Allston-Brighton Head Start faces closure, sparks gentrification discussion

Facing pressure from developers, the Action for Boston Community Development Head Start and Early Head Start center located in Brighton faces a potential closing. A nationwide program that provides early childhood education, health, and nutrition services for low-income families, the Brighton center currently services an estimated 100 children. On May 17, Brighton parents gathered at Brighton Marine Health Center for a forum to discuss the program’s benefits, the implications of the potential closing, and how gentrification in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood that negatively impacts residents. The forum was led by Claudia Arrecis, mother of a 23-month old who attends the Early Head Start program in Brighton.

“We need services [like Head Start] that will support the low-income families, the hardworking families,” Arrecis said. “Having my daughter in a safe, clean, healthy environment where she has learned wonderful skills…these are things that maybe some big high-rise developer has no clue because you know what, he has a nanny and the nanny is the one who’s taking care of their kids. They’re not the ones hustling and bustling and trying to make a living and trying to support their children.”

John Drew, president of ABCD, told Spare Change News that having been a Head Start parent in the past, he understands how beneficial it is. “I was a Head Start parent many years ago. It’s a wonderful, very rich program for low-income families,” Drew said. “Ten percent of all our Head Start parents live in homeless shelters. Head Start is an oasis. People can drop off their child, have them be taken care of during the day.”

Arrecis said that the rampant development in Allston-Brighton is leaving low-income families, who depend on services like Head Start, behind. According to analysis by real estate research firm Neighborhood X, Brighton is one of the neighborhoods ripe for more gentrification.

“To have these high-rise condo companies coming into our cities and ramping up the cost for rent is really unfair on my belief…Gentrification has been an issue for a very long time…we need to have policies that keep the renters safe because landlords are just doing what they want,” Arrecis said. “They may not want to rent to someone who has children because they’re going to get the Boston College students that are going to come in and they’re going to pay more money for that same particular apartment.”

Drew said that Boston real estate developers are aligned in their goal to increase the cost of living in the city. “The large magnet real estate people in town at a meeting last week, were very candid. They said Boston is the eighth most expensive city in the world. They want to make it the first most expensive city in the world. They are hoping to see that prices go up 25 percent more,” Drew said.

According to Drew, the low-income families who participate in Head Start are already having a difficult time making ends meet, and gentrification adds additional pressure to their living and financial situations. Additionally, development threatens the existence of Head Start in Brighton.

“It’s [Head Start] such a rich program and it’s been situated in every neighborhood for almost 50 years. If we were to lose this site and couldn’t find anybody else, we would not be able to serve Brighton. It’s a big reach for us to try to get people over to other parts of the city. That’s the importance of it. I think it’s important for the community and for the city,” Drew said. “The city’s going through this major, everybody grabs as much money as they can, building, building, building. But the people who are being left behind, they need to have some stability in their life.”

Arrecis told Spare Change News that one grave implication of the Head Start program being scrapped in Brighton is homelessness: families cannot easily work to make a living and also support their young children during the day, and risk losing their jobs to care for their children. “I think it could really affect a lot of families, the working families. We could have more homeless families. Because if they can’t work because they don’t have childcare, that’s a big problem,” Arrecis said.

The underlying problem, according to Arrecis, is ignoring the working class in Allston-Brighton. “I think basically they’re looking over the working class. They’re getting lost in the hype of these new developments.”

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