On Oct. 4, Democratic Ward Committees 8, 9, 10, 11, and 19 held a forum with candidates for mayor and at-large city councilor at the English High School. The event was well-attended by the community, filling the English High School auditorium to capacity.
Both mayoral candidates—Mayor Martin Walsh and City Councilor Tito Jackson were given two minutes to give an opening statement, and then were asked the same questions written by the Democratic Ward Committees and by members of the audience using the app Slido. Candidates were also given an opportunity to give a closing statement.
Both candidates were asked the same questions: about strategies to strengthen the payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) program; how to enhance education in the city; about courts and recovery houses; housing; economic development; and immigration.
The PILOT program calls for voluntary payments based on a nonprofit institution’s tax-exempt property value. Participants in the program include institutions from the educational, medical, and cultural sectors that own property valued in excess of $15 million. The moderator of the forum said that there’s a big gap between what some universities pay, and asked both candidates what could be done to standardize these payments or at least use incentives so that what the City takes in is more in proportion to the university’s size.
Walsh said that Mayor Menino rewrote PILOT legislation in 2011, and that last year the City collected $17 million more than it did in 2011. He said this was possible because of building partnerships with universities, which the City has done and will continue to do. Part of Walsh’s housing plan is also to ask universities to build more on-campus housing to free up housing stock in the communities.
“We are trying to hold the universities’ feet to the fire to make sure that they work with us,” Walsh said. “It’s not a perfect situation; it’s probably something we’ll go back to.”
Jackson said that over 50 percent of the land mass is in the hands of nonprofits.
“We need to let our friends at universities, hospitals, and museums know that they need to be an active part of the City of Boston.”
Jackson said that since half of PILOT payments are paid in “community benefits,” that the City should evaluate that on an annual basis. Jackson said that Northeastern University pays a fraction of what Boston University pays, even though the schools have the same footprint, and shamed the school for “running over the Roxbury neighborhood and purposefully gentrifying it.”
Jackson also said that there is one community benefit that universities should offer to the City of Boston: scholarships.
He said that the City should focus on procurement from universities to support local-, minority-, and women-owned businesses “who don’t get a $25 million handshake,” referring to a recent agreement between the City and General Electric over the company’s taxes.
When asked about how the City would ensure that all students have access to a quality education, both candidates said that investments were needed.
Walsh said that students going from different schools for every grade doesn’t work for children or families, and so there is a need to continue to make investments in schools and make sure that the City works with the parents to create a strong parent council.
Walsh also said that the education system in Boston is complicated since there are 128 schools with 22 grade configurations and 22 different start times.
“We need to start looking at schools and say ‘do we really need all of these schools? Is there a way to work in our areas to consolidate some of these schools to really make sure that schools work for all students, and all teachers.’”
Walsh summarized his accomplishments in education, including a $152 investment in Boston Public Schools and bringing the high school graduation rate up to 72 percent.
Jackson, chair of Education Committee on the City Council, said that there have been “millions of dollars in cuts to schools,” and that it was necessary to “respect and honor 100 percent of the future of Boston, which is embodied in young people.”
His first plan was to “fully fund” the Boston Public Schools, which in Jackson’s definition means that every public schools would have a library, librarian, nurse, music and art for elementary schools, computer science classes for all students, and social and emotional professionals available.
Jackson also said that there should be a democratically elected School Committee for BPS.
“It’s critical that we turn that power back,” Jackson said. “I want to weaken the mayorship. I believe the mayorship in the City of Boston is too strong, and this is one of the ways that we can democratize the mayorship, and put power back in the hands of the people of the City of Boston and ensure that they have a real voice in our city.”
Jackson also assured that he would not increase the charter school cap.
“We need to make sure that we deal with and invest in our public schools,” Jackson said.
Walsh mentioned in his opening statement that his administration created 22,000 housing units, 9,000 of which are moderate to low-income housing, and supported the passing of the Community Preservation Act. When asked about creating affordable housing, he said that he expects to see an increase in funding for affordable housing in the next few years due to funds collected from the Inclusionary Development Fund and from the recently passed Community Preservation Act, which collects revenue based off property value for affordable housing, as well as historic preservation and parks and recreation.
However, he said that “we have a problem with our Housing Authority,” because the federal government hasn’t been investing in affordable housing. To overcome a shortage of federal funds, Walsh said that the City is working public-private partnerships to redevelop low-income housing units, such as the Mildred C. Hailey Apartments, into mixed-income developments.
“The BHA houses the poorest of our poor,” Walsh said. “We need to make sure that we don’t lose those units.”
Walsh also discussed the range of levels for affordability.
“People say, what’s affordable? There’s no magic number,” Walsh said. “If you’re a family of four, whether you’re making 0, $50,000, or $100,000, you’re still struggling to make ends meet in those situations. We need to make sure we build housing so that families can stay in City of Boston so we don’t continue to see what’s happening in the areas of South Boston and Charlestown where many of those families sold, left, moved out, young people came in, the cost went up, and we’re starting to see that happen in Roxbury, in Dorchester, in Mattapan, and Jamaica Plain.”
Walsh also said that the City and the state should transfer over land to developers creating affordable housing so that they could bypass the high land costs impeding the ability to build.
Jackson had three steps to create and maintain affordable housing in the City: abolish the Boston Planning and Development Agency, increase the affordable-housing requirement as part of the Inclusionary Development Policy to 25 percent, and create City-backed vouchers to provide housing for the homeless.
“We need to move to a professional planning organization that will do right by the people of the City of Boston,” Jackson said. “The BRA changed their name to the BPDA for $600,000, but they have not changed their actions. We have an opportunity to bring back democracy, transparency, and accountability to how we plan in the City of Boston. Currently, we only develop, and we don’t actually plan, and the JP/Rox process is part and parcel to that.”
Jackson said that in his administration, if a development is built on City land, there would be a requirement to build a third of the units low-income, a third of the units middle-income, and a third of the units market rate.
Both candidates were asked about how they planned on supporting and protecting immigrants in the city.
“Twenty-eight percent of our residents in Boston are immigrants, like my mother. Forty-eight percent of our residents are first generation, like me,” Walsh said. “So we have 75 percent of our residents from another country, or their parents are from another country. When you listen to the rhetoric coming out of Washington talking about immigrants being bad for the economy, and how they add to crime, and that’s not the case in Boston, Massachusetts, in fact, it’s completely the opposite.”
Walsh said that he was proud to be a son of immigrants, and proud to protect immigrants in the city.
“If you don’t like my position on immigration, then don’t vote for me. Vote for someone else,” Walsh said. “Because I’m proud of who I am and who I stand for, and I’m proud to stand with the immigrant community.”
On immigration, Jackson said that he has put forth legislation to create an immigrant legal defense fund, which was ultimately adopted by the City, and to create sanctuary schools.
“It’s critical that the Boston police department not report, their information to the federal government,” Jackson said. “Nobody is illegal, and those who are undocumented should have the opportunity to pick up the phone and call the police if someone shoots, robs, or assaults them on our streets.”
Ward 11 and Ward 19 Democratic Committees both endorsed Martin Walsh for mayor at their meeting after the forum on Oct. 4.
According to a statement from Ward 11, its endorsement for Mayor Walsh is “because we believe we can work with him and his team to address the need for more truly affordable housing in our community and communities across the city. Members applauded the mayor’s work on critical issues such as veterans, LGBTQ rights, the environment, and immigration.”
The City election will be on Nov. 7.