Walsh Highlights Need For Affordable Housing, Education In Address

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Boston Mayor Marty Walsh addresses the crowd during the Election Day Massachusetts Democratic Coordinated Campaign Election Night Celebration at the Fairmont Copley Hotel in Boston, MA on November 6, 2018.

In his annual State of the City address, Mayor Marty Walsh tapped into Boston's deeply Democratic DNA and offered a vigorous urban vision that embraced diversity, economic equality, and social mobility, highlighting the upgrade of the school district's physical assets and the continuing struggle for affordable housing.

President Donald Trump was not mentioned by name, but Walsh, speaking at Symphony Hall, spotlighted the nation’s lack of housing and infrastructure policies as deficits to be worked around or overcome.

"A government that’s supposed to be 'of the people, by the people, for the people' is shut down," Walsh said. "The state of our city is strong, but I’m concerned about the state of our union."

Walsh laid emphasis on education in Boston's public schools, housing and building the middle class in his speech, and hammered home the theme that diversity and inclusion must go hand-in-hand with economic growth and access to the middle class.

Walsh said he's been listening to parents, teachers and students about how to modernize education and that he'll continue to increase spending on building new schools while evaluating which aging buildings may need to close.

"We are opening doors to new schools, new libraries, new homes, and new jobs. And we're listening to new voices," Walsh said. "It's not always easy or comfortable. But a more open conversation means better solutions for our city. It's the sign of a more vibrant democracy. And it's working."

Walsh is also going all in on supporting a plan to greatly increase the funding cities and towns get from the state for public schools.

“We've spent over $300 million on brand new schools, major renovations, and modern furniture,” Walsh said. “Another $800 million is on the way to give the children of Boston the great schools they deserve.”

He also returned multiple times to the idea that affordable housing is crucial to making sure the middle class is within reach for the majority of Bostonians.

"We're serious about growing our middle class," he said. "We'll create 1,000 new homeowners in the next five years, by building more affordable homes and providing more financial help."

Boston City Councilor Lydia Edwards said Walsh's comments on committing to the growth of the middle class was "wonderful to hear," but emphasized that that proposed growth "needs funding."

"While we do have some of the lowest tax rates, I really do challenge and push the mayor to eventually support the luxury transfer fee to make sure that we are getting the additional funds that we need," Edwards told WGBH News shortly after Walsh's address. "I appreciate his leadership on the linkage increase and leadership on IDP [Inclusionary Development Policy], but those are not enough."

Walsh said his goal going forward is to make sure social progress and middle class opportunity grow together. He introduced new policies on diversity in city leadership and employment, as well as the continued work modernizing the city's aging school buildings.

Edwards, though, said she wants "to hear more more leadership and passion from him concerning" ending discrimination and harassment within city workers, and that includes supplying funding for training sessions.

"We really need a firm commitment to end discrimination within city workers ... And I don't feel that there was enough emphasis on that," she said. "We're dealing with a, I think, a diversity crisis in the Boston Fire Department, especially when it comes to women."

Read more: Female Firefighters Who Lodged Discrimination Complaints Worry About Retaliation

Walsh also addressed the opioid epidemic and his dedication to provide opportunities for addiction recovery.

“We are suing the opioid makers who fueled this crisis, because we are all paying for their greed,” Walsh said.

Walsh gave shout-outs to Massachusetts officials who made history in the 2018 elections: Rachael Rollins, the state’s first woman of color district attorney, and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, the state’s first African-American congresswoman, whose mention received strong applause.

The fact that Walsh’s address fell on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 90th birthday was not forgotten.

“Soon, we will have a major memorial to Dr. King and Coretta Scott King on Boston Common,” Walsh said. “It will be a tribute to their time in our city, where they met, fell in love, and formed their vision.”

Walsh said he was proud of what his administration had achieved in the past five years, and encouraged Bostonians to reflect, as well.

“What we do in Boston can change this country … because in this time of uncertainty and division, Boston offers a way forward,” Walsh said.

Mark Herz and Kaitlyn Locke contributed to this report.