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Mayor Walsh's 2019 remarks to Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce

Read remarks from the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce annual breakfast on October 8.

Thank you Miceal [Chamberlain], thank you Jim [Rooney], thank you everyone for coming here this morning. Thank you to the members of the City Council who are here.

Before I get into the heart of my remarks today, I want to take a minute to update you on the plan I introduced at the Chamber last year: Resilient Boston Harbor. That plan invests in open spaces on our waterfront, creating better parks and protecting our neighborhoods from flooding. The progress we’ve made in just one year is incredible. 

  • We opened Martin’s Park, a playground that adds resilience along Fort Point Channel, a key entry point for flood waters into our city.
  • Langone-Puopolo Park is under construction and will increase resilience for the North End, West End, and Downtown. 
  • The Moakley Park redesign is moving forward and will help protect South Boston, Dorchester, Roxbury, and the South End. 

Our shoreline is getting stronger, and it’s just the start. In July, we passed Boston’s first capital plan that dedicates 10% of all spending to resilience projects. We’re going to do that every year, as an investment in our people, our communities, and our businesses. 

We are acting locally and leading globally. Tomorrow I head to Copenhagen, Denmark, for the C40 climate summit. C40 is a network of the world’s largest cities, working together to slow climate change. I serve as North American Co-Chair, with Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles. I’ll bring with me a brand-new update to our Climate Action Plan, which many of you in this room helped us put together. It lays out the steps Boston will take to be carbon free by 2050. This goal is necessary and attainable. Our work so far has reduced Boston’s total emissions by 21%. And our leadership has been recognized. This summer we were named the #1 most energy efficient city in the U.S. for the fourth time in a row. It’s a credit to both the policies we put in place and the investments that building owners are making in Boston’s future. 

We are leading on issues of local, state, national, and global significance—and our efforts are transforming Boston. 

  • For the first time in a generation, we are investing in comprehensive upgrades to Boston’s signature parks, Boston Common and Franklin Park. 
  • For the first time in 25 years, we’re building new high schools. They are the state of the art in STEM education, arts education, and more. 
  • For the first time in 30 years, we’re building a completely new firehouse, Engine 42 in Roxbury. 
  • For the first time in nearly 40 years, we’ll host the NAACP national convention next summer. We are changing our city’s image and reality. 
  • For the first time in over 50 years, we’re moving forward with a complete redesign of City Hall Plaza. 
  • And for the first time ever, Boston has earned perfect, AAA bond ratings for 6 consecutive years. 

We moved Boston into a new era. We opened up city government and welcomed new voices to the table, we set ambitious goals and built new systems and strategies to meet them, and we led with our values of inclusion, equity, and compassion. 

Our policy innovations are being taken up by cities and states across the country—in Women’s Advancement, Immigrant Advancement, Workforce Development, senior supports, disability, veterans services, Racial Equity, Recovery Services, and housing the homeless. 

We do this work in partnership with residents, with nonprofits, and with the business community. And as a result, our economy is thriving. Unemployment is below 3%, our established industries are growing, and recently we were named the fifth best city in the world for technology startups. 

Together we’ve made Boston the safest, the healthiest, the busiest, the most employed and the most productive it’s ever been, and the benefits of this progress have been felt in every neighborhood of our city. 

But the question I have today is, what will we do with this opportunity? It’s not an opportunity that was given to us; it’s one we earned. But we can’t take it for granted, because as far as we’ve come, big challenges remain. Some are the challenges of success, like housing demand and transit capacity. Some are national problems, like inequality and the hollowing out of the middle class. All of them are threats to our economy and to each of the organizations and businesses represented in this room. We have the opportunity now, by building on our success, to address them.

So today I’m going to talk about housing, transportation, and education. I could start with data. But I spend most of my time out in the neighborhoods of Boston, and here’s what people are saying to me. 

I talked to a 30-year-old city employee who’s 8 years into a good career, just got married, and is thinking about a family. But he looks at the housing market and he’s losing hope of ever being able to afford a home. 

I met a mother in Mattapan who spends 2 hours of her life, every day, taking multiple buses to get to and from a job in the Longwood Medical Area. She’s working hard for her family, but she’s forced to rely on a transit system that isn’t working for her. 

I talk to parents who say their family’s future depends on which high school their child gets access to. And I hear from young adults who grew up in our city, overcame obstacles, did everything we asked of them—but can’t get a foot in the door at a Boston company. 

