Mayor Marty Walsh gave his annual State of the City address at Symphony Hall on Jan. 7, where he made many promises in terms of affordable housing, education, and transportation. He also looked back at what the City has accomplished over the past year, and how it can continue moving forward.
For the first time, Mayor Walsh highlighted resident success stories ahead of his speech. Four individuals were invited to the stage to share their stories and how Mayor Walsh’s programs have helped their dreams come true.
Yohan Almonte from Mattapan was formerly homeless and ended up in jail, but he said that Mayor Walsh’s Operation Exit program “changed my life.” The Operation Exit program allows Boston’s population most vulnerable to gun violence and returning incarcerated people a chance to give back to their communities.
“Now I’m a member of the Laborers Union, earning good pay and the respect of my community,” Almonte said. “Mayor Walsh believed in me and I believe in Boston.”
Lamarana Bah immigrated to Boston from Sierra Leone 15 years ago, and never thought that he and his wife would be able to own a home to raise their three boys in. Bah said that Mayor Walsh’s Neighborhood Homes Initiative, which uses City-owned land for affordable homeownership, helped him with a down payment and a mortgage on a home. He and his wife now own their home in Dorchester.
“Our dream came true and that’s why we believe in Boston,” Bah said.
Smiler Haynes is 86 years old, and spoke highly of Mayor Walsh’s newly rebranded Age Strong Commission. She said she enjoys the senior programs at Grove Hall Community Center, and “I tell all my friends that the Mayor’s Age Strong office is a great resource for all kinds of things: free shuttle rides, home repairs, volunteer opportunities, fitness classes—my favorite is tai chi! The City believes in our seniors, and we believe in Boston.”
Angel Castillo Pineda immigrated to Boston from Guatemala four years ago. After attending East Boston High School, Pineda said he wants to go to college and joined Mayor Walsh’s High School to teacher program. He hopes to return to Boston Public Schools and teach ESL to students like him.
Walsh started his speech by talking about the city’s accomplishments. He said in the past six years, over 120,000 new jobs were added to Boston’s economy. The crime rate has been cut by nearly 30 percent, arrests are down 33 percent, and almost 5,000 guns have been taken off the streets. “Boston is one of America’s safest cities,” Walsh said.
Despite the successes, “there’s a lot of work still to be done,” Walsh said, particularly in the categories of education, transportation, and housing.
On the education front, Walsh talked about investing in “universal pre-kindergarten, longer school days, English language-learning, Special Education, free community college, nurses in every school, mental health counselors, and housing supports,” Walsh said. “We’re taking down barriers to learning and closing achievement gaps wherever we find them.
Walsh announced a plan that will provide $100 million in new revenue for direct classroom funding. He said that this level of investment is unprecedented and he will start with”intense support for underperforming schools.”
Transportation is a top issue in the City, as the Mayor said he hears complaints daily about traffic congestion and unreliable public transportation.
Last year, more than 30 miles of roads were resurfaced, 1,000 crosswalks were repainted, sidewalks rebuilt, and safety signage was installed across the city. Bike connections are being improved throughout the city as well.
“Since launching our safety plan, we’ve cut fatalities on our roads by half,” Walsh said. “But one death or injury is too many.”
Walsh said that what he hears often from every neighborhood is the need for more enforcement. “This year, I am directing the Boston Police and Transportation Departments to work together and implement a plan to strengthen traffic enforcement in our city. We’re going to make our streets work better for everyone.”
Additionally, Walsh said that seniors are being protected from MBTA fare increases, late-night bus service for third-shift workers will be provided, and the City is paying for the MBTA to be free for all students in Grades 7-12.
“I’m going to keep advocating and I am calling, once again, for the City of Boston to have a seat on the MBTA board,” Walsh said. “It’s time to give people a voice. For our economy, our environment, and our quality of life, it’s time for 21st-century transportation.”
Mayor Walsh also promised unprecedented investment in housing, as it is “the biggest economic challenge our residents face.” Walsh said that since he took office, the city has built two thirds of all new homes in the Greater Boston area, and a quarter of the new homes were subsidized last year.
“The data shows our strategy is working,” Walsh said. “Rents and home price are stabilizing. But they’re still too high for many people.”
Walsh announced that $500 million over five years will be invested to create thousands of homes across the city, “affordable to a range of incomes, from the most vulnerable to the middle class.”
Starting with $100 million of city resources will double the city’s current investment, Walsh said, and additional revenue will be generated by working with the City Council to sell the Lafayette garage. Additionally, the City will work wit the State Legislature to approve the transfer tax that will charge a 2-percent fee on sales above $2 million in Boston.
“These investments are transformative,” Walsh said. “I invite housing advocates and residents to help us bring them to life.”
Affordable homes for seniors will also be built and renovated, and public housing across the city will be preserved, he added.
“And, for the first time in Boston’s history, we will issue city-funded rental vouchers, so more low-income families can be stable and secure,” Walsh said.
“Altogether, this is one of the most progressive housing policies in America, because we believe in a Boston where housing is more than a commodity, it’s our community.”
Walsh also praised the city’s work on inclusivity and diversity, but pushed for even more diverse Boston.
“Over the past six years, our new hires have been 55 percent women and 51 percent people of color,” he said. The Police Department has two Latino officers on the Command Staff for the first time, the new recruits in the Police Academy are 30 percent women and speak 12 different languages, the Fire Department has its first female district chief, first African-American chief of operations, and first Asian-American woman firefighter.
Mayor Walsh said that Boston is a city that fights for equality on all fronts, including social, economic, and environmental justice, supports immigrants, and fights for gender equality, LGBTQ equality, disability rights, veterans’ right, and a strong middle class.
Walsh finished his speech with an empowering, hopeful message for the city’s future.
“We believe in our young people,” Walsh said. We believe in working people. We believe in our elders. We believe in our veterans and first-responders. We believe in immigrants. We believe in second chances. We believe in each other. We believe in Boston.”