Elugardo on Running for State Senate, Rent Control, Redistricting of Jamaica Plain and More

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State Rep. Nika Elugardo (D-15th Suffolk), who was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 2018, is running for the 2nd Suffolk District State Senate seat.

Elugardo answered questions from Jamaica Plain News about her candidacy, bills she's sponsored to help incarcerated individuals, redistricting, and more.

Q: Why did you decide to run for the 2nd Suffolk District State Senate seat?

Elugardo: It's been exciting and fulfilling to represent the 15th Suffolk district as a State Representative. I play a hands-on role not only in shaping policy that affects my constituents and so many constituent groups that I care deeply about, but also in shepherding critical resources for community and economic development, for education, and so much more.

As a representative with one aide, I've felt limited by the size of my staff and by the bounds of my district. So much of the need for government resources and policy reform includes but stretches far beyond 15th Suffolk into other neighborhoods of our city. I long to represent even more people of color and other communities that have been disenfranchised from government. I'm excited to bring the wisdom and strategy that I've learned in my 25+ year-long career doing community and economic development and training leaders, as well as in my first two sessions as a state rep.

Q: You are the sponsor of bills to permit rent control in Massachusetts. One is specifically for government-operated properties, and another would include private housing rental units. Why do you support rent control?

Elugardo: These bills provide cities and towns with tools to stabilize the market, and to do so in a manner customized to local needs and timeframes. To clarify, H1378 the Tenant Protections Act is about lifting the antiquated ban on any form of rent stabilization and providing a local option for municipalities to rewrite rent stabilization provisions that work for them -- if and only if they decide to.

In all cases, however, owner-occupied 3-family units would be excluded, and municipalities may expand this exclusion. H4229 requires municipalities to work with landlords to renew or replace certain expiring government subsidies in order to keep low-income resident units affordable. The housing market has been spinning out of control since the recession of 2008, it’s time we enable cities to take action they deem fit for the crisis.

Q: Let's talk about redistricting and how it affects Jamaica Plain. JP will be represented by different state Senate seats and House seats than before. Before redistricting JP was represented in the House by the 15th Suffolk (the seat you're vacating) and the retiring Liz Malia in the 11th Suffolk. Now it will be the 15th Suffolk seat and the 10th Suffolk seat currently held by Ed Coppinger. The state Senate will be represented by the 2nd Suffolk seat, and the Norfolk and Suffolk seat held by Mike Rush. Both Coppinger and Rush are more conservative than the ethos of Jamaica Plain. How will redistricting, and Rush and Coppinger representing JP, affect Jamaica Plain?

Elugardo: The JP delegation has been coordinating and will continue to coordinate across all levels of government to serve our constituents faithfully and to further JP's unique expression of strong progressive values.

I have had a number of opportunities to work closely with Representative Coppinger in the House. While we don't agree on every issue, he has been a strong champion for his constituents. I have every confidence he will continue to do so as his district becomes more progressive. I expect he’ll be a critical partner to the incoming representative for 15th Suffolk to bring about progressive reforms in education reform, transit justice, climate justice, and voting rights -- to name a few areas where we've worked together.

As JP voters, and I am one, it’s up to us to make sure that the new representative's values reflect our community. As for my part, should I have the honor of winning the 2nd Suffolk seat I will continue to build strong relationships and partnerships with Representative Coppinger, [state] Senator Rush, and the incoming representatives in the JP delegation. Together, we will ensure that all our JP constituents experience the power of their voice and leadership at the State House.

Q: You declared your candidacy after state Rep. Liz Miranda declared her candidacy. Both of you were first elected to the House in 2018. How would you describe your relationship with Rep. Miranda, and did you discuss your candidacy with her before declaring your candidacy?

Elugardo: I declared my candidacy in early December, because, after deep reflection, prayer, and talking to almost 200 constituents and friends of the newly drawn 2nd Suffolks district, I became confident that my seasoned and bold style of leadership and strategic bridge-building will be the best approach to mobilizing the power and resources of the Senate with and on behalf of constituents. This was particularly true after working with BIPOC leaders across Boston on the mayor's race.

Representative Miranda and I are good friends who deeply respect one another. We had many discussions about the race prior to deciding, and we still continue to work well together and support each other on House policy and progressive reforms.

I believe the clear vision I've developed with leaders from across the city over more than two decades and the experience and track record I have delivered on that vision over many years, including in the legislature, presents an opportunity for collaborative leadership and action that the city should not pass up.

