The Weekly Wrap: HUD Will Study Office-to-Residential Conversions

Also, Massachusetts will make prison phone calls free.

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(Photo by dylan nolte / Unsplash)

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Welcome to The Weekly Wrap, our Friday round up of stories that explain the problems oppressing people in cities and elevate the solutions bringing us closer to economic, environmental and social justice.

In audio news, Next City is one of eight media organizations participating in the PRX Journalism Podcast Accelerator. Over 12 weeks, our podcast team will strengthen their technical and creative skills to continue highlighting the most impactful and innovative urbanist solutions.

HUD Funds Office-to-Residential Conversion Study

The Department of Housing and Urban Development is funding an $860,000 research grant to study commercial-to-residential conversions, focusing on case studies from successful conversions, according to Smart Cities Dive. The agency is looking to create a resource guide for local governments with best practices for dealing with barriers that come with conversions.

Office-to-residential conversions were proposed by many cities during the pandemic as they dealt with empty office space and a lack of affordable housing, but many have run into hurdles like stringent zoning and the cost involved with making the buildings habitable. Nevertheless, an architect told Smart Cities Dive that, “Adaptive reuse is going to be a lot faster to achieve than new building construction or even renovation projects.”

Small Business Administration Temporarily Banned From Considering Race In Key Program

The federal Small Business Administration has suspended applications from federal contractors to the 8(a) Business Development Program, which is designed to help economically and socially disadvantaged entrepreneurs, according to Fed Scoop. The agency paused applications to comply with a federal court in Tennessee, which temporarily banned the use of “presumed racial and ethnic disadvantage” in the program. SBA said it would revise the application questionnaire and reopen the application. The ruling “relies in part on the Supreme Court’s recent decision striking down the use of race in college admissions through affirmative action.”

Massachusetts Close To Making Prison Phone Calls Free

Massachusetts announced reforms this week that will make prison phone calls, emails and messaging free and will limit the cost of commissary items to 3% above an item’s retail price, Bolts reports. The agreement is part of the state budget and will go before Governor Maura Healey, a Democrat, who is expected to sign it. It would make Massachusetts the fifth state to make prison phone calls free, after Connecticut, California, Colorado and Minnesota. Funds for services would come out of a $20 million state trust fund.

Over 7,000 L.A. City Workers Go On Strike

Los Angeles city workers represented by SEIU 721, including sanitation staff, traffic officers, lifeguards and more, went on strike on Tuesday, Los Angeles Magazine reports, in the largest labor action the city has faced in 40 years. SEIU 721 represents over 7,000 city workers. The workers are bargaining for better pay and for the city to fill hundreds of vacant positions that have forced city employees to work overtime, the LA Times reports.

The strike will lead to delayed trash pickup, closed animal shelters and fewer traffic officers. “The city will always be available to make progress with SEIU 721 and we will continue bargaining in good faith,” Mayor Karen Bass said in a statement. The strike adds to the ongoing Writer’s Guild strike and Screen Actors Guild strikes, which have been concentrated in Los Angeles. (The strikes have also impacted other cities.)

Film Highlights 1970’s Pan-Africanist Brooklyn Collective

Bloomberg Citylab spoke to the filmmakers behind The Sun Rises In The East, a documentary about a pan-Africanist collective that promoted cooperative economics in Brooklyn in the 1970s. The collective began a magazine, clothing shop, record label, bookstore — and owned a farm in Guyana. It also provided meeting space for the Black Panthers and Young Lords. “The East really helped reinforce this Black self-identity and self-regard you find in Brooklyn,” filmmaker Tayo Giwa told the publication.

Curated by Deonna Anderson


  • Twin sisters Jo and Joy Banner won their fight against big industry in Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley.” Joy is now running for the parish council. The 19th

  • “Hawaii is a place of tremendous complexity, as anyone who loves it can tell you. Maybe this is why it was so surprising that Lahaina could just burn to the ground, all at once, even when it shouldn’t have,” Adrienne LaFrance writes. The Atlantic

  • All public school students across Massachusetts now have access to free lunch. CBS News Boston

    • Related: The Black Panther Party ran a school in East Oakland that became known for its free breakfast program. It’s now a model for other schools in California, according to The San Francisco Standard.


  • Decolonizing Wealth Project is accepting applications for its #Case4Reparations initiative. It will be distributing $3 million to organizations that are supporting systemic and policy change efforts in service of reparations. The proposal deadline is Thursday, August 31 at 2 p.m. Eastern. Learn more here!

  • The Center for Economic Democracy recently released Rewrite the Rules: Democratizing City Charters in Boston and Beyond, its report about how to change the foundational rules of your city to advance real democracy for your community. Download it here.

  • Next City is hiring two reporting fellows who will cover racial justice in Greensboro and reparations in Richmond. Apply for these opportunities — or spread the word to your networks!

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Roshan Abraham is Next City's housing correspondent and a former Equitable Cities fellow. He is based in Queens. Follow him on Twitter at @roshantone.

Tags: small businessprisonsunionshousing crisismassachusetts

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