These aren’t marginal examples. They are people at the heart and soul of our economy and our community. They are from all races, in every neighborhood. They’re working in City Hall and in all of your offices. They are our middle class and those fighting to be in our middle class. 

Meeting their challenges is my agenda—and it must be our agenda—because a city that can’t house its workforce is a city where employers lose talent; a state that can’t move its workforce is a state with an expiration date on its economic leadership; and a country losing its middle class is a country that’s losing its soul. 

So today, I want to do something different. Today I come before you with an appeal. It’s an appeal to every industry, organization, and individual in a position of leadership in our city: to focus our energies, strengthen our partnerships, and combine our voices to meet these shared challenges. 

It’s a call to action: to show our young workers, our long-time residents and our newest Bostonians—people from every neighborhood and walk of life—that this great city we’ve built wasn’t built for someone else, it was built for them and for everyone. 

That’s what our values demand of us, and it’s what our future depends on. It will define the kind of government we get, it will define the fate of every business and nonprofit in our city, and it will define our ability to compete on the global stage. The action we take now on housing and transit and schools will define Boston for the next 10 years and the next generation. 

Let’s start with housing. When I took office, Boston faced a housing crisis. So we brought the stakeholders to the table and we created a plan to address it. 

  • We turned three million square feet of city land into nearly 500 first-time home ownership opportunities and over 1100 rental units.
  • We increased Inclusionary Development and Linkage collections, and I’d like to thank members of the business community who partnered with us. 
  • We modernized community planning and opened up new areas for transit-oriented development. 
  • This summer, we dedicated nearly $4 million of Community Preservation funding to a new, low-interest mortgage program for first-time home buyers. 

The net result is we have created over 31,000 new homes in our city, we have an additional 27,000 units in the pipeline, and we are ahead of pace to meet our goal of 69,000 new homes by 2030. 20% of those new homes are subsidized units. We are Number One in the United States for income-restricted, affordable housing. Let me repeat that. We are the Number One city in the United States for income-restricted, affordable housing.

Our strategy is working. Rents have stabilized in some neighborhoods and we’re on the way to creating 1,000 new homeowners.

But there’s much more work to be done. I talked about the situation facing young professionals in City Hall. I hear the same stories from talented young people in every business I visit. “I’m 30 and still have roommates.” “My rent is so high that I can’t save for a down payment.” “I want to stay in Boston, but I can’t afford to live here.” 

These are people with good paying jobs. The situation facing the working class and senior citizens, if they can’t get subsidized housing, is even tougher. Market rents and home prices are simply beyond their reach, and people are being forced out of our city. It’s not fair, it’s not sustainable, and it’s not good for our economy. 

So here’s what we need to do. We need to create more middle-income housing. We need to stop the displacements. And we need everyone to play their part. 

This isn’t just a Boston problem. We have a regional housing shortage, decades in the making. So we need more production across our region. 

Working with the Metro Mayors Coalition, we developed a regional plan. Now, cities and towns need to set their own housing goals and work to meet them, the way Boston has done. But fellow mayors and town managers tell me about good housing proposals with majority support, that are being constantly blocked. So I’m asking for your support today, for the Governor’s Housing Choice bill. It changes local approval from a two-thirds vote to a simple, democratic majority. It’s a simple fix, with positive results for your workforce. It needs all of our support. 

Second, we need developers to build middle-income housing. 

We’ve built luxury apartments, condos, and townhouses. That fills a need and it takes pressure off our older housing stock. We’re also building and preserving record amounts of low-income housing. We’ll continue to protect our most vulnerable families and seniors. 

But what’s missing is the middle. And the people who fall through that gap are the people in our offices and our stores and our restaurants, whose hard work makes our economy tick. 

I understand that investors want to maximize their profits. But there has to be a balance between profit and impact. Our communities need middle-class housing. Our workforce needs middle-class housing. And we stand ready to partner with anyone who will step forward to help address this need. 

Lastly, pushing people out of their homes and their communities has to stop. This summer my office got a call from a 77-year-old man. After living in the same home in the Fenway for over 40 years, he got an eviction notice, no cause given. He’s not alone. We’re getting these calls all the time: from seniors with nowhere else to turn; from single mothers, facing rent increases so aggressive, it might as well be an eviction notice. 

We created an Office of Housing Stability to tackle this crisis. It’s working with people to help them stay in their homes, sometimes the only homes they’ve ever known. 

But we need stronger tools. We need the legislature to pass our bills protecting seniors and guaranteeing right-to-counsel for tenants facing eviction. 