Q: As a state Senator how would you participate in the budget-making process, specifically will you file earmarks for local organizations?

Elugardo: Yes, as a member of the [state] Senate I will continue to file and champion earmarks for local organizations, especially given the exacerbated level of need in recent years. As a member of the House Ways & Means (HWM) Committee, I see firsthand which institutions have mastered making their voices heard on state budget matters. Our residents deserve a higher and more equitably distributed return on their investment from the public sector.

For this reason and others, I am a prolific filer of earmarks in the House and have in just three years personally drafted and won earmarks valuing over $1.7 million to district entities and over $10 million to regional organizations, in addition to strategically and effectively championing tens of millions more in direct budget and earmarks filed and won by others. Additionally, I've personally secured over $2.75 million in bond approvals for small business development and transit equity.

I’ve worked hard to develop fruitful relationships and strategy with members of the Boston delegation in both branches of the one of the most exciting aspects of leading the [state] Senate district will be expanding the reach of this labor of love and working hard with my colleagues of the Boston delegation to ensure the decades of investment by our constituents across the city is financially rewarded.

Q: Would you like to use America Rescue Plan Act funds to make strides in bridging the wealth gaps? And how do you plan to make long-term changes for community stability once the funds run out?

Elugardo: Yes. I have been leading on equitably delivering and evaluating ARPA (and other federal and state) funds in partnership with my colleagues in the Black and Latino Caucus, Progressive and Women’s Caucuses.

I've done work on closing the wealth gap for much of my career. About 10 years ago I was hired by a Steering Committee of financial services and planning professionals, including the MA Office of the Treasurer and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, to be the founding director of a statewide initiative collaborating with banks and financial education counselors to close the wealth gap and build a model to comprehensively evaluate programs that do so.

At the Legislature, I've advocated strongly for some of the same wealth-building measures I evaluated then. Budget and money bill advocacy is critical to strong representation. I’ve developed over $250 million in legislative proposals in partnership with constituents for ARPA and infrastructure-related projects.

However, it's important not to rely solely on cash to address the longstanding systemic and structural inequities creating and maintaining the wealth gap. Most of my bills, particularly in housing, education, and economic development, take on the root causes of structural racism and inequity. I look forward over the course of the year to rolling updates on my existing work, as well as some new and refined ideas I am honing as I cross the 2nd Suffolk and learn from constituents and colleagues in the delegation.

Q: You are the sponsor of several bills related to incarcerated persons. What is the status of the bills, and when do you expect them to advance?

Elugardo: Two bills I am proud of that relate to incarcerated people take on structural inequity and racism at the root. One has passed into law and the other recently passed favorably out of the Housing Committee, on which I sit. The first enacted language I filed was the Department of Correction (DOC) Structural Racism Commission as part of the policing reform bill that passed into law last session. This bill, originally drafted by Ricky “Fuquan” McGee, a currently incarcerated activist I work closely with on criminal justice reform bills and policy, ultimately enabled the legislative Commission I now co-chair. We have done cutting-edge work to bring the voices of incarcerated persons and their families to the center of leadership in crafting legislative, policy, and civic community recommendations for dismantling structural racism throughout the DOC community, as experienced by incarcerated people as well as by correctional officers and other staff and DOC community members.

The final recommendations will be presented in April and overseen by the permanent Commission on the Status of African Americans. The second bill finds every place in Massachusetts law that establishes a major housing program, subsidy, or benefit and implements a priority and preference for formerly incarcerated individuals. I filed this bill from scratch with a JP constituent and nonprofit leader, Leslie Credle, founding Director of Justice 4 Housing. It's rare for a new bill to pass favorably in its first session with no opposition. I am hoping we can take this one all the way.

I have also initiated and continue to partner on several initiatives to bolster the work of incarcerated activists and other members of the DOC community to promote a culture of justice and human rights inside and outside the walls. I’ll have some exciting updates on this work over the coming months.

Q: Is there anything else you'd like to share about yourself and your candidacy for the 2nd Suffolk District state senate seat?

Elugardo: Many of my JP constituents have noted my leadership role helping to shift [Massachusetts] House culture. Both branches of the legislature, the [state] Senate and the House, contribute in unique ways to moving and stymying progressive legislation. The core skills I bring and have been honing in negotiation, relationship building, and persuasion through research and storytelling are critically needed to help the Senate work more functionally with the House. As a House member, I have been a powerful advocate for progressive justice and collaboration. As a Senate member, I can leverage my delegation and my House relationships with leadership and beyond to powerfully help us cross the finish line on more bills.