Standing in front of the housing development where he grew up, Congressman Stephen Lynch joined other Democrats Monday calling for a $70 billion investment in public housing around the country over five years.
"When I lived here it didn't look like this," said Lynch, touring one of the renovated units at the South Boston public housing complex. He said, "This is a much better environment, I think, for kids to grow up in."
The complex, which was renamed the Anne Lynch Homes at Old Colony after the congressman's mother, stands as an example of how to improve the quality of life for those who rely on government-provided housing, according to the officials who gathered there Monday hoping to see that type of investment replicated.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said the homes are being converted from "brick tenement" popular after World War II to a "townhouse style." Crime has fallen along with stress levels in the area, according to Lynch.
Renovations are about halfway complete, according to Boston Housing Authority Administrator William McGonagle. Upgrades began in 2010, and renovations to the first 285 units were made possible by a total of $42 million in federal grants, according to the housing authority. A $25 million contribution from the city will enable the authority to renovate another 250 units, and the final phases will transform a total of 258 units, according to the authority.
Lynch and Walsh were joined by U.S. Sen. Ed Markey and Brooklyn Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, pitching a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure that would be part of the Democrats' agenda if they regain power in Washington, D.C.
Supporters of public housing investment have been on a long losing streak, according to the pols who visited Southie on Monday. Jeffries said the federal government's investment in public housing has been "declining since the Reagan administration," which ended 30 years ago. That period of time includes 16 years when Democrats controlled the White House along with stretches when Democrats held the House and Senate.
This time around, advocates for public housing are framing funding for the homes as part of an investment in infrastructure -- a broad term that can encompass building bridges, filling potholes, digging subway tunnels, extending broadband and laying sewer pipes. Infrastructure investment broadly speaking, has bipartisan support, though there can be partisan disagreements over the details. President Donald Trump touted infrastructure investment.
"America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just one year. Is it not a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a permit approved for a simple road?" Trump said during his State of the Union speech this year, according to a transcript. He said, "Tonight I am calling on the Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment we need."
"What we're highlighting today is a $70 billion program for investing in public housing, which will be part of a broader initiative to invest $1 trillion in infrastructure across the country," Jeffries told reporters. "We're making the point that public housing is part of infrastructure."
The Democrats' plan hinges on their winning back control in Congress this fall, the pols acknowledged.
"This isn't going to happen under this Congress. This isn't going to happen in Washington from now until the end of the year. This is about next time. That's what this announcement is about today," said Walsh. He said, "People across America need to talk to each other and realize that elections have consequences, and some of these folks that don't support public housing, don't support public infrastructure investment, I hope their constituents in those areas hold their feet to the fire and vote the other way."
When a man asked Lynch what could be done to advance the Democrats' proposal, the South Boston pol responded, "Elect more Democrats."
"I know I'm preaching to the choir here," Walsh said, after extolling the benefits of government-provided housing. He also said, "If people think we have a big problem today in America with homelessness, wait until we continue to divest in public housing."
Massachusetts has one open congressional election in the Merrimack Valley and eight incumbents seeking re-election, all Democrats.
The Democrats' $70 billion public housing plan would focus on renovation of existing public housing, investment in "tools to succeed" like job training and revitalization of the neighborhoods around public housing, according to Jeffries, who said it would also include building new units.
The Democrats assembled in Boston on Monday also railed against Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson's proposal to raise the minimum monthly rent that housing authority officials can charge to $150, up from $50. Carson told Fox News the changes he supports are "our attempt to give poor people a way out of poverty."
The Democrats' plan stands in "stark contrast" to efforts underway by the Trump administration, according to Markey, who said the president has proposed cutting billions from the HUD budget.
"While President Trump wants to push hard-working families over a cliff, Democrats will offer them a ladder to economically advance," Markey said.