We also need owners and investors to take a step back and consider the human impacts of their actions. Profits can’t come at this kind of cost. It’s not a price and it’s not a practice that we’re going to accept in the City of Boston. 

The bottom line is, housing is not a commodity; it’s a community. It’s where people build their lives. We have to be able to provide security and stability in our communities, and we have to be able to house our workforce. 

That’s why employers have an essential role to play in developing solutions, and why we’re going to continue this conversation with the business community. I’m going to work with Jim Rooney to bring members of the Chamber together with my housing team. We are going to identify opportunities to create workforce housing, and I invite everyone to bring your input, your ideas, and your resources to the table. 

Transportation is a critical part of the solution. 

A reliable, frequent, and affordable regional rail system would expand housing and job options for commuters. It would reduce traffic congestion. It would cut carbon emissions. It would unlock new levels of productivity in our economy. 

As you know, Boston does not control the MBTA. It’s a state-managed system. But we are the largest payer into that system. And we’ve done more than ever before to improve public transit in our city. We’ve done it by listening to our residents’ needs and listening to new ideas, by developing a comprehensive plan, and by making hard decisions to raise the revenue to implement it. 

  • We built Boston’s first bus lanes in a generation, in Roslindale, Allston, and now the North End and Charlestown. Tens of thousands of people have had their commutes improved by these lanes, and we’re working on more. 
  • We invested in a new Transit Team that is working with the MBTA right now on improvements in Mattapan, South Boston, and Roxbury.
  • We invested $6.5 million in T passes for our youth. 
  • We called on the T to protect seniors from fare increases, and provide late-night bus service for third-shift workers, and they are doing those things. 
  • Yesterday, I testified at the MBTA’s Control Board for our plan to increase Fairmount Line service and Commuter Rail frequency across Greater Boston. 

We’re going to keep building these collaborations. But there’s a bigger picture we have to address. Our residents, workers, and customers, don’t just move inside Boston’s borders. Transportation is a regional and statewide system. So the challenge can only be met with a regional, statewide plan, that puts public transit at the center. 

In Boston we see it, and we experience it, every day.  Our worst congestion is at the points where people are trying to get on and off the highways that connect our city to the region. Many of those drivers want and would use better transit options. 

Our workforce is speaking loud and clear. A survey by the Mass. Biotech Council found that 60% of life science workers would change jobs tomorrow if they could get a better commute. That figure more than doubled in three years. 

We appreciate the $8 billion investment over 5 years that the state is making in the T. Getting closer to a “state of good repair” is necessary. But it’s not enough. A state of good repair means bringing the Red Line I rode yesterday morning back to the quality of the system I rode to school as a teenager in the 1980s. Our population has grown by 100,000 people since then! We need a plan for the 21st century, to meet today’s needs and support tomorrow’s growth. 

Recently, I sat with a group of business leaders. They told me how some of their employees have given up on public transit; how they can no longer start meetings before 10 a.m.; and how they had to add staff to make up for transit delays. 

You understand the urgency. We need your voices to communicate what’s at stake for your workers, your businesses, and our economy. And we need your expertise to help develop solutions. 

Just as we’ve done in the City of Boston, we need to work together, as partners, on a comprehensive plan to address the statewide need for better transportation. And we need to make the hard decisions necessary to fund and implement that plan. 

The final challenge I want to address today is education. 

Our goal is to give every child in Boston access to high-quality schools, from pre-kindergarten through high school and beyond. 

That’s why we’ve made historic investments in our schools, growing the BPS budget to nearly $1.2 billion. And we carefully targeted those investments to proven strategies for closing achievement gaps. 

  • We funded a longer school day. 
  • We’re committed to having a pre-kindergarten seat for every 4-year-old in Boston. 
  • We’re giving every 5-year-old a college savings account. 
  • We expanded Summer Learning programs to 14,000 students. 
  • We created a facilities program from scratch. After decades of neglect, we’re replacing roofs, windows, boilers, and furniture. We’re providing the technology that many students don’t have access to at home. And we’re building new high schools designed for 21st-century education.

We’re also looking at the “whole student” and knocking down barriers to learning wherever we find them. That means installing dozens of new kitchens to provide healthy food that many children aren’t getting at home. It’s why we’re giving free T passes to students in 7th through 12th grade and free hygiene products for girls. And it’s why we’re adding nurses at every school, mental health professionals to respond to trauma, and housing supports for students experiencing homelessness.

