stock, like Market Mills, all of those units would sell as high-end, market-rate condos in a heartbeat. Downtown condos have actually held their value better than single family homes in the region’s suburban communities (which is very notable, because the condo market is typically much more volatile than the SFH market).

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