Ten Questions with Boston's New Mayor

BOSTON, Mass.—On January 6, Martin J. “Marty” Walsh was sworn in as the 54th mayor of Boston after serving in the Massachusetts House of Representatives since 2007. SPARE CHANGE NEWS was able to catch up with Walsh before his inauguration for a quick phone conversation about homelessness, housing and gun violence in the city.

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Photo: David Parsons

In September, Mayor Menino announced a plan to add 30,000 housing units by 2020. Do you think this is possible, and are there any changes you’d like to make to that plan?

We’re going to look at that plan and we’re going to see. I know there’s a lot of housing in the pipeline right now. A lot of the housing in the pipeline right now is higher end living space, and I think that we have to look at the moderate income level folks to keep people in Boston, and we have a place for that, a little bit in there. But we’re going to really focus on that. I’ve had some discussions with Sheila Dillon, our housing DND Director. And she’s staying, so after the first of the year we’re going to sit down and talk about how we can create more affordable housing as well.

How do you plan to reach out to the rising homeless population in Boston?

Well, I’ve had some conversations with Jim Greene, who is the director of homeless services in Boston, and we’ve had (divisional) discussions. Again, after January 6, we’re really going to focus and see how we can be creative here in Boston as far as the homeless population. I have some real concerns homelessness, particularly around families as well. A growing number of homelessness in this state and in this city are homeless families. So we really have to address those issues, and we’re going to be working on that [and] come up with some concrete plans on how we’re going to move forward.

Many homeless families Massachusetts are currently living in hotels. How do you feel about this issue?

I’m not a big fan of the hotel situation, and I never was when we did it at the state. It’s something where we really have to look and say, how do we create housing and make is accessible for families to get into a house. £e hotel situation can be dangerous, it’s costly, and it doesn’t help up prevent homelessness. I think it some ways adds to the problem. It’s a temporary solution I guess to get a roof over a families head, but what happens is you move the kids around, there’s not consistency in their schools, you have families that can’t access opportunities as far as job training programs and things like that. So we have to come up with a stronger, better solution than putting people in hotels.

Do you think the solution to that is more affordable housing?

Oh yeah, the solution is more affordable housing, and also training, job training and allowing people to have the opportunities to have some skills. A lot of those families are homeless because they lose their employment, so we have to work on that. There’s also a bigger issue here with the federal government with the latest budget agreement unemployment was not part of that agreement. 1.1 million Americans are going to lose their unemployment benefits as of next week, and that’s going to cause homelessness and we have to address that issue and by March 4. Seven million Americans I believe are going to lose their unemployment, and that trickles down to Boston. I believe Boston is somewhere in the tens of thousands of folks who are going to lose their unemployment next week. I don’t understand what the government’s thinking, particularly the Tea Party down in Washington, and the leadership in the House. By not addressing the unemployment issue these folks who haven’t been working and it’s not like they don’t want to work they want to work but there’s no jobs around or they don’t have the skill for the job. So that’s going to add to our problem here in Boston.

The state recently established a commission on unaccompanied homeless youth, have you reached out to this commission and do you think there’s anything that can be done on a city level do combat this issue?

I’d have to check to see if my transition team has. I’m sure they have, but again a lot of these issues, I’m going to address them all after January 6. I mean these are all issues I spoke about on the campaign trail and there are issues that are some of the reasons why I ran for mayor. So we are going to be addressing all these issues, and I’ll be able to give you a lot more detailed ideas after January 6.

As a recovering alcoholic and someone who’s battled addiction, how do you think you can reach out to some of the people on the streets who are battling substance abuse issues?

It’s a complicated situation, particularly around the homeless population. A lot of times when somebody’s getting into recovery, they’ve hit rock bottom and they’re looking for help, but some of the homeless situations we’re dealing with, the individuals we may be dealing with, some mental illness, some alcoholic, some drug addiction, so it’s a lot more complicated. It’s just working with the advocates that are currently doing this work, and having the city work with a plan on how do we reach out to as many people as we can to try and address some of the issues.

What experiences as a State Representative do you think will most help you be an effective mayor?

Well, part of it is, as a Rep you look at constituent services a lot. So, I have that piece down, making sure that we deliver good service to our district. So that’s certainly going to help me. Working on putting budgets together for 17-years on Beacon Hill and helping craft a budget, that’s another issue that’s going to help me tremendously, as far as being able to understand the budget process and using my relationships on Beacon Hill to advocate to see if we can do more advocacy for the city on behalf of the state, whether it’s through the budget process, [or] a line item process. So I’m going to be working with my colleagues, currently my colleagues that won’t be my colleagues in January, former colleagues so I’ll be able to work with them I think to be able to try and see what we can do for Boston.

If there’s one change to the city that you’d like to see in your first year, or in the coming years, what would it be?

It’s a good question. I think that I want people to understand that we have an inclusive government. A lot of the concerns people had in the campaign was making sure the government re-elected the city, and I think that’s an important piece. And also, I think that the BRA [Boston Redevelopment Authority], we’re going to go very transparent to the BRA and work with issues around housing. A lot of the issues on housing that we’re talking about, we’ll be able to talk about through the BRA process, and working there, and adding transparency and predictability.

You’ve spoken a lot about gun violence in recent weeks. What are some of the things you’d like to do to curb gun violence?

I’ll be talking more about that as we get in there. On January 6, I have a meeting in my office to talk about violence. It’s going to be the first meeting of many to really try to get to the root of some of the issues of some of the things that are happening with young people pulling guns out and shooting other young people. So I’m really going to get to the root of that issue early in the administration.

Obviously any incident involving guns are tragic, but have you been surprised by how blatant some of the recent shootings have been?

Yea, I have been. Even the latest shooting . . . at Ashmont Station, you know, a guy going on the back of a United Stated Postal Service truck. We don’t need that type of violence in Boston, and we don’t need to have people who are delivering packages or people who are working in the city worried about gun violence. That’s something that’s inexcusable and we need to make sure that we don’t have that in our city.

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