Local organization JP Progressives hosted Mayor Martin Walsh and City Councilor Tito Jackson in two separate forums to discuss their visions for the city in light of their battle in the mayoral election.
Both candidates were asked questions about a variety of local issues, including housing, safety, homelessness, and union contracts. The forum for Jackson was held on July 18, while the forum for Walsh was held on July 20. About 100 people attended each forum at the First Baptist Church.
On the issue of housing, Walsh said that the Plan: JP/Rox has yet to draw in any affordable housing. The adopted plan—which still needs to go through zoning review—is a result of a year-long process of collecting community feedback, and recommends strategies around affordable housing, jobs, businesses, and guidelines for urban design in the area along Washington Street.
“Since the plan has passed, I don’t believe we’ve had one proposal come in front of us saying that they want to build housing in the area where the JP/Rox plan was,” Walsh said. “There’s no private sector cooperation because the affordability levels are too high.”
Instead of subsidies or rent control, Walsh’s solution to create affordable housing is to increase supply of housing.
“Our population is growing. If we to continue to grow as a city, we have to put more housing stock on the market,” Walsh said. “I think a subsidy or stabilization of rents is not the answer because the problem will still exist.”
Walsh also emphasized the need to house college students in university housing so as not to displace families in residential housing.
“Young people are moving into single family houses and taking over a whole community. These houses used to be family houses years ago. We want to convert those back to neighborhood and family houses,” Walsh said.
He stated that by housing students on campus, the city will regain its housing stock for others to occupy.
Jackson, at his forum, advocated strongly for rent control measures.
“I think we need to innovate. It’s unsustainable to continue to build two and three million dollar condos all over the city of Boston that no one is actually occupying as owners,” Jackson said. “In the Millennium Tower – only 20 percent of the units in that building are taking homestead, or are owner occupied. These buildings in many ways are not housing, they’re actually investment vehicles for uber-rich people all over the world, and that is unacceptable.”
Jackson said that the definition of affordable is also a problem.
“We need to redefine what affordable means,” Jackson said. “The affordable units in many neighborhoods in Boston actually gentrify the people who are in those neighborhoods out of their own neighborhoods in the name of affordability. [In my administration] affordability will be defined by the median annual income of the people who live in that neighborhood. It is not progressive to gentrify people out of neighborhoods and communities in the city of Boston.”
Jackson spoke at length about his concerns about gentrification.
“We live in a city of Boston that is pushing families out in every single neighborhood in line with this word ‘development’,” Jackson said. “Development isn’t about developing buildings, it’s developing families, developing communities, and developing the future of Boston.”
Jackson went on to say that he would cut the Boston Planning and Development Agency in half.
“Planning needs to be separate from development; development runs our communities and neighborhoods over. People with money are winning, and those folks who don’t have the money are losing.”
Both mayoral candidates expressed their support for the Jim Brooks Community Stabilization Act, which would help protect residential tenants and against arbitrary, unreasonable, discriminatory, or retaliatory evictions. Walsh, however, misspoke.
“I filed the Jim Crow act. It’s actually my legislation,” he said before the audience corrected him.
He went on to highlight his achievements in creating affordable housing in Boston.
“In 2014, the City of Boston set a record for low-income unit starts. In 2015, we broke that record. In 2016, we broke that record, and in 2017 we’re on pace to break that record,” Walsh said. “We’ve never seen the low-income housing be built in the way its been built in the last four years, so I don’t know what the next mayor of Boston could do other than to continue to build off that, which is what I intend on doing,” said Walsh.
Jackson reiterated values of inclusion as he spoke.
“I look forward to making sure that we lift everybody in the city of Boston,” Jackson said. “We can not judge the city of Boston by the people in the tallest buildings on the top floors. We judge Boston, our character, by what do we do for the people that got kicked off Long Island? What do we do for the folks who have gotten kicked out in the mortgage and foreclosure crisis?”