All of these investments, with the hard work of our teachers, school leaders, and students, are paying off. By almost any objective measure, the Boston Public Schools continue to improve. Today, more Boston students than ever before are in high-quality schools. On the most recent MCAS results, two thirds of BPS schools showed improvement. The state determined that our district as a whole is making “substantial progress.” 

We still have a long way to go. We need every school to be making progress, because we can never be satisfied as long as achievement gaps remain. 

But I want everyone in this conversation to understand two very important things about our schools. 

First, we are graduating an incredible number of bright, talented, diverse, ambitious young people. We are proud of our students. 

Second, there is much more potential in our schools waiting to be unlocked—but profound challenges stand in the way. 

  • More than half the students attending BPS schools live in poverty. 
  • 4,500 BPS students are experiencing homelessness—that’s 8% of the children in our schools. 
  • One third of our students are still learning English. 
  • Put together, if you take all the highest-need students in Massachusetts, the Boston Public schools educate 43% of those students. 

Our students need and deserve unique levels of support and innovation. That’s what we’re working to provide. 

And that’s why we fought so hard for a state education funding bill that would recognize these realities. I want to thank the Speaker, Senate President, education committee chairs, and the Boston delegation for their work on this legislation. It has the key principles we fought for, to meet the needs facing every district and every student. It’s important this legislation passes and its commitments get fully funded. 

But it doesn’t end there. Our new Superintendent, Brenda Cassellius, hit the ground running. She’s visiting every single school in the district. She’s working with the School Committee on plans to reform the central office, upgrade curriculum, and better support students in the classroom. 

What our kids ultimately need is what students in many other districts take for granted: a stable network of supports and opportunities surrounding them at home, at school, all year round. Too many of our students don’t have that. 

But you can help provide it. We’ve seen the difference the business community can make. 

Natixis helped the Winthrop Elementary in Dorchester rise from the bottom to the top of the state accountability system. 

Vertex built a learning lab that serves students from 15 BPS schools, and provides teachers with high-quality STEM curriculum. 

The Venture Café Foundation provides student workshops in technology, design, and entrepreneurship in Roxbury. 

And Autodesk provides unique professional development experiences for teachers at 13 innovative companies in our city. 

When a company makes a commitment to our schools, good things happen. Our students are lifted up. Your team grows its sense of purpose. Our city gets more connected and our future gets stronger. 

So I’m asking everyone in the business community to become a more active partner in our schools. You can build that community of support our young people need. You can help close achievement gaps. You can strengthen and guide our future workforce.

That brings me to my final request. I’m asking Boston’s employers to draw from the deep well of talent in our neighborhoods. I’m asking you to hire more Bostonians.

Our residents are skilled, they are resilient, they are diverse, and they have a lived understanding of culture and community in today’s America. You need people like them in your workplace, and you don’t have to look far to find them. Let me share a couple of examples. 

Kaia Walters is a 1st-generation American who went to Boston Public Schools and studied at UMass Boston. She has a passion for community and a knack for building websites. 

Raymond Ortega grew up in South Boston and graduated from Charlestown High. He recently wrapped up five years in the United States Marine Corps, where he worked on airplane technology. 

Kaia and Raymond graduated this year from the Resilient Coders boot camp. It’s a program we partner with that helps diverse young people elevate their skills, and works with local companies to hire them. Now they’re professional software engineers, making their companies and our city stronger, and they are here with us this morning.

My message today is clear. We’ve worked together to create an environment in our city where business can thrive and communities can thrive. Boston is as strong as it’s ever been. But if we’re going to continue to thrive—if we’re going to meet our greatest challenges—and build an even stronger future—then we’ve got more work to do. 

To keep our economy working, we must provide what working people need: in housing, in transit, at schools, and in jobs. We have to give every single person a place to live and a path toward their dreams. To do that, we need to be focused not just on the short term and the bottom line, but on the long term and greater good. 

Recently the CEOs of nearly 200 of America’s biggest companies published a statement re-defining the purpose of a corporation to include “supporting the communities in which we work.” 

I’m confident that’s how we do business in Boston. It’s a big reason for our success. But it’s time to redouble our efforts. And this is my call to action. I need your partnership now, more than ever—to confront our challenges in housing, transportation, and education—so that we can build a strong middle class, an economy built to last, and a Boston that continues to lead in the 21st century. 

Thank you. God Bless you. And I look forward to continuing this conversation.

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