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In State Of The City Address, Walsh Touts Plan To Raise $500 Million For Affordable Housing04:09
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Boston Mayor Marty Walsh in November 2018. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh in November 2018. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Mayor Marty Walsh vowed to expand efforts to address Boston's affordable housing shortage in his annual state of the city address Tuesday night, presenting plans to raise $500 million over five years to support the endeavor. He also announced $100 million in additional funding for Boston Public Schools, to be phased in over the next three years.

Speaking at Symphony Hall, the mayor started by taking stock of high notes: continued economic strength of the city, a reduction in crime, and signs of a stabilizing housing market.

But Walsh also addressed longstanding struggles for the city, calling Boston Public Schools "a tale of two districts."

Education

“We are graduating an incredible number of talented, diverse, ambitious young people — all across the city," Walsh said. "But too much potential is still being lost for the students who face the toughest challenges. We must do what it takes to be one great district for every single student, in every single school, in every single neighborhood."

Walsh touted investments in universal pre-K; longer school days; English-language learning; special education; and announced $100 million in new funding (a 3% increase).

The funding will be phased in over three years — $33 million this year, $66 million next year and $100 million in 2023, the mayor's office said. Superintendent Brenda Cassellius says they plan to target their spending on strategies aimed at closing achievement gaps, such as improving access to technology for students experiencing poverty and increasing mental health support.

Initially, 39 underperforming schools are expected to be targeted with this year’s funding. The district says all schools will be impacted by the funding increase by 2023.

Transportation

The mayor zeroed in on transportation as a major problem that needs fixing. He expressed frustration with the state Legislature, which he says has failed to fix the region’s transportation woes. He said lawmakers need to allow Boston to raise its own revenue to make transportation investments.

“Other states have enabled cities as different as Los Angeles, Indianapolis and Phoenix to use regional ballot initiatives and take a quantum leap forward in transportation," he said. "The people voted for projects and revenue to fund them. Now they’re being built.”

Housing

The third pillar of Walsh’s state of the city was housing. He said the city’s current housing policy is working, and there are signs that rents and home prices are beginning to stabilize.

“But they’re still too high for too many people. There’s much more work to be done. So tonight, I am announcing an unprecedented investment: $500 million over five years, to create thousands of homes, all across our city—affordable to a range of incomes, from the most vulnerable to the middle class."

That drew some of the biggest applause of the night. But the Legislature needs to allow the city to raise the revenue if Walsh is going to be able to make good on his promise.

Housing advocate Joe Kreisberg applauded the move, saying Walsh "is showing real leadership."

"And we need the state Legislature and the governor to also show leadership and pass the city's home rule petition to allow it to strengthen its own linkage and inclusionary development programs, allow it to establish a transfer tax to fund affordable housing," Kriesberg said. "We need to make sure the city of Boston has the tools it needs to serve its own citizens and its own residents."

But not everyone agrees with the mayor’s take on the state of the city. City councilor Andrea Campbell said there needs to be more substance behind Walsh's big spending pledges.

"It's not just about making an announcement that says you're going to invest millions of dollars. It requires a plan and a vision," Campbell said. "If you are going to eliminate inequities in the Boston Public Schools — ensure that all of our families truly have access to a high quality school — you have to do more than to make an announcement of the state of the city or throw more money at the problem.”

Joining Campbell on the council this year is Liz Breadon. She says the mayor’s housing vision resonates with her, but she wants to see more progress in her district.

"Many of the issues that we're working on in the neighborhoods, he's addressed my concern is that out in Allston-Brighton, which [is] the district I represent," Breadon said. "We're building a lot of housing, but very, very, very little of it is is as affordable in the district."

Breadon says she’s looking forward to working with the mayor to make sure he’s able to fulfill his pledge to raise half a billion dollars for housing over the next half decade.

WBUR Edify reporter Carrie Jung contributed to this report.

This article was originally published on January 08, 2020.

This segment aired on January 8, 2020.

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