The City used to house homeless people on Long Island.
Walsh spoke about Long Island and the City’s homeless population as well. Mayor Walsh closed the bridge to Long Island in October 2014 because of structural deficiencies of the bridge, which was later demolished in 2015. Those living on Long Island and being serviced by recovery programs or as guests in the homeless shelter were relocated by ferry back to the mainland City. At the forum, Walsh said that his administration has replaced every service on the island since.
“We have housed 1,100 chronically homeless people in the city of Boston since the day I took office as mayor,” Walsh said. “Since the bridge has been down, people see homeless people in the city of Boston and get freaked out about it, and they didn’t see them before because what we did was we put them on a bus and brought them out to Long Island and we hid them, and in the daytime we brought them back out, and we weren’t dealing with homelessness the way we should. I’m going to continue to reduce homelessness as best I can.”
Jackson criticized Walsh’s administration for “turning their back on” what he considers essential programs for homeless men: Project SOAR and Safe Harbor. This year, cuts of about $800,000 were made to both projects that provided transitional housing and addiction recovery services to homeless men.
“A Jackson administration will take $5 million and create 400 City-backed vouchers so we can get 400 homeless folks who got kicked off Long Island into permanent housing,” Jackson said.
Jackson brought up the fact that the teacher’s union doesn’t have a contract at his forum.
“The Boston public school teachers deserve a contract,” Jackson said. “It is one of the only business unions that don’t have a contract. There are 70 percent women in the teacher’s union; the fire department has a contract, and the police department has a contract. Is that progressive?”
The JP Progressive moderator at the forum asked Walsh about his commitments to pay equity for all genders in regards to the fact that the teacher’s union does not have a contract. Walsh said that it was a “set-up question.”
“Let me be clear, I am a union supporter,” Walsh said. “The average teacher in Boston gets paid $100,000 per year. There are some negotiation tools and tactics that shouldn’t be used, like this one right now that I don’t appreciate. I think that what we want to do is have a negotiation with the union. There are some reforms that I’m looking for, which I’m not going to talk about because it’s at the bargaining table. This is not the appropriate place for that. The only place people get paid consistently across the board is organized labor. I’m not underpaying teachers because they’re women. If you’re a teacher, and if you’re a man or a woman, you’re paid the same amount of money.”
Walsh ultimately said that the problem negotiating contracts with the teacher’s union “has nothing to do with gender pay,” and refused to answer the question further.
On the issue of crime, Jackson explained how he had just left Mission Hill where a store owner was murdered as an example of the need for crime-preventing measures in the city. Jackson declared that as the mayor of Boston, he would create 5,000 additional youth summer jobs and 1,000 youth jobs for the school year.
Walsh said that the only thing that keeps him up at night is violence in our city. He said that in his tenure as mayor, the City has changed a lot about how it does policing, including changing the command staff to reflect the community with people of color. He also said that the officers have done unconscious bias training and race training.
“What we’ve seen in the last two years is an increase in shooting,” Walsh said. “Arrests are down in Boston by 37 percent, which is a great number because it shows that some of the programs that we’re laying down are working for us.”
Walsh continued to talk about the broader issues affecting Boston.
“I feel the criminal justice system is broken. I feel that we don’t have enough opportunities for job training and education for some of the folks that are committing these crimes. We have to continue to create programs for people,” Walsh said.
Walsh was asked about the shootings in the previous two weeks. His answer was “too many guns.”
“Too many guns are coming down from New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont,” he said. “The day that President Trump signed the executive order on immigrants and Muslims, he also reversed an executive order on background checks for guns. I’m not comparing the two, but it seems like since he turned that executive order around, we’ve had more shootings on the streets of Boston.”
The preliminary election for mayor will be held on Sept. 26. There are three candidates on the ballot for the primary: Walsh, Jackson, and Joseph Wiley. The two top vote getters will move on to the general election on Nov. 7.