City councilor asks students to engage in local politics

By Derek Hawkins

City councilor Michael Ross spoke to students about engaging in local politics and fielded questions about crime, violence and students’ relationships with their communities in a public meeting hosted by the Northeastern University Democrats Wednesday night.

The meeting, which drew about 40 students, centered around a discussion of student and university relations with local neighborhoods, specifically Mission Hill.

Ross, a Democrat representing District 8, which encompasses the student hubs in Mission Hill, Fenway and Allston, has earned some students’ contempt for his stance against loud parties, underage drinking and vandalism in residential areas. Ross lives on Parker Street in Mission Hill and is reputed to have arrived personally at students’ apartments with police the day after a large party.

“It’s a challenge,” he said. “This is what I struggle with. There’s so many bad apples now because the [student] population is so big that I’ve had to take an aggressive stance against parties.”

Ross defended his position with an explanation of how Mission Hill’s history was marked by overdevelopment, racism and other problems.

“The people living there were mostly working-class, and this community has battled so many challenges,” he said.

Mission Hill, he said, has been subject to several waves of development, in which city contractors and landlords have driven poor residents from their homes to build hospitals and more expensive new houses.

The neighborhood has also earned a negative reputation because of racism, Ross said.

Mission Hill, which Ross said was historically black, Latino and Irish working-class, was “vilified” and “destroyed” in the press after a young black man was falsely accused of murdering a white woman in 1990.

Northeastern and other students began to gentrify Mission Hill, he said, in the last two decades that Northeastern has changed from a commuter to a residential university.

The influx of students, he said, led landlords to rapidly increase rent, which drove out many residents who had lived in Mission Hill for generations.

“Now the few people still there who stuck it out are devastated because they’ve lost their community,” Ross said. “I have no animosity toward the students – my problem is with the unscrupulous landlords who are profiting from this. There is a dialogue that needs to happen. It’s on my watch.”

Ross said his goal is to make Mission Hill a residential neighborhood again by bringing the ratio of students to permanent residents to a “more manageable level.”

Ross opened the meeting with a brief speech about how he became involved in city politics and why he encourages students to do the same.

“Idealism is essential,” he said. “You have to hold onto it, believe it, keep it alive, and you can’t lose sight of that.”

In addition to addressing students’ concerns about their communities, Ross also responded to questions about crime and violence, which he said have risen recently.

Students who attended the meeting were generally pleased to have face-to-face dialogue with a city official, but remained skeptical of his goals for off-campus neighborhoods.

“I’m for keeping students in Mission Hill because it’s a great place for us,” said Chris Massad, a sophomore criminal justice major. “It’s part of being an adult. You shouldn’t have to live under some RA’s rules at this age.”

Mo Tracey, a senior political science major, said negative publicity has caused students to be excluded from discussions they should take part in.

“We take a lot of heat because Northeastern is so huge and we get lumped in with a lot of what goes wrong,” she said. “It would help more if students felt like they were part of the community. One way to do that is to get them involved in meetings with residents and officials and landlords.”

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