Walsh: State of city ‘has never been stronger’

Mayor Martin Walsh spoke at Symphony Hall on Tuesday. Chris Lovett photo

Mayor Martin Walsh delivered his fifth annual State of the City address on Tuesday evening, telling a crowd of about 2,000 people gathered in Boston’s Symphony Hall that “the state of our city has never been stronger.”

Walsh highlighted some of his administration’s achievements, citing the creation of more than 120,000 new jobs over six years and a decrease in the crime rate by “nearly 30 percent.”

“Together, we’ve made Boston the safest, healthiest, most dynamic, productive, and inclusive city it’s ever been,” he said.

“I believe in Boston because this city made my immigrant family’s dream come true. My vision, my passion, what I work for everyday, is for Boston to be that city of dreams for every child, every worker, every senior, and every single person who calls our city home. Tonight, let’s talk about how we do that.” 

Walsh unveiled three separate initiatives on Tuesday, leading with a $100 million dollar investment to Boston Public Schools and $500 million over the next five years to create affordable housing. He also trumpeted the creation of an East Boston Transportation Action Committee to address traffic challenges. 

The $100 million investment to BPS will be rolled out over the next three years, focusing on student wellness and mental health supports, curriculum enrichment and programming activities. The entirety of the funds will benefit students, or services provided by BPS. 

“We believe in a Boston where every single student can reach their full potential no matter what. Tonight, I announce a funding plan bold enough to make that vision a reality,” said Mayor Walsh. 

Superintendent Brenda Cassellius’ draft strategic vision recently presented to the Boston School Committee directly informed this plan. The draft focuses on rigorous curriculum, including arts, STEM, and health programming; cutting edge technology; and social, emotional, and physical support. 

“This level of planned investment, over and above cost increases, has never been done before. It will reach every school and it will be carefully targeted, so every dollar makes a difference. We’ll begin with intense support for underperforming schools, so we can become a great district,” said Walsh.

After the speech, District 4 City Councillor Andrea Campbell— who had suggested her own “action plan” for BPS last year— offered a sharp critique of Walsh’s BPS plan.

“In order to ensure every family has access to a quality BPS school, we need more than announcements & money thrown at the problem,” Campbell wrote in a tweet. “It is hard not to view the Mayor’s BPS announcement at #SOTC with great skepticism.”

In his remarks, Walsh called for stricter traffic enforcement and a more reliable MBTA service. 

“This year, I am directing the Boston Police and Transportation Department to work together and implement a plan to strengthen traffic enforcement in our city,” he said, adding that “For many of our issues, public transit is the solution, so we’re working with the MBTA.” 

Walsh asked legislative leaders on Beacon Hill to be bold on transportation finance.

“Mayors, business leaders, advocates, and commuters will support you,” he said, “And if you can’t move forward, then let us lead.” 

Calling housing “the biggest economic challenge our residents face,” Walsh pledged to dedicate $500 million over the next five years to create and preserve affordable for those with low and middle incomes. He said he would double the city’s current funding in affordable housing to $100 million. Additional revenue would be generated by selling the Lafayette Garage. But his plan also depends on the state Legislature— and Gov. Charlie Baker— to approve a Boston-specific transfer tax of up to 2 percent in private real estate sales over $2 million.  

After the speech, Walsh told reporters that he’s confident that the funds will be secured. 

“We’re finding the money for it,” Walsh said. “The investments for the schools are coming from the revenue that we’re earning in the city. Housing is the same thing. The two pieces that are really important for us is the sale of Lafayette Garage, we want to put all of that money into housing-- and the transfer tax.”

The Mayor also announced the creation of a city-funded rental voucher program, which would help to stabilize more low income persons and families.  The rental voucher program aims to subsidize the rents of those with most need, including families experiencing homelessness not eligible for the State’s Emergency Assistance, formerly chronically homeless individuals, and extremely low-income elderly and disabled households. 

“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,” said Mayor Walsh. 

Walsh also used the speech to billboard what will be one of 2020’s marquee events in the city: the national NAACP convention, which will be held in Boston in July.

“We are changing Boston’s image and reality,” Walsh told the audience. “It’s a milestone for our city, marking a new era of progress we have achieved together. We are going to host the best NAACP convention ever held. I invite all Bostonians to join me in celebrating Boston’s black history and black achievement all year long.”

Walsh concluded his State of the City speech with a firm assertion of Boston’s values.

“We are a city that rejects racism and bigotry in all its forms. We are a city that stands for social, economic, and environmental justice. We are a city that welcomes and supports immigrants,” he said. “We are a city that leads the fight for gender equality, LGBTQ equality, disability rights, veterans’ rights, and a strong middle class.”

“We believe in our young people. 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.”